Prepared for Notable
American Women, A Biographical Dictionary, Vol V
Harvard University Press, 2005
Mildred Norman Ryder,
AKA Peace Pilgrim
July 18, 1908-July 7, 1981
Spiritual Teacher, Non Violence Advocate, Peace Prophet
By Marta Daniels ©
|Peace Pilgrim's story was written by Marta Daniels, and is reprinted here by permission of the author. It is adapted from Daniels' extended biography of Mildred Norman Ryder (Peace Pilgrim), first published in short form in Notable American Women, A Biographical Dictionary, Vol. V, Harvard University Press, 2005. Reprint of this story in part or whole must have the permission of the author. The author may be contacted through Friends of Peace Pilgrim.
|"She, to me, is the epitome of a focused life. I call her
the 20th Century St. Francis of Assisi."
|"She was the living demonstration of the potential that can
be unleashed when one is fully engaged in what they believe is the
most important thing in the world"
|"I didn't see her as an evangelist - but by her own life
and demonstration, she inspired people."
|She had perfect protection all those years, all that time. A woman
walking through the desert at night, through the slums of cities
- imagine, a woman!"
|"Hers was a universal message of perennial spiritual truths,
clothed in simple understandable language."
|"Here is an American saint who transcended all national,
religious, or sectarian bonds to communicate love, understanding
and integrity. Her life was her teaching."
|"It was not the scholar's erudition that spoke through her,
but the saint's imprisoned splendor, released in its full effulgence
for three decades."
|"She was a gentle, soothing, spiritual tornado."
The year 2003 marks the 50th anniversary of the first
of seven cross-country walks for peace undertaken by Mildred Lisette
Norman Ryder, between January 1, 1953 and July 7, 1981. At the age of
44, after a spiritual journey of 15 years in which she transformed herself
completely, she embarked on her "calling" to be a pilgrim
for peace. For the next 28 years she walked over 25,000 miles, travelling
penniless and without any organization, fearlessly calling for international
as well as personal disarmament. She walked until given shelter and
fasted until given nourishment. Her message was a simple one: overcome
evil with good, hatred with love and falsehood with truth. To do this,
she said, various stages of maturity must be reached, starting with
the self: inner peace first, then peace will be attainable among individuals,
the community, the nation and the world.
While she lived, those who only heard about her legendary pilgrimages,
wondered if she was a little crazy. Those who met and observed her,
however, knew that she was one of the most practical, clear thinking
people they had ever known. The only startling-even disconcerting- thing
about her was her willingness to live exactly what she preached and
to walk her talk. To put her teachings to the test today would only
sustain, not settle, the question of who she was. Was she a 20th century
anomaly, or one of this century's truest prophets for peace? Did she
have a new - even unique - message to share, or was it the visible enactment
of an old, well-known religious script practiced en route, over 25,000
miles, that was her genius? Should she be left in obscurity, or should
her spiritual legacy be examined for what it may have to say to us today?
Family Background and Early Life
Mildred Lisette Norman Ryder, spiritual teacher, non-violence advocate
and self-designated "peace pilgrim" who walked more than 25,000
miles over three decades spreading her peace message across America,
was born on July 18, 1908 on a small poultry farm in Egg Harbor City,
New Jersey. She was the oldest of three children born to Josephine Marie
(Rauch) and Ernest Norman. The family was poor, but well respected in
the farming community their ancestors had helped to found as a German
immigrant agricultural settlement in 1855. The Norman ancestors had
fled Germany for America in the mid-19th century to escape conflict
Mildred Norman grew up in a loving, close-knit, extended family of nine,
including six adults-her parents and three unmarried aunts and a bachelor
uncle, who ran the farm. Her father, a carpenter/contractor, and her
mother, a homemaker, instilled a strong peace ethic in their children,
encouraging discussion of social and political issues, and pursuit of
moral questions. The family considered themselves "free-thinkers"
who sought answers through reason and logic. They practiced no religion,
did not belong to a church, and did not provide formal religious training
to their children. The three spinster aunts-particularly Aunt Lisette
("Setta") Norman, for whom Mildred was named-especially encouraged
the children's intellectual and cultural development, as well as their
interest in the natural world.
