The History of the Peace Room
By Andrée Jordan
The Peace Room was created by Mrs Bidwell
in South Africa. Her parents had moved there
from England for health reasons, and she had grown up there.
By the 1940s she was a grandmother, and was concerned for
her grand children, growing up in a time of war. Although
South Africa was relatively uninvolved, her English heritage
probably made her more aware of what was going on in so much
of the world and she wanted to instil a desire for peace and
the ability to negotiate collaboration rather than using force
into her grand children.
decided to build some “play rooms” for her grand
children in the grounds of her house. She decided on three
rooms: a work room, with a half sized cooker,
a museum for displaying interesting items
they collected, and a Peace Room. In the
Peace Room there was a window seat curved
around the bay window, a table and chair
with a gavel in the centre of the room, and
on the far wall, a bookshelf. Although they
were for children they were big enough for adults to enter,
if slightly crouched, and join in.
The idea of the Peace Room was that the children would have
meetings. One child would be elected “chair
person” and would preside over the meeting. The others
would sit around the edge and would nominate people who they
felt had “made a difference”
to the world: those who had somehow made the world a better
place. After discussion there would be a vote, and those people
elected would be placed on the bookshelf. A devoted grand
mother and grand father turned the children’s “heroes”
into real little books, each of which was a biography
explaining a bit about the person and what they had done which
gave them a place in the Peace Room. The children could then
read these at their leisure. Mrs Bidwell also wrote a Peace
Song which was painted high onto the wall of the Peace Room.
Sometimes Mrs Bidwell would challenge the children by nominating
someone like Adolf Hitler, and defending his right to be placed
in the Peace Room. The children would have to argue with reason
as to why or why not he should be allowed in.
the room did not just influence Mrs Bidwell’s grand
children. News of the Peace Room travelled, and famous people
would visit. Marda Vanne, a South African
actress visited and made a significant decision there. Paul
Fischer in university in Philadelphia in America
heard of it and wrote to Mrs Bidwell. Someone at the International
Peace Congress in Vienna in 1952 who had heard of
the Peace Room wrote and said that her dreams were beginning
to take shape.
Sadly, in the 1960s, with the troubles in South Africa, the
Peace Room was left in disrepair, but it is still there, a
monument to an inspirational woman, and an idea that should
not lie forgotten. It is now time for someone else to “build
on the steps built by others” (Peace Room Minutes).
World Peace is a vision which may never
be realised, but is always something worth working towards.
With the development of the Internet, the floor for communication
has expanded exponentially and now at last there is a medium
where small visions can become world wide over night. This
Virtual Peace Room allows children from all over the world
to nominate those who they feel have made a difference and
“contributed to the world” in some way. It could
be simply by bringing hope to a neighbour in despair, or starting
a community garden. It could be someone famous, or someone
unknown. The idea is to get children to think about the interaction
of local and global issues, and local and global answers.
So here it is. With many thanks to MirandaNet and all those
who are turning this local dream into a world wide reality.
Teachers there is a Peace
Room Presentation (PowerPoint, 1.27 MB) which can be used
with class groups and gives further information about this
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