Biographical / Historical
Tracy D. Mygatt (1885-1973) and Frances Witherspoon (1886-1973) both graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1908, then lived and worked together for more than 60 years in the cause of world peace. Soon after graduation they became involved in the struggle for women's suffrage and served as the first organizers of the Women's Suffrage Party in eastern Pennsylvania. In 1913, they moved to New York City where they joined the Socialist Party. Both engaged in providing food and shelter in churches for the unemployed (called "church raids"). They were members of the Woman's Peace Party; Witherspoon was employed for a brief period as Assistant Secretary of the WPP office in New York, and both women served as editors of its newsletter, Four Lights.
Mygatt organized the Anti-Enlistment League in 1915, together with Jessie Wallace Hughan and John Haynes Holmes, in an effort to gain signatures of young men whose opposition to all war, offensive and defensive, was unconditional. Both Mygatt and Witherspoon served on the committee of the Emergency Peace Federation, and took part in demonstrations planned by the American Committee Against Militarism. In 1917, at the invitation of the Woman's Peace Party, they both lobbied in Washington (D.C.) against U.S. entry into World War I. That same year Witherspoon became a co-founder and Executive Secretary of the New York Bureau of Legal Advice, which provided the first organized help for conscientious objectors in the country.
Between the world wars, Mygatt and Witherspoon worked with the Women's Peace Union and supported the Frazier amendment to the constitution which would have made war legally impossible. Both also helped to found the War Resisters League in 1923. They were awarded the WRL Peace Award in 1961 and served as honorary chairs of the organization until their deaths. They were also early members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and charter members of the Episcopal Pacifist Fellowship.
Both women were prolific writers. They wrote plays, articles, and books, independently and as collaborators. A number of Mygatt's plays (frequently on anti-war themes) were published and produced by small theater groups. They co-authored The Glorious Company, which was published in 1928 and received considerable acclaim. They also co-authored a book on first century Christendom, Armor of Light, which was under contract for nearly a year but was never produced. In 1934, Mygatt wrote Julia Newberry's Sketch Book, a Victorian biography about Julia Newberry (of Chicago) and Mygatt's mother, who were first cousins and childhood companions.
Tracy Mygatt worked for the Campaign for World Government for over 30 years, starting in 1941. She was the Campaign's delegate among non-governmental organizations to the United Nations until 1968. After moving in 1969 to Stapely Hall, a retirement home in Philadelphia (PA), she continued to serve as part-time East Coast Secretary of the Campaign.
In 1968, when she was past 80 years of age, Frances Witherspoon appealed to fellow Bryn Mawr College alumnae to oppose the war in Vietnam. Through her efforts, and with the aid of Mygatt and Lucy P. Carner, over 1,000 alumnae signed advertisements, published in the New York Times, calling for an end to the war.
Over the years Mygatt and Witherspoon both wrote numerous letters to members of Congress and other government officials, and many letters to the editor, about world government, civil rights, disarmament, and the other causes to which they devoted their lives.
Tracy Mygatt, increasingly helpless and nearly blind, died on Nov. 22, 1973, at the age of 88. Frances Witherspoon, gravely ill at the time, died shortly after on Dec. 16, 1973, at the age of 87.