Mildred Norman was precocious with an inquisitive mind and a remarkable
memory. She was able to recite long poems at age three, could read at
age four, and one summer, after only six months of lessons, she became
proficient at playing the piano. In high school she was a bright, articulate,
strong-willed student with a dare-devil attitude in sports and physical
efforts, at which she excelled. Academically she maintained the highest
grades and headed the debating team, becoming well known as an excellent
Due to limited family finances, Mildred Norman pursued a business course,
and after high school graduation in 1926, she took secretarial jobs,
first for a glass company and then for the Renault Winery. As a young
adult, she led an active social life, dating, partying, wearing makeup
and buying fancy clothes and expensive furniture. She also wrote plays
for the local Grange in which she was director, costume designer, lighting
manager and producer. In 1933, at the height of the Depression, she
eloped with Stanley Ryder, a businessman, of whom the family did not
approve. The marriage was fractious from the start, with a strong clash
of wills, styles and goals. Stanley wanted a housewife and children;
Mildred did not. He liked to drink, Mildred did not. Stanley believed
in war, Mildred did not. With each passing year, the couple grew further
and further apart.
Oddly, it was in this period of her life - during the Great Depression
- that she made two important discoveries. The first was that making
money was easy. The second was that making money and spending it foolishly
were completely meaningless. She knew that this was not what she was
here for, but at the time, she didn't know what it was she was here
In 1938, after walking all night through the woods praying for guidance
to discover her calling, she underwent a "great spiritual experience."
Increasingly uncomfortable about having so much while others were starving,
she walked and asked God to use her. Coming to a moonlit opening in
the woods, she described this seminal experience:
I felt a complete willingness, without any reservations, to
give my life - to dedicate my life - to service. "If you can
use me for anything, please use me!" I prayed to God. "Here
I am-take all of me; use me as you will. I withhold nothing."
Then a great peace came over me. I experienced a complete willingness
without reservations whatsoever, to give my life to something beyond
This was the first great turning point for thirty-year old Mildred
Norman. She said, "I tell you it's a point of no return. After
that, you can never go back to completely self-centered living."
This was the beginning of Norman's "living to give, not to get."
In 1939, she moved with her husband Stanley to Philadelphia where he
had an opportunity for work. When Stanley Ryder was drafted into WWII
in 1942, Mildred vociferously protested and urged him to become a conscientious
objector. He refused. He joined the Army, and was sent off to a military
training camp. She decided that she would not visit him as long as he
was there. Unlike other wives who accompanied their husbands to the
army's training camps, Mildred refused to go along. After Stanley was
shipped off to Europe, she sent him at least one care package, but that
was the extent of her communication. Eventually, while in Europe, Stanley
became involved with another woman and sued for divorce. Their divorce
was final in 1946.
1940-1952 Preparations for Inner
For the entire decade of the 1940s, even while married, Mildred Ryder
searched diligently for the service she felt she was called to undertake.
First she worked with senior citizens and those with emotional problems.
Then she volunteered in peace organizations, volunteering for the Quaker
American Friends Service Committee, the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission
and the United Nations Council of Philadelphia. She stayed at the Jane
Addams House and worked there for the Women's International League for
Peace and Freedom. For a time, she was their Washington, DC peace lobbyist.
Sometime in the early forties, she also met and worked for Scott Nearing,
a radical economist and staunch pacifist, who had been a Professor of
Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. Mildred helped distribute
his newsletter World Events.
In this same period, she began radically simplifying her life. She decided
to get rid of unneces-sary possessions and frivolous activities. She
became a vegetarian, disciplined herself to live on ten dollars a week,
and reduced her wardrobe to two dresses. She joined the Endurance Hiking
Club, and undertook wilderness treks, to increase her physical strength
and to gain experience in simple living. She said that she wanted to
practice putting material things in their proper place, "realizing
that they are there for use, but relinquishing them when they are not
useful." She said she wanted to "experience and learn to appreciate
the great freedom of simplicity."
During her 15-year inner preparation, she discovered the difference
between the willingness to give of herself and the actual
giving. She described this period as a time when she was engaged in
a great struggle between ego and conscience, or between her "lower,
self-centered nature," and the "higher, God-centered nature."
The body, mind and emotions are instruments which can be used
by either the self-centered nature or the God-centered nature. The
self-centered nature uses these instruments yet it is never fully
able to control them, so there is a constant struggle. They can only
be fully controlled by the God-centered nature. When the God-centered
nature takes over, you have found inner peace.
She cautioned vigilance over the formidable enemy the "self-centered
The self-centered nature is a very formidable enemy and it struggles
fiercely to retain its identity. It defends itself in a cunning manner
and should not be regarded lightly. It knows the weakest spots in
your armor...During these periods of attack maintain a humble stature
and be intimate with none but the guiding whisper of your higher self.
She believed that overcoming selfishness and gaining release from
its power were key to attaining inner peace and spiritual maturity.
She believed that when she attained that maturity - physical, mental
and emotional - she would be in total harmony and know what to do.
Stages to Inner Peace
Through years of contemplation and volunteer work, through spiritual
seeking and walking in receptive silence amid nature, she worked out
her own steps towards inner peace. She described her journey as going
through "stages of maturity," or "spiritual growth."
