When Russell was planning the 1955 press conference to release the Russell-Einstein Manifesto (see Einstein letter), one of his chief concerns was to find the right person to chair the event. As he noted in his Autobiography, he wanted someone who “would not only add lustre to the occasion but would be equipped to help me in the technical questions that would surely be asked.” He remembered meeting the physicist Joseph Rotblat (1908-2005) in 1954 when both had appeared as guests on a BBC television program called ‘The Hydrogen Bomb.’ Russell was impressed with the Polish-born Rotblat who, during the War, had worked on the Manhattan Project and knew first-hand the awful power of nuclear weapons.
Now, a year after that television appearance, Russell used his connections to track down Rotblat who was vacationing in a small Irish village. As Rotblat recalled: “One evening … I found a message to report immediately to the police station. With some trepidation … I hurried to the station, only to find that Bertrand Russell had phoned asking me to ring him urgently. The telephone at the police station was the only one in the village. Russell’s request was that I should take the chair at the Press Conference.”
Rotblat enthusiastically endorsed the Russell-Einstein Manifesto and presided over the July 9, 1955, Caxton Hall press conference with, as Russell recalled, “much skill.”
Russell was high in praise of Rotblat: “From the time of that fortunate meeting I have often worked closely with Professor Rotblat and I have come to admire him greatly. He can have few rivals in the courage and integrity and complete self-abnegation with which he has given up his own career … to devote himself to combatting the nuclear peril as well as other, allied evils. If ever these evils are eradicated and international affairs are straightened out, his name should stand very high indeed among the heroes.”
Soon after the successful press conference, Russell, Rotblat, and others of like mind were considering, as Russell recounted, “how we could implement the scientists’ manifesto which had called for a conference of scientists to consider all the matters concerning … the nuclear dangers.” It initially appeared that such a conference would occur in India, but events intervened to prevent that from happening. However, it was not simply a matter of finding a location, but, even more importantly, finding the money to support the conference. It was at this point that Canadian-born American industrialist (and McMaster alumnus) Cyrus Eaton stepped forward. An admirer of Russell and a supporter of the anti-nuclear movement, Eaton offered to finance the conference on one condition, that it be held in his birthplace, the small town of Pugwash, Nova Scotia, where Eaton maintained a summer home and had already hosted several conferences.
After receiving more details from Eaton, Rotblat wrote to Russell the letter that is displayed here. He tells Russell that “there are many advantages in holding the meeting in Canada and we should like to suggest to you that Mr. Eaton’s offer is accepted.” Thus marked the beginning of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which continue to this day in many locations around the world. The first Conference was held in Pugwash over a period of five days in July 1957. The 22 scientists who attended included representatives from both sides of the Cold War bloc, and the meeting had to be handled deftly to prevent the initiative from being smeared as pro-communist. Their joint statement established a basis for future meetings and marked an early step towards détente.
Russell’s resolve throughout 1957 is truly remarkable given his age and the personal tribulations he faced. In May, at age 85, he developed a throat condition that would eventually prevent him from eating solid food for the remaining decade of his life. In June his wife, Edith, who played an indispensable role in support of Russell’s work, suffered a heart attack that left her virtually bedridden for 4 months (and ended any slim hope of Russell travelling to Pugwash). Finally, the mental state of Russell’s son, John, deteriorated so badly that Russell and Edith became the guardians of John’s three young children.
Even though Russell did not attend the first Pugwash meeting, there is no doubt that without his energetic sponsorship, the movement would have been stillborn. Meanwhile, Rotblat did attend and would remain a prominent figure in Pugwash for the rest of his life. In 1995, he and the Pugwash Conferences were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms".
Joseph Rotblat gave the Bertrand Russell Peace Lecture at McMaster in 1998 and visited the Russell Archives. There are dozens of letters from him in the Archives, most of them dealing with Pugwash.
Sources: (1) Bertrand Russell. The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, 1944-1967 (Volume III). London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1969. (2) Ronald W. Clark. The Life of Bertrand Russell. Jonathan Cape and Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1975. (3) “Remember your humanity, and forget the rest”: The Russell-Einstein Manifesto and the Pugwash Movement. Peace and War in the 20th Century, McMaster University Library. (4) Nicholas Griffin, ed. The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell: The Public Years, 1914-1970. London and New York: Routledge, 2002. (5) Joseph Rotblat. “Bertrand Russell and the Pugwash Movement: Personal Reminiscences.” Russell: the Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies. n.s. 18 (Summer 1998): 5-24. (6) "The Nobel Peace Prize 1995". Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 12 Jul 2018. http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1995/
PROFESSOR J. ROTBLAT PHYSICS DEPARTMENT,
THE MEDICAL COLLEGE OF
ST. BARTHOLOMEW’S HOSPITAL,
CHARTERHOUSE SQUARE, E.C.1.
9th January, 1957
Dear Lord Russell,
Thank you for sending me Mr. Eaton’s cable. A few days ago Powell, Burrop [sic] and I met to discuss his offer to hold the meeting in Pugwash. In our opinion there are many advantages in holding the meeting in Canada and we should like to suggest to you that Mr. Eaton’s offer is accepted. We are a little bit worried, however, about his idea for publicity of this meeting and we are just about to draft a letter suggesting to him that all matters of publicity be left to the delegates of the Conference. It may take a few days before the draft is finished and I should like to suggest that in view of Mr. Eaton’s cable you would reply by cable to say that we agree in principle and that the dates we suggest are from the 5th to the 12th July and that you will be writing to explain the details.
The Earl Russell,
 ‘Mr. Eaton’ is Cyrus Eaton, the Canadian-born American industrialist who offered to finance what would become known as the Pugwash Conference.
 ‘Powell’ is Cecil F. Powell, an English physicist and one of the signatories of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. ‘Burrop’ is Eric Burhop, an Australian physicist who, like Rotblat, had worked on the Manhattan Project.
 Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Eaton’s birthplace.
 The first Pugwash Conference would, indeed, take place in Pugwash in July 1957.