BARNEGAT – For 28 years, a woman by the name “Peace Pilgrim” walked more than 25,000 miles on a personal journey for peace.
To this day, her impact continues to inspire people with her words captured in books, videos and other media.
The Barnegat Quakers, a Quaker faith community who practice silent worship, hosted an online presentation about the Peace Pilgrim. Presenting was Merry Brennan, who is a journalist, activist, artist, columnist, communications consultant, adjunct professor and elected official. She wrote the biographical novel, “Peace Pilgrim: Walking Her Talk Against Hate” and, most recently, “Eye Rolls & Awe: A National Park Road Trip With Teens.”
Peace Pilgrim, whose name was Mildred Lisette Norman, grew up on a chicken farm in Egg Harbor City. Growing up, she was the popular kid in school. She was also academic and became valedictorian of her class. She had a well-paying job and got married in 1933, but she still wasn’t happy with her life.
“After a few years she wasn’t happy and she couldn’t figure out why. She had all the money she could want and all her friends, but she was really conflicted with life,” Merry said.
During this time of depression and war, Mildred saw photos in a magazine of the war and this made her feel the contrast with her comfortable lifestyle. Later in 1938, she had a ‘great spiritual experience.’
“The turning point came when in desperation and out of a very deep seeking for a meaningful way of life, I walked all night through the woods. I came to a moonlight glade and prayed. I felt a complete willingness to give my life, to dedicate my life to service. ‘Please use me,’ I prayed to God and a great peace suddenly came over me,” Peace Pilgrim wrote in her journal. “It was a point of no return. After that I could never go back to a completely self-centered living.” This was the beginning of her great 15-year transition.
During this time, she volunteered at peace organizations, hospitals, detention centers and in homes with elderly and special needs. She then quit her job, began hiking and gave away all her possessions.
This led to her being the first woman to hike the 2050-mile Appalachian Trail in 1952. On this hike, she saw a vision of her wearing all blue with the words ‘Peace Pilgrim’ on the front.
Then in 1953, she stepped out in front of the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California, wearing a blue tunic imprinted with her new identity: Peace Pilgrim.
From 1953 until 1981, she walked more than 25,000 miles across North America sharing her thoughts and spreading peace throughout.
“When enough of us find inner peace, our institutions will become peaceful and there will be no more occasion for war,” was Peace Pilgrim’s message.
Although she passed away in 1981 from a car crash, her legacy and words still inspire people to this day. Helena, Peace Pilgrim’s sister, continued her sister’s pilgrimage and carried her legacy for 40 years.
Currently, the Friends of Peace Pilgrim is a volunteer non-profit who is devoted to spreading Peace Pilgrim’s message. You can view all the letters and post cards sent to Peace Pilgrim at the Egg Harbor City Historical Society.
The Friends of Peace Pilgrim worked hard to find newspaper clippings, newsletters, her journals and writings and compiled them all to create the Peace Pilgrim Book.
Today, you can view a statue of Peace Pilgrim in Egg Harbor City and Peace Pilgrim Park was created in her honor.
At the Barnegat Quakers’ presentation, some visitors of the event shared their memories and thoughts about Peace Pilgrim.
Suzanne Day shared her story from the 1960s, where she and her fellow colleagues were excited for Peace Pilgrim to speak to their class at the University of Delaware. Peace Pilgrim stayed a night or two at Suzanne’s home and she explained how Peace Pilgrim wouldn’t take anything with her.
“At the time she had just finished walking 25,000 miles. She was getting ready to leave and I made some peanut butter sandwiches and offered her one but she said ‘I don’t carry anything but a comb and a toothbrush.’ It was amazing to me that she took off onto the rural roads not even with a peanut butter sandwich,” Suzanne said.
Barbara Reynolds, a member of the Friends of Peace Pilgrim added on saying, “I just love the part about her not taking the peanut butter sandwich. I feel like it’s such a perfect explanation of how she totally trusted that her needs would be met.”
To learn more and hear more stories about the Peace Pilgrim, visit peacepilgrim.org.