The first stage (1933-1938) represented her emotional ups and downs
of discontent and struggles within her "self-centered life."
Those years between the second stage and the sixth (1938-1953) brought
her to the complete inner peace she sought. She gained it slowly, in
a series of spiritual plateaus. Her very first plateau, or glimpse of
"inner peace," she said, came in the fourth stage (the mid-1940s).
Then in the fifth (the late 1940s), she experienced more plateaus for
longer and longer periods. Finally, in the sixth stage (1952), she achieved
complete inner peace and was ready to embark on her life's work. (These
stages and the steps to achieve them were later translated into her
pamphlet, Steps Toward Inner Peace.) She described her first
"inner peace" experience, which arrived in stage four, this
I was out walking in the early morning. All of a sudden I felt
very uplifted, more uplifted than I had ever been. I remember I knew
timelessness and spacelessness and lightness. I did not seem to be
walking on the earth...but...every flower, every bush, every tree,
seemed to wear a halo. There was a light emanation around everything
and flecks of gold fell like slanted rain through the air...The most
important part was not the phenomena: the important part of it was
the realization of the oneness of all creation...
Transformative Appalachian Trail Experience,
sixth stage and final step, at which she arrived at complete inner peace,
came in the fall of 1952, at the end of a long and extraordinary journey
on foot. On April 26, 1952, Mildred Ryder began a 2,050 mile hike of
the Appalachian Trail
and parts of the Long Trail. She started her hike north from Mt. Oglethorp
in Georgia, and headed toward Mt. Katahdin, in northern Maine. On the
way, she made a 165 mile detour, and also hiked the northern half of
the Long Trail in Vermont from the point where the two trails diverge
mid state. She then returned to central Vermont and completed the remainder
of the AT trek in October 1952. Completing this walk, she became the
first women to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one
season. At the end of this remarkable journey, she also achieved total
inner peace and discovered what she was called to do.
She had been hiking for five months, living outdoors completely, equipped
with only a pair of slacks, one shirt and sweater, a blanket and two
plastic sheets. Her menu, morning and evening, was two cups of uncooked
oatmeal soaked in water and flavored with brown sugar; at noon, two
cups of double strength dried milk, plus any berries, nuts or greens
that she found in the woods.
Life on the trail agreed with her. Hiking reinforced her belief in simplicity
and confirmed her ability to live in harmony at need level,
for long periods of time, in all weather conditions. She felt her faith
in God-as perceived through nature-strengthen and solidify as a clear
and omnipotent source of divine inspiration. She became convinced that
material possessions were simply a burden, and that to achieve a daily
state of grace, she would need to maintain that simplicity after she
got off the trail. The idea to become a pilgrim, walking cross-country
for peace, came at this time in a vision. She wrote:
I sat high upon a hill overlooking rural New England. The day
before I had slipped out of harmony, and the evening before I had
thought to God: "It seems to me that if I could always remain
in harmony I could be of greater usefulness - for every time I slip
out of harmony it impairs my usefulness. And when I woke up in the
morning I was back again on the mountaintop and I knew I would never
need to descend again into the valley.
After that...there is a feeling of always being surrounded by
all the good things, like love and peace and joy. It seems like a
protective surrounding, and there is an unshakeableness within, which
takes you through any situations you need to face....
I then saw in my mind's eye, myself walking along and wearing
the garb of my mission...I saw a map of the United States with the
large cities marked - and it was as though someone had taken a colored
crayon and marked a zigzag line across, coast to coast and border
to border, from Los Angeles to New York City. I knew what I was to
do. I will talk to everyone who will listen to me about the way to
peace. I'm even planning to wear a sign, the back of which will read,
"Walking Coast to Coast for Peace" and the front, "Peace
Pilgrim." And that was the vision of my first year's pilgrimage
Peace Pilgrim Sets Forth, 1953
On January 1, 1953, at age 44, Mildred Norman Ryder adopted the name
Peace Pilgrim, put on a pair of canvas sneakers,
donned dark blue slacks, blouse, and a tunic - on which she had sown
her new name - and set out to walk the length of the country leaving
from Pasadena, CA. She chose blue for her clothing because it is the
international color of peace. She chose Pasadena because she wanted
to set off walking ahead of the Rose Parade where thousands of people
could see her. On that first trip, in the midst of the Korean War, the
Cold War, and at the height of the McCarthy era, she walked 5,000 miles
from California to New York, from coast to coast and from border to
border, sharing her message of peace. She described the timing of her
I realized in 1952 that was the proper time for a pilgrimage
to step forth. The war in Korea was raging and the McCarthy era was
at its height. There was great fear at that time and it was safest
to be apathetic. Yes, it was most certainly a time for a pilgrim to
step forward, because a pilgrim's job is to rouse people from apathy
and make them think...."
