From 1953 to 1981, a silver haired woman calling herself only “Peace Pilgrim” walked more than 25,000 miles on a personal pilgrimage for peace. She vowed to “remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food.” In the course of her 28-year pilgrimage, she touched the hearts, minds, and lives of thousands of individuals all across North America. Her message was both simple and profound, and continues to inspire people all over the world: “This is the way of peace: overcome evil with good, and falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.”
Born Mildred Lisette Norman, she was a non-denominational spiritual teacher, mystic, pacifist, vegetarian activist and peace activist. In 1952, she became the first woman to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one season. She also walked across the United States at least eight times, and likely more than 20 times. Starting on January 1, 1953, in Pasadena, California, she adopted the name “Peace Pilgrim” and wandered the United States for 28 years.
A transcript of a 1964 conversation with Peace Pilgrim from a broadcast on KPFK radio in Los Angeles, California, was published as “Steps Toward Inner Peace”. She stopped counting miles in that year, having walked more than 40,000 km (25,000 mi) for her cause.
Her pilgrimage spanned almost three decades, beginning January 1, 1953, in Pasadena, California. This period of time saw American involvement in two major conflicts – the Korean War and the Vietnam War – and was set against the backdrop of the Cold War and the threat of global atomic annihilation. Peace Pilgrim was a frequent speaker at churches, universities, and local and national radio and television. Just think that what Forest Gump did for three years – running across the States – happened for real, only it lasted ten times longer. Peace Pilgrim not only walked for 28 years, but she walked through great political and social changes that happened in the U.S. between the 1960’s and 1990’s. Just imagine how many concerts she could have been to, the transformations that she would have seen, as she traveled from state to state on foot.
Expressing her ideas about peace, she referred to herself only as “Peace Pilgrim.” Peace Pilgrim’s only possessions were the clothes on her back and the few items she carried in the pockets of her blue tunic which read “Peace Pilgrim” on the front and “25,000 Miles on foot for peace” on the back. She had no organizational backing, carried no money, and would not even ask for food or shelter – only taking what was offered
On July 7, 1981, while being driven from the Chicago area to a speaking engagement near Knox, Indiana, Peace Pilgrim was killed in an automobile accident. After her death, her body was cremated, and her ashes were interred in a family plot near Egg Harbor City, New Jersey.