Archive of the InternationalWoman Suffrage Alliance

  • Reference
      GB 133 IWSA
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English unless otherwise stated.
  • Physical Description
      3 li.m. 283 items
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The archive consists of 286 files drawn from the I.W.S.A. London Headquarters.There are 3 distinct series of records: Subject Files of the I.W.S.A.; CorrespondenceFiles of the I.W.S.A.; and News Cuttings collected by the I.W.S.A. InformationBureau.

The files were compiled during the period 1913-1920, although a minorityof pieces, such as constitutions and biographical accounts are of earlierdate; these may have come into the hands of the Alliance as early as its inceptionin 1902 although it seems more likely that they were collected after 1913.

A summary of the material contained within each seriesis given prior tothe description of items within the class. In general terms, the archive containsinformation relating to the political, social and economic condition of womenworldwide with particular emphasis on the campaign for the enfranchisementof women.

The archive contains material relating to

Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Austria

Belgium, Bohemia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burma

Canada, Ceylon, China


East Africa, Egypt

Finland, France

Galicia, Germany, Great Britain, Greece

Hawaii, Hungary

Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy

Jamaica, Japan


Macedonia, Mesopotamia, Mexico

Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway

Poland, Portugal

Roumania, Russia

Servia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland


U.S.A., Uruguay

Great Britain is the country most fully represented throughout the archive;but large amounts of material relate to France, Germany and the U.S.A. Informationrelating to all other countries is valuable but limited.

Information is also to be found relating to other reform movements withwhich women were intimately involved, notably: the campaigns for an equalmoral standard, the reform of the divorce laws, temperance and prohibition;and the campaigns against prostitution, the "white slave trade" and venerealdisease.

It should be noted, in particular, that the archive provides a wealth ofinformation on women's work during the war and offers insights, through theworkings of an international women's organisation during time of war, intointernational conditions and attitudes prevailing during the First World Warand its immediate aftermath.

The archive does not contain any copies of the Journal Jus Suffragii.

The archive comes from the I.W.S.A. Headquarters in London and for thatreason the majority is written in English.

There are however a significant number pieces written in the 2 other officiallanguages of the Alliance, French and German, and in Italian.

In addition, there are small amounts of writing in Afrikaans, Chinese,Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Roumanian, Russian,Spanish and Swedish.

On an international level the Alliance adopted a motto in Latin and a telegraphicaddress in Esperanto.

The archive contains a few pieces written in shorthand.

Administrative / Biographical History

The impetus for an international organisation to promote the enfranchisementof women around the world came from the National American Woman Suffrage Association(N.A.W.S.A.) and from one of its most influential Presidents, Carrie ChapmanCatt (1859-1947).

When Carrie Chapman Catt became President of the N.A.W.S.A. in 1900 theAssociation had already played a part in the international women's movement,hosting a women's congress in 1888 which had led to the formation of theInternational Council of Women. But although the International Council ofWomen had a Standing Committee on Suffrage and Rights of Citizenship it wasnot its principal raison d'être; this rolewould be filled by the new International Woman Suffrage Alliance (I.W.S.A.).

As a first step Carrie Chapman Catt invited international delegates toattend the 34th Annual Convention of the N.A.W.S.A. The invitation was acceptedby representatives from Australia, Chile, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain,Hungary, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey who joined representativesfrom the U.S.A. and on 12 February 1902 the I.W.S.A. was born. An interimCommittee was established, with Susan B. Anthony (1820- 1906) as Chairmanand Carrie Chapman Catt as Secretary, to look after the affairs of the newAlliance until they could meet again at Berlin, Germany in 1904, in what wasthe first of their biennial international congresses.

The Congress at Berlin was attended by 33 delegates who adopted as theirmotto "In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, inomnibus caritas" [In essentials unity, in non- essentials liberty,in all things charity] and defined their object "to secure the enfranchisementof the women of all nations and to unite the friends of woman suffrage throughoutthe world in organized cooperation and fraternal helpfulness". A Committeeor Board of Officers was elected with Carrie Chapman Catt as President. Theofficial languages of the Alliance were to be English, French and German.