The world situation is grave. Humanity, with fearful, faltering steps,
walks a knife-edge between abysmal chaos and a new renaissance, while
strong forces push toward chaos. Yet there is hope. I see hope in
the tireless work for peace of a few devoted souls. I see hope in
the real desire for peace in the heart of humanity, even though the
human family gropes toward peace blindly, not knowing the way...I
think that those of us who have found the way to peace, should be
shouting it from the housetops.
The Way of Peace: Her Message
Carrying in her tunic pockets her only possessions-toothbrush, comb,
pen, and later, her Steps
to Inner Peace pamphlets-she took a vow to walk penniless,
and to remain a wanderer until mankind had learned the way of peace,
"walking until given shelter and fasting until given food."
She had no organizational backing and never accepted money. She owned
only what she wore on her back. She stepped out for peace on faith alone,
and in so doing, undertook a daring and groundbreaking feat that represented
enormous moral courage.
She introduced herself to people as a pilgrim - walking not to a
place but for an idea. Her message was a simple one about
the way to peace. She said to all who would listen: "This
is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth,
and hatred with love." Her definition of peace included peace among
nations, among people and individuals, and the most important peace-within
oneself-for only with inner peace, she believed, can the other kinds
be achieved. She said that her message should not be taken lightly,
or viewed simply as impractical religious concepts, but rather, as universal
truths to be lived:
These are laws governing human conduct, which apply as rigidly
as the law of gravity. When we disregard these laws in any walk of
life chaos results. Through obedience to these laws this world of
ours could enter into a period of peace and richness beyond our fondest
Setting out at the dawn of the nuclear age, she carried three petitions:
one to end the war in Korea, the second to establish a U.S. Peace Department
(both directed at President Eisenhower and Congress); and a third petition
directed at the United Nations, urging world disarmament and the redirection
of arms spending towards human needs funding. She delivered all three.
On her journeys, she preached that the basic conflict in the world was
not between nations, but between two beliefs: 1) that evil can only
be overcome with more evil (the dominant, present belief); and 2) that
evil can only be overcome with good (the belief for which she walked).
"What we suffer from in the world is immaturity," she said.
"If we were mature people, war would be unthinkable and peace would
be assured." In her life, her belief in maturity was put into daily
practice. She wrote:
No one walks so safely as one who walks humbly and harmlessly
with great love and great faith. For such a person gets through to
the good in others (and there is good in everyone), and therefore
cannot be harmed. This works between individuals, it works between
groups and it would work between nations if nations had the courage
to try it.
She walked for the next 28 years, weaving back and forth across the
country, making trips into neighboring countries. From the start, her
life on the road - walking, talking, eating, sleeping - was undertaken
as a reverent, loving prayer, integrating what she believed were the
important things of living, into a penniless, simple, committed existence
of love and service.
She never approached anyone, but waited for people to approach her.
Her commitment was to make herself available to the serious, the concerned
and the curious. She spoke tirelessly to those who wanted to talk. With
her message covering the entire peace gamut, from the international
to the individual, she asked people to overcome the selfishness and
pride within themselves first, and then do whatever they felt called
to do for peace in the world.
For those who asked, she gave out her Steps Toward Inner Peace
pamphlet, which outlined her preparations for inner peace, including
simplification of life and purification of the body, bringing the inner
and outer well being into harmony. She always stressed that there was
no particular order to the steps, but rather, one should begin wherever
it made sense. (These Steps were first printed in 1966, when, during
a radio interview, a friend asked her to share them with listeners.
The friend copied them down and made a little booklet, Steps Toward
Inner Peace, which has been in print ever since).
Peace Pilgrim, the Messenger
Peace Pilgrim was a small woman with a large message, delivered in
a clear, distinctive voice. Only 5 feet 2 inches tall, she was slim,with
white hair and bright blue eyes. She perfectly fit the stereotypical
image of the "little old lady in tennis shoes." In her dark
blue tunic with white lettering, she would disarm her audiences with
her many life stories. Listeners would come away with real challenges
to their own life choices. Hearing her prompted their own innter questions:
"Wouldn't it be better to uplift each other rather than destroy
each other? How am I going to live a meaningful life? What choices have
I made in my life already? What do I need to change in my life
to make a difference?"
She had a magnetism that was instantly felt. She was a spellbinding,
forceful speaker with a consistent message that included a storehouse
of powerful stories and inspiring one-liners that were easy for people
to hear and remember:
Hate injures the hater, not the hated. Prayer is a concentration
of positive thoughts. Problems that help us grow are really opportunities
in disguise. In all things be thankful. Never be impatient, all good
things take time. Be not concerned that you are offended, but that
you do not offend. A calling means what you like to do.
