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