Well aware how difficult access to Henry Ford could be, Schwimmer
turned for help to Rebecca Shelly, a Detroit schoolteacher recently
converted to community peace activism, in the hope that the young woman
could connect her to the inner sanctum. Shelly first approached the
Reverend Mr. Marquis, but to no avail. However, Marquis's wife
recommended Edwin G. Pipp, at the time managing editor of the Detroit
News and another crony of Ford's. Perhaps because of the flurry of
activity surrounding Ford's tumultuous return to Dearborn, Pipp was
also not able to gain his attention. Finally, however, the editor of
the Detroit Journal put one of his aggressive general assignment
reporters, Ralph Yonker, on the case. A phone call was made, and a date
set for the following morning, November 17, at the Highland Park
Schwimmer arrived promptly at eleven o'clock and was greeted by Ford. As he took her hand in his-dry, yet warm-she was struck by a strange, contradictory quality in his expression. "His strong, ascetic face reminded me of the portrait of a Greek philosopher I remembered from a rare old book in my parents' library," she wrote, "and when a humorous twinkle lighted his face, he looked like a wistful but healthy boy. This combination of sage and boy seemed to me always apparent in Mr. Ford." Allan Benson later made eerily similar note of his friend's "two personalities. One is diffident, almost to the point of bashfulness, yet very friendly. In ten seconds, for no apparent reason, the smile may flit from his face and you behold a man who, from the eyes up, seems as old as the pyramids. Back of the boyish Ford is the Ford who seems to have lived for ages, to have suffered much, and to have survived from the sheer exercise of the will to live."
Anticipating an intimate personal audience, Schwimmer was startled when Ford ushered her into his private dining room and directed her to take the chair to his immediate right as he assumed his usual place at the head of the long table. There were five men already seated and ready: the Reverend Samuel Marquis, who had by now taken leadership of the Sociological Department; Alfred Lucking, the Ford Motor Company in-house corporate counsel; Charles A. Brownell, Ford's advertising director and the editor of the company's in-house monthly, the Ford Times; journalist Ralph Yonker, there to cover the event, or so he thought; and Frederick C. Howe, New York City's commissioner of immigration at Ellis Island.
Overcoming her surprise, Schwimmer broached her number-one agenda item: If President Wilson was going to continue to equivocate on the matter of sponsoring an official peace conference, then an "unofficial" gathering with the sole purpose of adhering to "continuous mediation" would have to come from the private sector. It was at this point that she put forth the idea of a "Peace Ship" that would sail from America to Europe, drawing in its wake the kind of public attention to galvanize world opinion once and for all.
"In the midst of the animated conversation" that ensued, Schwimmer was quite pleased to realize that "Mr. Ford showed himself an absolutely clear and radical pacifist with deep-going views expressed briskly, logically, in a vigorous tone and in colorful language."
Her relief was short-lived. Suddenly, Ford paused, and then burst out, "I know who caused the war-the German-Jewish bankers!" He slapped his breast-pocket, "I have the evidence here. Facts! The German-Jewish bankers caused the war. I can't give out the facts now, because I haven't got them all yet, but I'll have them soon."
Ford's tone shifted and became "flat as a pancake as he came forth with this cheap and vulgar statement." He placed no emphasis on any word in particular. He spoke with "that lack of conviction with which a schoolboy would recite something about the supreme happiness of being good and virtuous." The remark fell upon the assembled group "like a new poison bomb from a mysteriously invisible airplane."
Ford appeared as if "he had stopped thinking, as if [his] heart made a strange pause while beating. A strange shadow crept across his face as he uttered the disconnected phrase. The expression of the sage and the boy was gone." He gazed slowly around the table. Schwimmer sensed that Marquis, seated just to her right, "exchanged a triumphant glance" with Lucking and Brownell to his right. Marquis then turned slightly in his chair and "challenged [her] openly on who caused the war."