She claimed people needed two things in life for life to be meaningful:
something to lift them up spiritually and inspire them to awaken to
their higher nature (religion, art, nature); and a calling,
a path of service - something to do that will help someone - because,
in this world, she said, "you are given as you give."
Her message was a personal one, directed at the individual, and delivered
in a simple, understandable way, one on one. She was not political in
the traditional sense, though her message, if adopted, would have powerful
political results. Her genius was that her message and its manner of
delivery changed consciousness, one person at a time, empowering and
releasing individual potential. She never accepted followers, and never
gave her birth name or married name because she wanted people to remember
what was important - her message.
25,000 Miles and She Stopped
For almost three decades, from 1953 to 1981, she crossed the country
seven times, including two trips to Hawaii and Alaska, as well as Mexico
and Canada. In 1955, when she began her second pilgrimage, she walked
at least 100 miles in each state, visiting every state capital. In 1957,
she walked 1000 miles in Canada, crossing its 10 provinces and walking
at least 100 miles in each province. In 1964, arriving in Washington,
DC, she completed 25,000 miles on foot for peace and stopped counting.
But she continued walking for another 17 years, going through 29 pairs
of children's sneakers, averaging 1,500 miles a pair. (At that rate,
she actually walked 43,500 miles). Her fourth pilgrimage began in 1966;
her fifth in 1969; her sixth in 1973, and her seventh (and final one)
Wherever she went, she gave presentations, speaking of her own personal
experiences and insights, in community centers, churches, schools and
homes. By the end of her 28 years of wandering, she had been a guest
on every major radio and TV station in the country at least twice. Her
correspondence with thousands of followers was steady and voluminous
because she answered every letter addressed to her (sent care of her
sister, Helene Norman Young in Cologne, NJ) for nearly three decades,
and sent out her own newsletter, "Peace
Usually, Peace Pilgrim averaged about 25 miles a day, moving north in
summer and south in winter to avoid the worst weather. She seldom missed
more than three or four meals before someone offered to feed her. Shelter
was provided most nights (by those who encountered her) but when not
provided, she slept in fields, under bridges, in haystacks, drainage
pipes and by the roadsides. Her vow of simplicity - down to the level
of need - was both spiritual and practical: want and need were the same
Peace Pilgrim-Sojourner with
She had her share of what most would call "dangerous encounters,"
but which she called "tests" and "opportunities,"
no different than all life experiences. She was arrested twice for vagrancy,
but when jailed, found receptive female audiences for her philosophy
and songs. She also convinced the arresting officers that she was a
true pilgrim, and was released. On another trip, a disturbed teenager
began to beat her, but she was able to contact what she called "the
spark of good" in him, and convinced him to stop. Occasionally,
when drunks accosted her, she would spend time with them, sharing her
life with theirs, calming their aggressive behaviors. She put into practice
her faith in nonviolence, her belief that everyone has good in them
that can always be reached, producing only good in return.
Her faith in the power of the mind was unshakeable. She believed that
people constantly create through their thoughts. "If you are fearful,"
she said, "you will attract the thing you fear! I fear nothing
- I expect only good - so to me, only good comes." She believed
that all life's problems are learning and growing experiences, and that
with "the right attitude - you can solve anything." Her fearlessness
was a source of awe and inspiration, especially for women, who could
not imagine themselves walking alone through the desert at night or
the inner cities either. Her positive attitude and undaunted faith in
human goodness attracted converts. It acted as a spiritual chain reaction
that empowered others.
Peace Pilgrim seemed to drink from an endless source of energy that
she tapped effortlessly in her walks across America, and which she claimed
was available to everyone. The source, she said, was her own inner peace.
She was also in robust health, and said that she never "suffered
a cold or a headache" after she found inner peace. She walked with
sparkle and verve and a serenity that had no match. Those who met her
immediately noticed the sense of calm she conveyed, as though she was
free from all burdens. Some even felt that she seemed to live in another
dimension. Combined with her wit, physical stamina and mental discipline,
she commanded the admiration of even the most skeptical. Her boundless
sense of joy and freedom often disarmed audiences.
Some people think that my life dedicated to simplicity and service
is austere and joyless, but they do not know the freedom of simplicity.
I am thankful to God every moment of my life for the great riches
that have been showered upon me.
Those who knew her said that she "gloried in the richness of her
inner life and the richness of her connections" with people. Audiences
felt that connection instantly, and individually, people were moved
to change their lives. Thousands were influenced to work for peace,
and thousands more were influenced to change themselves and their personal
relations. "Begin in your own life, then move out to your surroundings,
and finally this will affect institutions," she would say.