Affiliation of a country to the Alliance was through the national womansuffrage society of that country. To avoid the confusion which might havearisen in an international organisation if internal differences of methodologyand strategy, rife amongst suffrage campaigners in some of affiliated countries,had been allowed to dominate the agenda, only one society was eligible foraffiliation from each country. So, in Great Britain, the affiliation was withthe constitutional National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (N.U.W.S.S.),which subsequently became the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship(N.U.S.E.C.), and not with the militant Women's Social and Political Union(W.S.P.U.). An exception to this rule appears to have been made in Denmark.

Countries which had no national association or which decided not to affiliateto the Alliance could send representatives to Congresses and fraternal delegatesfrom any interested societies in affiliated countries were welcome to attend.Such delegates had no voting rights but it enabled their participation whilstalso broadening the scope of the Congresses.

The first countries to affiliate to the Alliance were Germany, Great Britain,the Netherlands, Sweden and the U.S.A. and they were soon followed by Denmarkand Norway. By the time of the second biennial Congress at Copenhagen, Denmarkin 1906 Canada and Hungary had affiliated and Australia expected to join.

It was here that the badge of the Alliance was adopted. This showed thesun rising from behind a woman who holds the scales of justice in her righthand and featured the Latin motto "Jus Suffragii"[The Right of Suffrage] which became the name of the journal of the Alliance.The journal, also sometimes known as the International Woman Suffrage News, was to be printed in English (later there was a French edition too)and was to be issued from Rotterdam, Netherlands.

The third biennial Congress was held at Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1908and saw the affiliation of Bulgaria, Finland, Italy, Russia, South Africaand Switzerland. In the following year the first Quinquennial Meeting of theAlliance and its 5th Annual Conference (dated from the first Congress atBerlin in 1904 rather than from the Alliance's inception in 1902) were heldin London; Belgium and France becoming affiliated.

The fourth Congress was held at Stockholm, Sweden in 1911. New affiliationsup to and including the Congress were Austria, Bohemia, Iceland and Servia.

The fifth Congress was held in 1913 at Budapest, Hungary. Attended by 12official delegates from each of the 26 affiliated countries, fraternal delegatesfrom other interested societies, representatives from unaffiliated countries,visitors and the press, some 2800 people attended the Congress.

Also in 1913 an International Headquarters for the Alliance was establishedin London. The address was 7 Adam Street, Adelphi, although during the warthey were to move to 11 Adam Street. The English edition of Jus Suffragii was to be issued from this office (the French editionwas being issued from Paris) and it was also to administer the I.W.S.A. InformationBureau which collected, and supplied on request, information on women's issuesworldwide. The archive of the I.W.S.A. comes from this office and covers theperiod from its establishment to 1920.

The next Congress should have been held in Berlin, again, in 1915 but theoutbreak of the First World War made this impossible. The war inevitably diminishedthe activities of the I.W.S.A., not least because the women's organisationsin all countries were using their skills, resources and contacts to administerwar aid and the mobilisation of women into civilian trades as men were requiredfor military service.

The work of the I.W.S.A. during the period of war should not, however,be underestimated. Their achievement was to maintain limited communicationswith at least some of the affiliated countries, even enemy nations, and tocontinue to publish in Jus Suffragii articlesthat could pass the censor and be read by women in countries that were atwar with each other.

The timing of the Congress after the War proved to be controversial withsome members feeling that too much time had already been lost and others feelingthat national sensibilities were too raw to attempt any kind of internationalgathering without first allowing time for the reconstruction of countriesand the rebuilding of shattered lives.

There were plans for a Congress in Spain but ultimately the venue chosenwas Geneva, Switzerland and the date 1920. The late date precipitated theresignation of Mary Sheepshanks, a key figure within the Alliance who hadresponsibility for the Information Bureau and Jus Suffragii, from her position as Headquarters Secretary, although she was atpains to make clear that she had no disagreement of principle with her colleagueswho made up the Board of Officers and Presidents.

At Geneva there were further affiliations with Argentina, Greece, Spainand Uruguay. In the following years there were further affiliations and Congressesheld at Rome, Italy (1923), Paris, France (1926), Istanbul, Turkey (1935),Copenhagen, Denmark (1939) and Interlaken, Switzerland (1946). By this stagethe franchise had been extended to women in the majority of affiliated countriesand after the Second World War the organisation was to find a new role asan advisory group to the United Nations, changing its name to the InternationalAlliance of Women (I.A.W.).

During the period covered by the archive (1913-1920) members of the Boardof Officers, most of whom also played important roles in the national associationsof their respective countries, were as follows:

  • President - Carrie Chapman Catt, U.S.A.
  • 1st Vice-President - Millicent Garrett Fawcett, England
  • 2nd Vice-President - Annie Furuhjelm, M.P., Finland
  • 3rd Vice-President - Anna Lindemann, Germany
  • 4th Vice-President - Marguerite de Witt de Schlumberger, France
  • 1st Corresponding Secretary - Katherine Dexter McCormick, U.S.A.
  • 2nd Corresponding Secretary - Rosika Schwimmer, Hungary/JaneBrigode, Belgium
  • 1st Recording Secretary - Chrystal Macmillan, M.A., B.Sc.,Scotland
  • 2nd Recording Secretary - Marie Stritt, Germany
  • 1st Treasurer - Adela Stanton Coit, England
  • 2nd Treasurer - Signe Bergman, Sweden

The Headquarters Secretary at 7/11 Adam Street, Adelphi, London was MarySheepshanks, until her resignation in 1919, and then Elizabeth Abbott.

During the same period the affiliated associations, in alphabetical orderof country, and their presidents, were as follows:

  • Australia - Women's Political Association, Vida Goldstein
  • Austria - Oesterreichisches Frauenstimmrechts-Komitee, E. von Furth
  • Belgium - Fédération Belge pour le Suffrage des Femmes, Jane Brigode
  • Bohemia - Vybor pro volebni pràvo zen, Frantiska Plaminkova
  • Canada - Dominion Woman Suffrage Association, Flora MacD. Denison
  • China - National Woman Suffrage Association, Sophia Chang
  • Denmark - Danske Kvindeforeningers Valgretsforbund, Eline Hansen
  • Denmark - Danske Landsforbundet, Elna Munch
  • Finland - Federation of Auxiliaries, Annie Furuhjelm
  • France - L'Union Française pour le Suffrage des Femmes, Marguerite de Witt de Schlumberger
  • Galicia - Polish Woman Suffrage Committee, Mme Hedvige Tomika
  • Germany - Deutscher Verband für Frauenstimmrecht (later Deutscher Reichsverband für Frauenstimmrecht), Marie Stritt
  • Great Britain - N.U.W.S.S./N.U.S.E.C., Millicent Garrett Fawcett
  • Hungary - Feministàk Egyesülete, Vilma Glücklich
  • Iceland - [a woman suffrage association in Iceland], Briet Asmundsson
  • Italy - Comitato Nationale per il Voto alla Donna, Prof. Anita Dobelli-Zampetti/Marchesa Clelia Pelicano
  • Netherlands - Vereeniging voor Vrouwenkiesrecht, Dr. Aletta Jacobs
  • Norway - Landskvindestemmeretsforeningen, F. M. Qvam
  • Portugal - Associaçao de Propaganda Feminista, Jeanne d'Almeida Nogueira
  • Roumania - National Suffrage Association, Eugenie de Reus Jancoulesco
  • Russia - League for the Equality of Women's Rights/Union of Defenders of Women's Rights, P. Schischkina Yavein, M.D.
  • Servia - Szpshi narodni zenski Saves, Hélène Losanitch
  • South Africa - Women's Enfranchisement Association, M. Emma Macintosh
  • Sweden - Landsforeningen för Kvinnans Politiska Röstratt, Signe Bergman/Anna Whitlock
  • Switzerland - Verband für Frauenstimmrecht, Emilie Gourd/M.M. de Morsier, Deputy
  • U.S.A. - N.A.W.S.A., Rev. Anna H. Shaw


Each seriesconsists of files; the arrangement of files within each seriesis explained at the start of each class. The contents of the files have been placed into new acid-free files but any information recorded on the original file (usually a title) has been recorded in the descriptions.

