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Dorothy Detzer Papers

Identifier: SCPC-DG-086

Scope and Contents

This small collection of Dorothy Detzer's papers contains significant personal material from the last decade of her life as well as earlier Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)-related material. Her tenure as National Secretary of WILPF from 1924 to 1947 is better documented in DG 043, especially in the series containing Annual Reports of the National Secretary, branch letters, correspondence, speeches and articles.

The bulk of the Detzer papers in DG 086 is correspondence (1924-[1970-1980]), a considerable quantity of which is with Rosemary Rainbolt (1973-1977) when Rainbolt was doing research for her master's thesis and preparing a paper for the American Historical Association, both about Detzer, and with Dr. Barbara Sicherman who asked Detzer's help in writing a paper on Alice Hamilton, a lifelong friend of Detzer. Personal letters between Detzer and A. Fenner Brockway and other good friends provide a look at her restrospective views of life and aging.

There is a significant amount of WILPF correspondence and source material documenting the efforts of Detzer and Anna Melissa Graves in 1933 to prevent the United States and Britain from exploiting Liberia.

Material about Detzer includes the Rainbolt thesis, "Dorothy Detzer: National Secretary, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom," and her AHA paper, "Women and War in the U.S.: The Case of Dorothy Detzer, National Secretary W.I.L.P.F." A collection of newsclippings (1913-1945) starts with reprints of letters from abroad published in her hometown Ft. Wayne, Indiana, newspaper and continues on to document her years as National Secretary of WILPF. Particular events covered by the newsclippings include her being granted a pacifist's passport in 1929 amidst Daughters of the American Revolution protest and her work to force an investigation of the munitions industry (1933-1936).

There are typescripts for articles and speeches by Detzer including a statement "What I Believe" and her speech in 1965 at the WILPF 50th Anniversary Celebration. Her book Appointment on the Hill (1948) is available in DG 086 and in the Swarthmore College Peace Collection book collection.

There are many photographs and also an audiocassette made in 1974 during an interview with Rosemary Rainbolt. Memorabilia include her Bible and prayerbook, collections of poetry and sayings, a travel journal, and several passports. There is a small amount of family correspondence and genealogical information about her family.

Correspondents include Jane Addams, Roger Baldwin, A. Fenner Brockway, Justus Doenecke, Morris L. Ernst, Mitchell Gordon, Anna Melissa Graves, Mildred Scott Olmsted, Rosemary Rainbolt, Huldah W. Randall, Mercedes M. Randall, Meta Riseman, Izetta Robb, Dr. Barbara Sicherman and Jessica Smith.


  • Creation: 1913-1981


Language of Material

Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Physical Access Note

All or part of this collection is stored off-site. Contact Swarthmore College Peace Collection staff at at least two weeks in advance of visit to request boxes.

Conditions Governing Use


Biographical Note

Dorothy Detzer (1893-1981), writer and lobbyist, was for twenty-two years the National Executive Secretary of the U.S. of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), from 1924-to 1946. From headquarters in Washington, D.C., she campaigned for disarmament and economic justice, displaying the keen tactics and influence which led the New York Times to describe her as "the most famous woman lobbyist."

As a high school graduate from Fort Wayne, Indiana, Detzer decided to forgo the traditional college course, opting instead to travel in the Far East and live for a time in the Philippines. Returning to the United States, she went to live at Hull-House, attending the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy while working as an officer of the Juvenile Protective Association.

At the end of World War I, she spent a year in Austria doing relief work for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). She later was two years in Russia as an AFSC famine relief administrator in the Volga Valley. Seeing the ravages of war and enduring the loss of her twin brother Don, who was gassed during World War I and died from a lingering illness, convinced Detzer that social work was not enough and that she wanted to work actively for pacifist causes. Upon her return to the U.S. in 1924, Detzer assumed the national secretaryship of WILPF, U.S. Section.

Dorothy Detzer's abilities as a lobbyist facilitated numerous legislative investigations, notably one launched by Senator Gerald P. Nye on the munitions industry (1933-1936). She was also instrumental in focusing attention on the exploitation of African countries, particularly Ethiopia and Liberia, by U.S. business concessions. She was awarded the Order of African Redemption by the Liberian government in 1933 for these efforts. She worked for recognition of Russia as a member of the family of nations, freedom for Cuba from U.S. intervention, and argued for neutrality as the U.S. approached World War II.

The events of two decades in Washington are chronicled in her book Appointment on the Hill, 1948) which was written the year after she resigned her post with WILPF. She married Ludwell Denny, a journalist, in 1954 and spent the next several years freelancing as a foreign correspondent. Shortly before her husband's death in 1970, the Dennys left Washington, D.C. for the west coast where Dorothy Detzer Denny remained in Monterey, California, until her death in January 1981.


3 linear ft. (3 linear feet.)


Dorothy Detzer was a peace activist, writer, and lobbyist. She served as the National Executive Secretary of the U.S. Section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1924-1946.. Detzer influenced a Congressional investigation of the munitions industry, 1934-1936, and later wrote the book Appointment on the Hill, 1948, describing her two decades in Washington, D.C.


DG 043 (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom) contains most of Dorothy Detzer's papers for the period during which she was active in the organization. However, there is a series of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom-related folders in DG 086 that was processed in the Swarthmore College Peace Collection before the greater body of Detzer material arrived. The source of these Women's International League for Peace and Freedom-related folders is unknown.

Detzer gave the Swarthmore College Peace Collection some of her correspondence in which letters to and from one person were together with a brief description by her of that person. These letters have been kept together. The rest of the correspondence is in chronological order.

Other Finding Aids

For the catalog record for this collection and to find materials on similar topics, search the library's online catalog.

Custodial History

The Swarthmore College Peace Collection is the official repository for these papers.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Dorothy Detzer, Ruth Detzer, Rosemary Rainbolt, 1974-1981 [acc. 74A-32; 80A-54,-66; 81A-22,-24].

Separated Materials

Items removed:

  1. Photographs to Photograph Collection
  2. Audiocassette tape to Audiovisual Collection

Legal Status

Copyright to the records created by Dorothy Detzer Denny has been transferred to the Swarthmore College Peace Collection. Copyright to all other materials is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Processing Information

Processed by Martha P. Shane, November 1985. This version of the finding aid was updated by Anne Yoder, May 2013.

These records were processed under a grant from the Ford Foundation.

Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2018: The file list was standardized in Summer 2017 by Mary Olesnavich in preparation for importing into ArchivesSpace. Tessa Chambers added the notes in Fall 2017.
  • 2018-07-27: This file was updated 2018-07-27 and 2018-08-20 by Wendy Chmielewski

Find It at the Library

Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting repoductions from Swarthmore College Peace Collection Library

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