The Uniqueness of Peace Pilgrim
has been called a prophet, a mystic, a saint, and a person who walked
her talk. Her message was not new, but practicing it was. Here was someone
who had relinquished all earthly possessions to live a focused life
based upon spiritual truths and immutable principles. Hearing her message
was like hearing any one of the world's great religions. Those who were
Christian were sure she preached the beliefs of Jesus Christ. Those
who were Jewish, felt she represented the way of Yahweh. Buddhists,
Bahais and Jains were sure she spoke their religions. And those who
were Muslim were certain that she preached the teachings of Islam.
In her message, she combined the teachings of all the world's great
religions. She was original in the sense that she gave her
message only after she had tested, verified and demonstrated its efficacy
in her own life. She had found the "kingdom within" and lived
to share it with others. She has been described as "a gentle, soothing,
spiritual tornado" whose simple, direct message delivered a compelling
challenge to conscience. A friend from India wrote that "it was
not the scholar's erudition that spoke through her, but the saint's
imprisoned splendor, released in its full effulgence for three decades."
What was also unique about the Peace Pilgrim was that she was the living
example of the potential that can be unleashed when someone
is fully engaged in doing what they believe is the most important thing
in the world for them to be doing. She believed people only scratched
the surface of their real potential. To everyone who came in contact
with her, she was living proof that changing your life was possible.
She lived the change she wanted to see. Her own life said, "You
can do it too!"
She lived by faith, and by the energy of her own Inner Light. In our
time, and certainly in our country, no one else was like her. She has
been called a 20th century St. Francis of Assisi, and is often compared
to Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Like them, she
had "a peaceful heart, and a warrior's spirit." But unlike
them, she had no political organization, no religious institution, and
no specific cause or people to champion. The whole world was her cause
and wherever she walked, she called it home. She felt at ease everywhere
she went because of her "homelessness" attitude, and because
she lived so completely in the present moment. She is probably the 20th
century's most underrated and least known spiritual leader and peace
In the mid 1950s, her message of inner and outer peace did not find
as great a reception as it did by the 1960s and 1970s, when working
for peace and especially spiritual harmony, was becoming more popular.
"When I started out, people accepted war as a necessary part of
life. Now, people are looking for alternatives. Now people are looking
inward," she said. As the years wore on, she was in greater and
greater demand as a speaker, often having to book herself a year in
advance. She spent fewer nights along the roadside, and began accepting
more rides to keep her engagements, always being returned to the spot
she had left off walking.
The last spot for Peace Pilgrim was Knox, Indiana. The day before she
had given her last speech in Valpraiso, Indiana. In order to make the
next scheduled meeting, she had to be driven. She was on her way, just
outside Knox in the afternoon of July 7, 1981, when an on-coming car
crossed the median strip and struck the car she was riding in head on.
She died soon after impact, and her driver died four hours later. With
that car collision, she finally went to what she called her "glorious
transition" to a "freer life."
Mildred Lisette Norman Ryder was cremated, and on July 18, 1981, the
date of what would have been her 73rd birthday, her ashes were interred
in the Norman family cemetery plot in Galloway Township, NJ, not far
from Egg Harbor City where she was born. Her ashes were buried in the
gravesite of her most influential aunt, Lisette Norman, after whom she
Peace Pilgrim's Legacy
Her peace legacy was large and compelling especially when measured
by her own principles:
We must walk according to the highest light we have, encountering
lovingly those who are out of harmony, and trying to inspire them
to a better way. Whenever you bring harmony into any unpeaceful situation,
you contribute to the cause of peace. When you do something for world
peace, peace among groups, peace among individuals, or your own inner
peace, you improve the total peace picture. No action is fruitless.
There is within the hearts of people deep desire for peace on earth,
and they would speak for peace if they were not bound by apathy, by
ignorance, by fear. It is the job of peacemakers to inspire them from
their apathy, to dispel their ignorance with truth, to allay their
fear with faith that God's laws work - and work for good....My simple
peace message is adequate - really just the message that the way of
peace is the way of love. Love is the greatest power on earth. It
conquers all things...
Beyond those lives that she touched directly during her life, what
was her legacy? 2003 marks the 50th anniversary of her first walk across
America. What can we point to as her "achievements"? Did she
plant the seeds for fundamental change, or did many of those seeds fall
on fallow ground? Like many powerful individuals whose message - if
followed - is world changing, qualitative results are most potent but
difficult to gage, while quantitative results are more concrete and
limited as a true measurement.
Perhaps the greatest testament to her influence is the fact that the
bulk of her teachings and writings have been published and distributed
posthumously, and with it, the recognition that her life and teachings
were of enduring value. Otherwise, interest in her would not have grown
exponentially each year, as it has, without money, marketing or organization.