"Oh, how well I knew that trick!" Schwimmer thought. "But, tired as I was, I stuck to my refusal to discuss that question in spite of the Dean's pressing challenge."
"You are right, Madam," interjected Ford, seeming to come out of his trance and speak with his old vigor. "It is useless to discuss the causes of the war at a time when to a real pacifist the only problem is how to end this terrible slaughter."
Then, just as quickly, Ford returned to his prior statement, "I know who caused the war. The German-Jewish bankers. I have the evidence here. Facts. The German-Jewish bankers caused the war." Again he looked down the table at Marquis, Lucking, and Brownell-and again the same look of satisfaction seemed to flit across their faces.
"That one parrot-like reiteration," Schwimmer thought, "that one phrase-never a word more or less... It was the age-old trick of pulling The Jewish Question into the problem. Repressed tears were burning behind my lids and I was suffering with such pain, as if the martyred victims of war were my own sons."
She was desperate not to show "feminine weakness," and finally managed to break up the party. As the men stood up from the table, Yonker darted across the room, buttonholed the mercurial Ford, and tried to elicit a summarizing statement from him, but at the insistence of Schwimmer, Ford demurred: There would be "no statement to make to you, my boy." Walking Schwimmer to the elevator, to her even greater surprise, Ford asked her to come see him and Mrs. Ford for supper the following day at home.
Rosika Schwimmer awoke in her hotel room the next morning feeling defensive and confused enough to wire Pipp at the Detroit News and complain bitterly about the "hostile, skeptical and doubtful" reception she had received. Seeking to head off possibly negative publicity (and how prescient she was in this respect, as unfolding events over the coming months and years would attest), Schwimmer asked Pipp (whom she correctly knew to be sympathetic) to communicate with Jane Addams at Hull House in Chicago for a character reference as to her industrious work at the Hague Conference the preceding spring, and the sincerity of her ambassadorial energies. Pipp also took it upon himself to set in motion arrangements through the Detroit News Washington Bureau for Schwimmer to meet with President Wilson later that month. "In the meantime," Pipp told Addams, "we are anxious to have the press of the country take a more friendly attitude toward the peace movement."
There was no love lost between the News editor and Ford's private secretary. Ernest Liebold was jealous that his boss had taken a liking to Edwin Pipp ever since the fellow first arrived at the News more than a decade before. At unpredictable moments, the auto magnate slipped away for impromptu "jawing" over at Pipp's office-man-to-man, feet-up-on-the-desk types of conversation-off the record, of course. Schwimmer would not have made it in to see Ford as quickly-if at all-if Liebold were not still on vacation with his family in California. Liebold was out of the loop during those crucial late-November days. He admitted that he did not like being out of town when Ford was in the office at the factory. Liebold "had a premonition" while he was on the West Coast that he really should be heading back to his guardianship responsibilities when he first got wind of Schwimmer's inevitable course toward Detroit. "Of course, she was a Hungarian Jewess," the secretary recalled, exasperation still evident even after thirty-five years had gone by. "She got to Pipp, who was then managing editor of the paper."
As for Ford's "German Jewish bankers" mantra, Liebold had a matter-of-fact explanation: "The international Jewish interests play behind the scenes and carry on different activities, [men] such as Mr. Ford referred to as warmongers ... who were interested in carrying on the war for profit. Mr. Ford's definition of Wall Street was the Jewish interests who operated on that type of proposition."
Schwimmer and Liebold did not meet personally, predominantly through Liebold's stubborn designs, for two more decades. However, in the days following the luncheon with Ford, Schwimmer did intuit that-as she expressed in multiple metaphors-"someone had tried to harness Ford's pacifism into [sic] the wagon of Anti-semitism... He linked the institution of war and the Jewish race together. This is the grossest exhibition of his mental dependance [sic] on others in questions where his intuition fails to serve as a flashlight... Like managers of a puppet show, they have succeeded in connecting war and Jews in Ford's mind ... administering the anti-semite poison."
