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A Leadership for Peace: How Edwin Ginn Tried to Change the World

reviewed by Charles F. Howlett - February 08, 2007

coverTitle: A Leadership for Peace: How Edwin Ginn Tried to Change the World
Author(s): Robert I. Rotberg
Publisher: Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA
ISBN: 0804754551 , Pages: 264, Year: 2006
Search for book at Amazon.com

Throughout American history peace activists have had to face the perpetual dilemma of what to do when the values of peace are in apparent conflict with decency, humanity, and justice (Curti, 1971, p.10). These were the very words put forth by Americas pioneer historian of the American peace movement and Pulitzer Prize-winner, Merle Curti. Certainly, Robert I. Rotbergs scholarly biography of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century peace leader, Edwin Ginn, highlights this fundamental problem regarding war and peace. This is a modest, yet effective, story of the successful Boston publisher who donated most of his fortune to the cause of world peace. The authors use of vocabulary and style is commendable. Rotberg, who is president of the World Peace Foundation, the organization Ginn established in 1910, is well-chosen for the task.

Rotbergs ability to place Ginn in proper perspective is not easily achieved. As the author points out, Ginn kept no diaries and most of his letters, speeches, and public writings were devoted to business matters and concerns about peace. We never get to feel and understand the inner person. Thus the liveliness of this work will not match the efforts of say, Warren Goldsteins study of William Sloane Coffin, Jr., or Joseph F. Walls fine biography of Andrew Carnegie. What we read here is more of an administrative biography rather than a full account of the person behind the events of his time. Rotberg readily admits that Ginn was upright, abstemious, noble, and very private (p. 199). Yet he has succeeded in detailing the public life of the founder of the World Peace Foundation, president of one of the most successful textbook publishing companies in twentieth century America, Ginn & Company, dedicated philanthropist, fervent internationalist, and friend of peace.

Relying on correspondence in the World Peace Foundation archives and the Edwin and Lucia Mead Papers in the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, in particular, Rotberg traces Ginns civic conscience from his New England upbringing in Maine to his Univeralist beliefs later Unitarianism formulated while studying at the newly-established Tufts College in nearby Boston. Rotberg goes to great pains to argue that Ginn was no naïve fuddy-duddy, no starry-eyed peace reformer but rather a hard-headed businessman who prided himself&on efficiency and practicality (p. xi). Throughout the book this view remains prominent. Conventional in approach, the author discusses Ginns early childhood with some mention of his parents and family, an almost annoying devotion to New England community life, and events which made him one of the most successful textbook marketers in the late nineteenth century. What enabled Ginn to establish himself as a successful publisher, Rotbergs correctly points out, was the ability to cultivate and enlist the noted academic authorities of the day.

The strength of the book is Rotbergs analysis of Ginns peace activities. Beginning with the chapter The Quest for Reason under Law, we finally see an emerging practical rather than ideological reformer take up the cause for world peace. He was nearly seventy years old when he became involved, perhaps greatly influenced by his second wife, Marguerita Francesca Grebe whose dual citizenship and internationalist proclivities were most apparent around the household and at social gatherings. The key to peace, Ginn felt, was in schooling. This was the organizational pressure point which needed to be applied to the political process of peacemaking. What bothered Ginn, Rotbergs notes, was that most existing schoolbooks glorified patriotism and armies&.Schools should&stress aspirations achieved peacefully, and should encourage young people to understand that war was cruel and crippling (p. 73). Caught up in the emotional appeal of the progressive reform wave sweeping the nation at the turn of the new century, Rotberg describes how Ginn represented that brand of peace leader who assumed that the literate gentlemen of the middle and upper classes could better understand and identify with the civilized quality of their movement than could the unenlightened masses. Shunning involvement with immigrant, moderate socialist, and labor groups, these elite peacemakers, including Andrew Carnegie, Nicholas Murray Butler, Elihu Root, and Edwin and Lucia Ames Mead, among others, promoted peace through mechanisms such as international compacts, a world court, and an international police force. Naturally, Rotberg does offer a mild rebuke of Ginns efforts by pointing out that Naively&Ginn believed that citizens were both rational and educable. So throughout his tireless campaign against war, Ginn was driven by a touching faith that he could, largely by the dissemination of the printed word, but also by sponsoring strong speakers, reach ordinary Americans and Europeans (p. 86). Unfortunately, Rotberg fails to present a more compelling analysis of Ginns elitist tendencies and how, as such, they mitigated the more realistic social justice approach later pacifists would develop and attach to the twentieth century peace movement.