Twenty years after her death, she has become better known and sought
after than when she was alive. More remarkable, her fame has been achieved
exclusively through word of mouth, and the dedication of a few friends.
Friends of Peace Pilgrim Continue
After her death, the Friends
of Peace Pilgrim, a non-profit, all-volunteer group composed
of people directly touched by her life was set up in California in 1981.
Ann and John Rush, who gave their home for this purpose, have devoted
their retirement to this service, in the spirit of Peace Pilgrim. The
Friends' purpose is to publish and disseminate the words and work of
Peace Pilgrim. They also serve as a repository and distribution site
for her teachings. They write, compile and send out a newsletter that
serves as an information source describing on-going Peace Pilgrim work,
related activities and influences.
Peace Pilgrim Book Soon after Peace Pilgrim's death,
five friends of Peace Pilgrim got together and compiled a 224-page book,
Peace Pilgrim, Her
Life and Work in her Own Words, first printed in 1983. This
book pulled together the major teachings and talks of Peace Pilgrim
in one place. It has been reprinted many times, with 500,000 copies
in 11 languages in circulation-all without marketing or funding. Contributions
from supporters have been sufficient to keep it in circulation. It is
now distributed commercially by Ocean Tree Books, Santa Fe, NM.
Spirit of Peace, 1st Documentary The Friends created
a documentary film, Peace Pilgrim: The Spirit of Peace, in
1997, and several other shorter video clips of her speeches recorded
live as she preached and spoke. Spirit of Peace is a 71-minute
video that captures the life and teachings of Peace Pilgrim, and provides
a sense of the impact her life had on those who knew her. It has been
widely distributed and served as a forerunner for the 2nd video film.
An American Sage, 2nd Documentary The Friends also
produced a TV-quality, 60-minute documentary in 2000, entitled Peace
Pilgrim: An American Sage Who Walked Her Talk. This film contains
extraordinary television footage from Peace Pilgrim's early pilgrimages
in the 1950's and early 1960's as well as testimony from well-known
religious leaders, spiritual teachers, academics, cultural figures,
writers, poets and everyday people who had either known Peace Pilgrim
or were deeply affected by her life and teachings.
Peace Pilgrim Movie A full length, professional feature
film portrayal of the life of Peace Pilgrim is currently under development.
A script has been produced, industry supporters are working to make
the necessary connections, and it is expected to be under production
in the near future. The goal is for the Peace Pilgrim's life to go beyond
entertainment and serve to inspire a global renaissance of the eternal
principles of peace, as taught and lived by Peace Pilgrim.
Web Site In 1995, a web site, www.peacepilgrim.org,
was created, bringing together many important aspects of Peace Pilgrim's
life and achievements. It was originally set up by volunteers and is
regularly updated by a volunteer webmaster, Bruce Nichols.
Steps Toward Inner Peace Pamphlet The Friends continue
to reprint the Peace Pilgrim's Steps
Toward Inner Peace pamphlet. Today, over 1.5 million copies
of Steps are now in print in English. It has been translated
into 25 languages including Russian, in which over 30,000 copies have
been printed and distributed, and a Peace Pilgrim Center in Moscow has
been established. Reports come to the Friends Center that the Steps
pamphlet keeps "showing up" in distant places - African villages,
in the shadow of the Pyramids, in the jungles of Thailand, at a Bedouin
inn, in the ancient ruins of Central America, in an Ashramic Library
in the Himalayas, and in China.
Steps Prison Project For years, the Steps
pamphlet has been an important source of inspiration to this nation's
prison population. The Human
Kindness Foundation now sends a copy of Steps to all
new prisoners who contact the organization. On average, they send out
15,000 copies a year. In addition, prisoners have initiated "inner
peace" projects and study groups within state prisons, using the
Steps pamphlet. It is reported that there is a near 100% non-recidivism
rate for all prisoners who have participated in a program, or come in
contact with the Steps pamphlet.
Legal Mediation Project Because of contact with the
Peace Pilgrim's message, lawyers who wished to find an alternative to
the combative, adversarial legal system started mediation projects such
as the one in Dallas, TX. Through the local Bar Association, the Dallas
Mediation Project trained 1000 attorneys as mediators for settling civil
disputes. They have been using Peace Pil- grim's principles since 1987,
trying to find creative solutions and win-win-scenarios for their clients.
They say the difference between mediation and litigation is that in
litigation, the dispute is resolved by somebody "dying", whereas
in mediation, dispute is resolved by everybody finding a solution that
they can all live with. The project uses the Peace Pilgrim's "golden
rule of resolution" as its primary teaching principle: Have
it be your purpose to resolve the dispute rather than to gain an advantage.