|Rosika Schwimmer, Henry Ford, and Louis Lochner, December 3, 1915, New York City|
While there is no way that Schwimmer could have known definitively "who handled the hypodermic needle" at that earliest time in her relationship with Ford, she had witnessed the man in action, "scuttling back to the facts like a rabbit to its hole," manifesting the rigid, assertive manner in which people who profess chimerical beliefs typically behave. Some scholars speculate that Ford did not realize Schwimmer was Jewish; this seems unlikely when one considers the degree of national and international press she had already received. Perhaps with his inimitable ability to compartmentalize, Ford simply did not associate her, just yet, with the subversive financial plot he envisioned.
Schwimmer was a savvy enough diplomat
to avoid confronting Ford directly on his views, especially while her
major solicitation was still in play. The Ford company car and driver
arrived at her hotel. Schwimmer enlisted the willing company of Louis
Paul Lochner, a fellow peace activist and writer, and together they
were driven to the Ten Eyck Farm House on the grounds of the Fair Lane
estate, because the sprawling, $3 million, fifty-six-room main
residence was still under construction. Lochner had recently met
President Wilson for the first time, accompanying David Starr Jordan,
representing the American Peace Society, on an unsuccessful visit to
the White House. Lochner, too, felt that perhaps a less formal, more
"populist" approach to the president was needed, and that Ford might be
the man to bring it off.
During this late-afternoon suburban visit in more relaxed circumstances, Ford took Lochner aside for a ramble through the woods, leaving his wife and Schwimmer to talk together in the front parlor, looking out over the geranium-studded window boxes. "What do you think of the Hungarian's ideas?" Ford asked the young man, who endorsed his colleague's purposes, while Schwimmer spoke passionately to Clara Ford about the horrors of the current conflict. It was a successful get-together. A motivational spark had been touched off in Henry Ford. He proposed relocating temporarily to New York City and commissioned Lochner to assemble a crusading brain trust to meet at the McAlpin Hotel during the week before Thanksgiving, including Jane Addams, Oswald Garrison Villard of the Nation, and George Kirchwey, dean of Columbia College-passionate pacifists all. Schwimmer's "Peace Ship" concept took hold. It was something tactile that Ford's empirical, restless mind could appreciate.
Ford's forthright offer to pay for an official neutral commission to discuss ending the war if the president would appoint one was rebuffed at the White House when he finally did meet with Wilson. Ford dismissed him as "a small man" and seized the moment to take responsibility for shutting down the warmongers himself. "Out of the trenches by Christmas, and never go back!" he declared impulsively. He moved to more commodious headquarters in Suite 717 at the Biltmore Hotel, where a telephone, telegraph, and letter-writing blitz was mounted to convince other patriots to join the crusade against the Kaiser and book passage aboard Henry Ford's chartered steamship, to stop the carnage of "twenty thousand men killed every twenty-four hours."
To his unsuspecting dismay, Ford was greeted with a torrent of ridicule in the daily press and quickly vilified as "God's Fool," "a jackass and a clown." His massive invitation campaign to "respond to the call of humanity ... to establish an international conference dedicated to negotiations leading to a just settlement of the war" was an utter flop. William Howard Taft, Charles Steinmetz, John Dewey, Robert LaFollette, Walter Lippmann, William Dean Howells, Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, Julius Rosenwald, and John Wanamaker, along with every college president and forty-seven out of forty-eight state governors-and yes, even his friends Thomas Edison and John Burroughs-conveyed regrets. David Starr Jordan, while asserting that "the Germans are extremely anxious for peace," declined to join the ranks of "the peace pilgrims," warning Ford that "Schwimmer [was] too emotional" and advising him several times that his great wealth would be better applied to establishing a College of Internationalism, rather than a simple conference. Clara Ford, who always believed in women's suffrage, pledged ten thousand dollars to the Women's Peace Party. But she pleaded with her husband not to embark. Wasn't it enough that Henry had already laid out more than five hundred thousand dollars to rent the ship and stock up with provisions-was it really necessary that he leave home and hearth for the high seas? Ford stubbornly refused to back down, and so, at Clara's tearful behest, Dean Marquis agreed to go along for the voyage and keep a vigilant eye on her foolhardy husband. Weighted down with a chaotic melange of college students, eccentric "peace-nut pilgrims," and journalists, the Oskar II pulled out of the pier at Hoboken, New Jersey, on the frigid Saturday afternoon of December 4, 1915, bound for Christiania, Norway. "Tell the people to cry peace and fight 'preparedness,'" Ford promised. "If this expedition fails, I'll start another!"
