Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Philip Noel-Baker

1889 – 1982

Philip Noel-Baker was a British Quaker.  He was born Philip Baker, but when he married Irene Noel in 1915 they both adopted the surname Noel Baker. An academic and politician, he was involved in the establishment of both the League of Nations and the United Nations.  In 1959, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for his work on disarmament.

His anti-war commitment permeated his entire life.

Noel-Baker was one of seven children of J Allen Baker, a Canadian Quaker who moved to England to set up a business, manufacturing machinery.  He attended Bootham Quaker School in York, Haverford College in Pennsylvania, where he studied History, and Cambridge University, where he read economics and international law. A middle-distance runner, he took part in the 1912, 1920 and 1924 Olympic Games, and in 1952 he served as Commandant of the British Olympic Team.

In August 1914, when the First World War began, he and a group of other young Friends founded the Friends Ambulance Unit. He served in France and Italy and won the Mons Star, the Silver Medal for Military Valour and the Croci di Guerra. His wife Irene served alongside him as a nurse, and they married in 1915.

In 1918-19, he was assistant to Viscount Cecil, the British representative on the committee drafting the League of Nations Covenant.  He then became a member of the Secretariat of the League, serving in a variety of capacities. In 1920, he began work with the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen, carrying out humanitarian relief work in Russia, Greece and the Middle East.

From 1924-1929, he was Professor of International Law at the University of London.  During that time he wrote extensively about the League of Nations and about disarmament. In his book, the Geneva Protocol, drawing on his own experience, he wrote:

Our generation must get rid of the militarization of the world… It is a deep-rooted and malignant disease for which palliatives do not suffice, and of which civilized society may die if it be not ended.”

In 1932, he acted as assistant to the chairman of the World Disarmament Conference, one of the earliest attempts at international arms limitation.

Noel-Baker was a member of the Labour Party and served as a Member of Parliament at intervals from 1929 to 1970.  During the Second World War he served as Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of War Transport, and in the Labour Government elected in 1945, he served as Minister of State in the Foreign Office (1945-1946), Secretary of State for Air (1946-1947), Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (1947-1950), and Minister of Fuel and Power (1950-1951). He became Chairman of the Labour Party in 1964.

In 1944, Noel-Baker took charge of the British preparatory work for the United Nations.  He helped to draft the Charter of the UN and was a member of the British delegation in 1946.  He helped to create a balance in the Food and Agricultural Organisation between research work and relief efforts. In the Economic and Social Council, he called for an action program to abolish poverty. In the General Assembly, he supported regulation of arms traffic, plans for atomic controls, economic aid for refugees and re-institution of the “Nansen passport” (internationally recognized documents for displaced persons), the economic unification of the Allied zones in Germany, and wide-ranging plans for economic development and organization in Europe.

In 1958, he published The Arms Race: A Programme for World Disarmament, which combined historical research, analysis and his personal experiences both in the First World War and with the UN and the League of Nations.

Noel-Baker firmly believed that international disarmament was a realistic possibility.  He was well aware, however, of the difficulties involved, particularly in asking governments to give up their military independence.  However, “And are there not new overriding interests, which, for all Governments… should come before the old shibboleths of freedom and secrecy in military preparation-shibboleths which, so far, be it noted, have failed to bring us security from war?” he wrote.

Noel-Baker was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1959.  The Arms Race won the Albert Schweitzer Prize in 1961.

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Further Reading and Credits


  • The Geneva Protocol for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, Philip Noel-Baker. London, P. S. King, 1925.
  • The Arms Race: a programme for world disarmament, Philip Noel-Baker,  London : Atlantic books, 1958.