In their first six months, with 1000 cases in Dallas County referred
for mediation, approximately 80% of them settled voluntarily.
Peace Pilgrim Statue, Costa Rica On November 19, 2000,
a life-size bronze statue
of Peace Pilgrim, created by sculptor Fernando Calvo, was dedicated
at the United Nations University of Peace in Colon, Costa Rica. It was
placed near that of Gandhi and other world peacemakers such as Tolstoy
and King on the grounds of the University. Rodrigo Carazo, former President
of Costa Rica, gave the keynote address at the dedication ceremony.
Robert Muller, former assistant secretary general of the United Nations
and chancellor emeritus of the UN University for Peace, originated the
idea of the statues a few years ago. He wanted to honor individuals
who "dedicated their life's work to world peace." Costa Rica
is the first and only country to unilaterally abolish its army, which
occurred 50 years ago. The University of Peace, founded in 1980, is
the world's only United Nations-sanctioned learning center dedicated
to peace studies.
Peace Pilgrim Statue, Egg Harbor, NJ Another statue
of Peace Pilgrim has also been created - in ceramic - by New Jersey
artist Sally McInermey. It is destined to be placed in her hometown
of Egg Harbor City, NJ, sometime in the near future.
Awards: She was posthumously awarded the Sherborn,
Abby's "Courage of Conscience" Award in 1992. Described
as "the wandering mendicant and peace activist," she was awarded
the honor "for her unprecedented 28 year trip across America, in
which she walked over 25,000 miles, talking to everyone she met about
Nominations In the spring of 1981, Peace Pilgrim was
recommended for nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. (However, the
Prize cannot be awarded posthumously.) In 2003, she was nominated for
the National Women's
Hall of Fame. She has also been entered in the Encyclopedia
of Notable American Women, Vol. V, published by Harvard University
In July 2000, the Dalai Lama tried to sum up the impact of her life,
for the documentary film, Peace Pilgrim: An American Sage.
He said, while holding a copy of her book:
Her motivation and activities are effective methods. Her commitment
to propagate peace through actions, the peace walk, without seeking
money or fame, is wonderful. We need such determined people everywhere,
irrespective of culture, race, religion. It doesn't matter. We are
all brothers and sisters. Peace Pilgrim is a real peacemaker.
|For more information, contact:
Friends of Peace Pilgrim
7350 Dorado Canyon Rd.
Somerset, CA 95684
Testimonials about Peace Pilgrim
Stories and testimonials abound from those that met
Peace Pilgrim and whose lives were changed.
Many more were moved by the words she left behind:
Peace Pilgrim strengthened our faith in the reality of the spiritual
world and (she) has given us a concrete example of something we never
dreamed possible: a person filled with inner peace and boundless energy
that grew with time. She has given us hope of finding that same universal
energy because she insists that it is there for all of us. "If
I can find it, you can too," she would say. The greatest inspiration
of all is that her life and her words were one. She was the message."
-- A California Couple.
...It was such a moving experience for all of us to be in the presence
of someone who was truly living her beliefs and faith....I have never
heard anyone express in a more beautiful and challenging way what it
means to be a human being. And what is possible for each of us as a
human being. Her life is a living testimony to the truth of her message.
-- College Professor
A crackpot? A peculiar person? Strange to talk to? Not at all. She
has more common sense than anyone I have ever met.
-- A Minister
...She literally brought "heaven" onto earth. She brought
the divine qualities into her life here...She changed lives all over
-- A Texas Newspaper
The extent of a person's influence is anchored in the universal
truth of life. -- A friend
She gloried in the richness of her inner life and the richness of
her connections with people.
-- John Robbins, author
She was like Gandhi or King who have a peaceful heart, but a warrior's
spirit. -- Dan Millman
I had occasion to read the Peace Pilgrim book. Words fail me to
express the direct lucidness and import of the message contained therein.
It could well have been a distilled summarized extract of the messages
contained in the scriptures of all the religions of the world, i.e.,
Hindu, Chinese, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, etc., written in a style
so direct and useful to the layman that it would be a way of life for
-- A friend from India
It is considered the highest level of enlightenment simply to 'walk
as you talk"-Peace Pilgrim lived out this message and I celebrate
her magnificent commitment to peace and harmony in the world. Indeed,
she is my hero.
-- Wayne Dyer, motivational teacher
To have faith and to step out on that faith is amazing. It's inspiring...
-- Maya Angelou
There was just no one like her. She made a contribution to this
world of ours which is absolutely unique. Her singleness of purpose,
her dedication and her love, humor, warmth and high consciousness changed
the lives of many of us.
-- A Dallas Minister
She was definitely one of the great prophets of peace. -- Robert