In the early morning hours of the ninth day out at sea, in the midst of a raging storm, Henry Ford emerged from his stateroom onto the upper deck of the Oskar II to take the air, as was his routine, rain or shine. The ship hit a wave and pitched sharply upward. Ford slipped on a water-slick and tumbled, dropping his gold-headed cane. The drenching left him with a terrible cold, which quickly became the grippe, and he was confined to his cabin, hors de combat for the remainder of the voyage. It was the beginning of the end of the tragicomedy for the "international harlequin."
Ford was absent from subsequent public events after the ship docked, remaining in seclusion in his room at the Grand Hotel in Christiania. On December 23, Ford whispered hoarsely to Lochner from his sick bed that he "had better go home to Mother... I told [Mrs. Ford] I'll be back soon. You've got this thing started now and can get along without me." In the pre-dawn hours of Christmas Eve, accompanied by the ever-faithful Marquis, Henry Ford departed.
|Rosika Schwimmer on board the Peace Ship|
seeming defection caused a degeneration in Rosika Schwimmer's status
from which she never recovered. She had publicly allied her fortunes
with his, preemptively, it would seem, boasting openly to her comrades
ten days before the ship sailed about Ford's pledge of "two hundred
thousand dollars for the work of the International Committee of Women."
Schwimmer told Lola Maverick Lloyd that she had "succeeded in gaining
Henry Ford's full support for our movement." She assured Ethel Snowden,
another Women's Committee delegate, that "Henry Ford has fallen in line
and stands with his personality and his money for what we are standing."
The promised funds were never received, and Schwimmer fell prey to accusations of embezzlement from Aletta Jacobs and Carrie Chapman Catt, who had been among her staunch supporters. Schwimmer, in turn, remained suspicious of "foul whisperings" from the Ford inner circle. She was appalled but not surprised to read Dean Marquis quoted in an article by William C. Bullitt in the New York Times of January 31, 1916, accusing her of "toying with Mr. Ford" and of "desiring ... to control the stream of money which Mr. Ford is anxious to pour out for peace." Marquis suspected Schwimmer of subverting his special relationship with his chief.
Schwimmer was then informed by members of the Neutral Conference in late January that Liebold had cabled Gaston Plantiff, the Ford Motor Company representative in charge of its New York City office, with the demand that she be eliminated from further authority under the banner of Ford's mission at the mediation conference in Stockholm. She offered to resign on the spot. Despite the fact that Ford wrote back the next day that he had "not lost faith in you or the expedition," Schwimmer gave up her position in disgust. Upon his return to Detroit, Ford had stopped by friend Pipp's office at the Detroit News to discuss the vicissitudes of his idealistic trip. Pipp asked Ford point-blank to talk about Schwimmer, and Ford declared, "She has more brains than all the others on the peace ship put together."
"What about reports of her having received money from you?" Pipp continued. "She never asked for any," Ford responded. "Did she get any?" "Not a cent," declared Ford. Yet when Schwimmer finally appeared at Ford headquarters in the summer of 1916 with the intention to clear the air of these persistent ambiguities, she was told by Theodore Delavigne-who had by now graduated from working journalist to full-time member of Ford's personal staff-that Henry Ford did not want to see her. By the time the United States declared war on Germany, Schwimmer was back home in her native Hungary, and then moved to Vienna, where she would remain until 1921.