Another strength of the book, obviously, is Rotbergs historical description of the founding of Ginns International School of Peace in 1910 and quickly renamed the World Peace Foundation after the sudden appearance of Carnegies own peace organization. The author persuasively argues that Ginn hoped to influence the curriculum of the schools, to reduce the glorification of war and instill an awareness of how civilization had been hindered by martial activity (p. 120). One interesting facet to this study is Rotbergs comparison of Ginns expenditures to real world dollars in 2002 calculations. One gets a better idea of how much money Ginn invested in his commitment to peace in terms of todays monetary value. There is also an excellent discussion of the growing rivalry between Carnegie and Ginn respecting their competitive peace organizations founded in the same year. Rotberg shows how Ginn tried to elicit Carnegies support for his venture only to be rebuffed in the battle between expertise (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) and enthusiasm (World Peace Foundation). Perhaps the most fruitful discussion is how Ginns peace organization sought to promote peace through the Foundations publication of the International Peace Library and eliciting the support of teachers and preachers to prepare curricula and courses of study promoting peaceful pursuits (p. 124). In actuality, Ginn was not a man of ideas but rather an assembler and popularizer of others views. Yet, his foundation, still in existence, remains a testimony to Ginns personal belief that only through peace education can citizens come to appreciate the sad reality that nations resort to violence is economically wasteful and foolish. He accurately fits the description of peacemaker put forth in Robert Wiebes The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (1966): a progressive reformer casting aside moral preachments against war -- common among ante-bellum peace advocates -- in favor of concrete proposals based on law and order.

Ginn died just prior to the outbreak of the First World War. During these dreadful years his foundation promoted and supported the League of Nations idea. Rotberg explains how his foundations leaders Stanford president David Starr Jordan, Edwin Mead (the true mouthpiece for Ginn), editor James Macdonald of the Toronto Globe, George A. Plimpton, George Nasymth, Charles Levermore, and future U.S. appeals court judge George W. Anderson shifted WPFs focus from disarmament, the legal and arbitrational settlement of disputes, and varieties of quasi-pacifism to a post-war international arrangement to secure global peace (p. 165). Naturally, Ginn was not a pacifist, and this leads to a fundamental issue not addressed by Rotberg. Would Ginn, like many of his peace colleagues did, have supported American military involvement in 1917? What actually happened to the peace movement as a result of World War I. Clearly, the peace movement was seriously split between hard-core pacifists who refused to support the call to arms and those pacifists as militarists who rallied behind it in the name of internationalism. One of the ironies Rotberg touches upon is how WPF leaders grappled with the oxymoronic, League to Enforce Peace. Moreover, how would Ginn have responded to the loss of civil liberties in a democratic society at war? How would the words and observations of Randolph Bourne resonated in Ginns mind were he alive to witness them?

Despite the tendency to provide lengthy sidebars when introducing figures influencing Ginns life such as Edward Everett Hale, Edwin and Lucy Ames Mead, Hamilton Holt, David Starr Jordan, and Lawrence Abbott Lowell, among others, as well as descriptive details of his 1896 home Terrace of Oaks, more suited for Better Homes and Garden, we are provided with the most comprehensive and scholarly biography of Ginn to date. Rotberg is to be commended for placing Ginn in proper historical perspective and for adding to the growing body of peace literature in America.


Curti, M. (1971). Introduction. In B. W. Cook, C. Chatfield, & S. Cooper (Eds.), The Garland library of war and peace catalogue (pp. 9-10). New York: Garland Publishers.

Wiebe, R. (1966). The search for order, 1877-1920. New York: Hill & Wang.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 08, 2007
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 13151, Date Accessed: 10/21/2021 4:46:20 AM

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About the Author
  • Charles Howlett
    Molloy College
    CHARLES F. HOWLETT teaches in the Graduate Education Division, Molloy College, where he is responsible for preparing teachers of Social Studies. Currently, he is a member of the Board of Editors of the Long Island Historical Journal. His areas of interest are American Intellectual and Social history, peace movements in America, and peace historiography. He is the author of Troubled Philosopher: John Dewey and the Struggle for World Peace; The American Peace Movement: References and Resources; Brookwood Labor College and the Struggle for Peace and Social Justice in America; and editor of History of the American Peace Movement, 1890-2000: The Emergence of a New Scholarly Discipline. Presently, he is at work on a joint project using primary source documents as teaching aids, along with a historical narrative tentatively entitled, Struggle against War: American Peace Activism in Thought and Practice.
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