By Pam Teel
From 1953 until 1981, a silver haired woman calling herself only “Peace Pilgrim” walked more than 25,000 miles on a personal pilgrimage for peace. Wearing a blue tunic and carrying just a few worldly possessions in her pockets, she shared her simple but profound message in thou- sands of communities throughout the United States. She had no organizational backing, car- ried no money, and would not even ask for food or shelter. When she began her pilgrimage she had taken a vow to “remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food.”
She became the first woman to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one season. She also walked across the United States a few times speaking to others about PEACE. She Started in January 1953, in Pasadena California, where she adopted the name “Peace Pilgrim” and continued walking across the United States for 28 years. She actually stopped counting the miles after 25,000.
In the book, “Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words,” Mildred related that her physical journey began after having experienced a “spiritual awakening,” following a long period of meditation practice. She said that this awakening was a direct, mystical experience of the “creator’s” love and claimed that this spurred her to then start her decades-long walking journey for peace.
Mildred was born on a poultry farm in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey, in 1908. She was the old- est of three children. Her mother, Josephine Marie Ranch, was a tailor, and her father, Ernest Norman, a carpenter. Although poor, the Norman family was admired in a community of Ger- man immigrants, whose relatives originally settled the area after escaping Germany in 1855.
In 1933 she eloped with Stanley Ryder and moved to Philadelphia in 1939. They divorced in 1946. Mildred was a non-denominational spiritual teacher, activist, and peace activist.
She felt that in order for the world to become more peaceful, people must become more peace-
ful. Her philosophy went like this, “Among mature people war would not be a problem- it
would be impossible. In their immaturity, people want, at the same time, peace and the things
that make war. However, people can mature just as children grow up. Yes, our institutions and
our leaders reflect our immaturity but as we mature we will elect better leaders and set up better
institutions. It always comes back to the thing so many of us wish to avoid: working to improve ourselves. We must overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.” In this day and age we could sure use a woman like Mildred who in her lifetime and beyond had inspired many people around the world.
Her pilgrimage spanned almost three decades beginning when the Korean War was in progress. She continued walking for 28 years, spanning the American involvement in the Vietnam War and beyond. Peace Pilgrim was a frequent speaker at churches, universities, and local and national radio and television.
On July 7, 1981, while being driven to a speaking engagement near Knox, Indiana, Peace Pilgrim was killed in an automobile accident. At the time of her death, she was crossing the United States for the seventh time. After her death, her body was cremated, and her ashes were interred in a family plot near Egg Harbor City, New Jersey.
In 2005, Peace Pilgrim Park was created in her hometown of Egg Harbor City, New Jersey, on part of the site of the former Neutral Water Health Resort Sanitarium. Since 2007 an annual Peace Pilgrim celebration has been observed in the park and at sites throughout Egg Harbor City. In 2017, she was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame. In 2017 she was also inducted into the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame.