Peace Pilgrim’s 28-year walk for ‘A meaningful way of life’

NPR’s All Things Considered remembers “Peace Pilgrim”

by Zak Rosen. Here is an excerpt:

In 1953, Mildred Norman set off from the Rose Bowl parade on New Year’s Day with a goal of walking the entire country for peace. She left her given name behind and took up a new identity: Peace Pilgrim.

When Peace Pilgrim started out, the Korean War was still under way, and an ominous threat of a nuclear attack was on the minds of many Americans. And so, with “Peace Pilgrim” written across her chest, she began walking “coast to coast for peace.”

For 28 years — the time she spent on her journey — she never used money. She gave new meaning to the word minimalist, wearing the same clothes every day: blue pants and a blue tunic that held everything she owned: a pen, a comb, a toothbrush and a map. That’s it.

“I own only what I wear and carry. I just walk until given shelter, fast until given food,” she said at the time. “I don’t even ask; it’s given without asking. I tell you, people are good. There’s a spark of good in everybody.”


Peace Pilgrim’s sister, Helene Young, 97, says Mildred Norman “was very much what they called a flapper in those days. She had to have the latest clothing. So, she made so many changes in her life to a very simple, basic life,” Young says.

“We were brought up without a formal religion or politics,” Young adds. “We were taught to think for ourselves, not follow the sheep.”

“During the early years of my life, I discovered that money-making was easy but not satisfying,” Young once explained. And one night in the late 1930s, “out of a feeling of deep seeking for a meaningful way of life,” Peace Pilgrim began walking through the woods.

“And after I had walked almost all night, I came out into a clearing where the moonlight was shining down. And something just motivated me to speak and I found myself saying, ‘If you can use me for anything, please use me. Here I am, take all of me, use me as you will, I withhold nothing,'” Peace Pilgrim recalled. “That night, I experienced the complete willingness, without any reservations whatsoever, to give my life to something beyond myself.”

Fifteen years passed between this striking moment of clarity and the official beginning of her pilgrimage….

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