Saturday, March 31, 2012

Women's History Month - Peace Pilgrim

Peace Pilgrim
(July 18, 1908 – July 7, 1981)

Mildred Lisette Norman, was a U.S. pacifist, vegetarian, and peace activist. In 1952, she became the first woman to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one season. Starting on January 1, 1953. In Pasadena, California, she adopted the name "Peace Pilgrim" and walked across the United States for 28 years.

A transcript of a 1964 conversation with Peace Pilgrim from a broadcast on KPFK radio in Los Angeles, California, was published as "Steps Toward Inner Peace". She stopped counting miles in that year, having walked more than 40,000 km (25,000 miles) for peace.

Mildred Norman was born on a poultry farm in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey, in 1908, the oldest of three children. Her mother, Josephine Marie Ranch, was a tailor, and her father, Ernest Norman, a carpenter. Although poor, the family were well-thought-of in a community of German immigrants, whose relatives originally settled the area after escaping Germany in 1855.

In 1933 she eloped with Stanley Ryder and moved to Philadelphia in 1939. They divorced in 1946.

Her pilgrimage spanned almost three decades beginning January 1, 1953, in Pasadena, California. The Korean War was in progress. She continued walking for 28 years, spanning the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and beyond. Peace Pilgrim was a frequent speaker at churches, universities, and local and national radio and television.

Expressing her ideas about peace, she referred to herself only as "Peace Pilgrim." Peace Pilgrim's only possessions were the clothes on her back and the few items she carried in the pockets of her blue tunic which read "Peace Pilgrim" on the front and "25,000 Miles on foot for peace" on the back.

She had no organizational backing, carried no money, and would not even ask for food or shelter. When she began her pilgrimage she had taken a vow to "remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food."

Peace Pilgrim was a strict vegetarian and did not use fur, feathers, leather or bone. Peace Pilgrim was an early advocate for tolerance for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. She did not believe in discrimination against any human being.

She was awarded the ‘Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award’ -1992

“In order for the world to become peaceful, people must become more peaceful. Among mature people war would not be a problem - it would be impossible. In their immaturity people want, at the same time, peace and the things which make war. However, people can mature just as children grow up. Yes, our institutions and our leaders reflect our immaturity, but as we mature we will elect better leaders and set up better institutions. It always comes back to the thing so many of us wish to avoid: working to improve ourselves.”-Peace Pilgrim

On July 7, 1981, while being driven to a speaking engagement near Knox, Indiana, Peace Pilgrim was killed in an automobile accident. At the time of her death, she was crossing the United States for the seventh time.

After her death, she was cremated, and her ashes were interred in a family plot near Egg Harbor City, New Jersey.

Friends of Peace Pilgrim

Friends of Peace Pilgrim is an all-volunteer non-profit organization dedicated to making information about the life and message of Peace Pilgrim available freely to all who ask. Since 1983 they have published and distributed over 400,000 copies of the book, Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words, and over one and a half million copies of the booklet, Steps Toward Inner Peace. Books and booklets have been sent to over 100 countries. The book has been translated into twelve languages and the booklet into over 20 languages.

I have been an admirer of this woman for many years. I keep a copy of her life and quotations on my coffee table for quick reference. Her only possessions were a comb, a toothbrush, a small notebook and a pencil, all of which she kept in the pockets of the tunic which she wore at all times. I often look around my home and imagine how liberating that would be to reduce my possessions to just basic needs. I have tried to down-size and I do lead a relatively simple lifestyle but I admire Peace Pilgrim for being so dedicated to the peace effort as to spend her every waking moment as an advocate for peace. I never met her but I have read accounts of people who were inspired just by being in her presence.

She led a quiet, gentle lifestyle, while having the courage to stand up for her convictions. My kind of person!


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