The archivist found that the original order of the files and of papers within files had been disturbed but there was usually sufficient internal evidence to indicate whether the compilation had originally been chronological, alphabetical, by subject or according to the I.W.S.A. classification scheme; the original order has therefore been reconstituted.

Within files any doubtful items (such as those without a date in a chronological file) have been placed at the end of the file. And in a few instances, where there was no clear evidence of alogical system, the file has been left as it was found, a random order perhaps being original.

Within each file each physically separate piece of paper has been given a simple running number. Thus 2 pieces of paper sewn together have a single number but a single news cutting which has fallen apart into 2 pieces has 2 numbers. The running number governs the order of pieces in the file and is given in the file descriptions as an indication of physical extent.

Where the file contains foreign language pieces the number of pieces affected is contained in the description and, used in conjunction with the number of pieces, the reader can see at a glance the approximate proportion of the file which is written in foreign languages.

When using the list the reader should assume that, where not otherwise stated, the society or person is British and the language is English.

The archive is divided into 3 series: 

  • IWSA/1 Subject Files 1913-1920
  • IWSA/2 Headquarters Correspondence Files 1915-1920
  • IWSA/3 News Cutting Files 1914-1919

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Other Finding Aids


Alternative Form Available

The archive of the I.W.S.A. is published in Reels 11 to 31 of the microfilm Campaign for Women's Suffrage 1895-1920: Papers of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, the Parliamentary Committee for Women's Suffrage, and the Manchester Men's League for Women's Suffrage, from the John Rylands Library, Manchester (Woodbridge: Research Publications, 1990).

The collection was filmed before it had been arranged and listed by the archivist. In most cases items from IWSA/1 are found in Reels 26-31, items from IWSA/2 are found in Reels 21 to 26 and items from IWSA/3 are found in Reels 11-20. Please note that, on the microfilm, files, and pieces within them, are frequently not in original order and that there are no demarcations between the contents of different files. These problems are at their worst for items in IWSA/3.

These defects make the microfilm copies almost impossible to use in any coherent research. Readers at the John Rylands Library will usually be issued with originals and readers using the microfilm copies in other institutions are warned of their defects.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PP.

Custodial History

The archive was given to the John Rylands Library in September 1923 by Katherine Bompas, then Headquarters Secretary of the I.W.S.A. The files had, by that stage, ceased to be sufficiently up-to-date for the current reference requirements of the Alliance and when lack of storage space made their disposal necessary the N.U.S.E.C. suggested they join the N.U.W.S.S. volumes of news cuttings at the Manchester repository.

Related Material

The library also holds archives of the Parliamentary Committee for Women's Suffrage ( PCWS), the Manchester Men's League for Women's Suffrage (MML), and the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWS). See also the correspondence of C.P. Scott with Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in the Manchester Guardian Archive. There are also a number of suffrage journals. Researchers may find it useful to consult Margaret Barrow Women 1870-1928: A Select Guide to Printed and Archival Sources in the United Kingdom (London: Mansell, 1981) , a copy of which is held at the Main Library.


Select Bibliography

Ida Husted Harper The History of Woman Suffrage Volume IV (National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922) .

Melanie Parrye (editor) Chambers Biographical Dictionary of Women (Chambers, 1996)

Sally Shreir (editor), Women's Movements of the World (Longman, 1988)

Jacqueline Van Voris Carrie Chapman Catt: A Public Life (The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1987).