International Council of Women

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Highlighted countries have local organizations affiliated with ICW.

The International Council of Women (ICW) is a women's organization working across national boundaries for the common cause of advocating human rights for women. In March and April 1888, women leaders came together in Washington D.C. with 80 speakers and 49 delegates representing 53 women's organizations from 9 countries: Canada, the United States, Ireland, India, United Kingdom, Finland, Denmark, France and Norway. Women from professional organizations, trade unions, arts groups and benevolent societies participate. National councils are affiliated to the ICW and thus make themselves heard at the international level. The ICW enjoys consultative status with the United Nations and its Permanent Representatives to ECOSOC, ILO, FAO, WHO, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNCTAD, and UNIDO.


President of ICW Duration Nationality
none 1888-1893 -
Ishbel Hamilton-Gordon 1893-1899 Scotland
May Wright Sewall 1899-1904 United States
Ishbel Maria Hamilton-Gordon 1904-1920 Scotland
Pauline Chaponnière-Chaix 1920-1922 Switzerland
Ishbel Maria Hamilton-Gordon 1922-1936 Scotland
Marthe Boël 1936-1947 Belgium
Renée Girod (interim) 1940-1945 Switzerland
Jeanne Eder-Schwyzer 1947-1957 Switzerland
Marie-Hélène Lefaucheux 1957-1963 France
Mary McGeachy 1963-1973 Canada
Mehrangiz Dowlatshahi 1973-1976 Iran
Ngarmchit Purachatra 1976-1979 Thailand
Miriam Dell 1979-1986 New Zealand
Hong Sook-ja 1986-1988 South Korea
Lily Boeykens 1988-1994 Belgium
Kuraisin Sumhadi 1994-1997 Indonesia
Pnina Herzog 1997-2003 Israel
Anamah Tan 2003-2009 Singapore
Cosima Schenk 2009-2015 Switzerland
Jungsook Kim 2015- South Korea

During a visit to Europe in 1882, American suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony discussed the idea of an international women's organization with reformers in several countries. A committee of correspondence was formed to develop the idea further at a reception in their honor just before they returned home. The National Woman Suffrage Association, led by Anthony and Stanton, organized the founding meeting of the ICW, which convened in Washington, DC, on March 25, 1888. Representing Louisiana at the Woman's International Council was Caroline Elizabeth Merrick. The meeting was part of a celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women's rights convention.[1]

Rachel Foster Avery managed much of the details of the planning of the first meeting of the ICW, and Susan B. Anthony presided over eight of the sixteen sessions.[2] The ICW drafted a constitution and established national meetings every three years and international meetings every five years.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett of England was elected as first president but she refused to serve.

In 1894 the ICW met in Berlin, where Alix von Cotta said that many senior teachers stayed away.[3] In 1899, they met in London, UK, and again in Berlin in 1904.[4]

In the early years, the United States supported many of the expenses of the organization, and dues from U.S. members made up a significant part of the budget. Most meetings were held in Europe or North America, and they adopted the use of three official languages - English, French and German - which discouraged participation by women of non-European origin. The ICW did not actively promote women's suffrage, as to not upset the more conservative members. In 1904 at the Berlin congress of the ICW, a separate organization formed to accommodate the strong feminist identity of the national suffrage associations: the International Woman Suffrage Alliance.

In 1925, the ICW convened their first coalition, the Joint Standing Committee of the Women's International Organisations, to lobby for the appointment of women to the League of Nations. By 1931 the League of Nations called together a Women's Consultative Committee on Nationality to address the issue of a woman's rights (and nationality) when married to a man from another country.[5] Two additional coalitions were formed in 1931: the Liaison Committee and the Peace and Disarmament Committee. The ICW constitution was revised in 1936.[6]

National Council of Women of the United States was founded in 1888 at the first ICW gathering. The National Council of Women of Canada was founded in 1893. The National Council of French Women was created in 1901. The first National Council of Women of Australia was established in 1931 to coordinate the state bodies existing prior to Australia's Federation.

The ICW today[edit]

The ICW worked with the League of Nations during the 1920s and the United Nations post-World War II. Today the ICW holds Consultative Status with UNESCO, the highest accreditation an NGO can achieve at the United Nations. Currently, the ICW is composed of 70 countries and has a headquarters in Paris.[7] International meetings are held every three years.


Papers of the International Council of Women are held at The Women's Library.[8] Other papers are held at the United Nations Library in Geneva, the Library of Congress in Washington, the UNESCO archives in Paris, the International Information Centre and Archives for the Women's Movement in Amsterdam, the Archive Center for Women's History (CARHIF) in Brussels, the Sophia Smith Library at Smith College, Massachusetts, the Margaret Cousins Memorial library in New Delhi, and the Lady Aberdeen Collection in the University of Waterloo (Ontario) Library Special Collections.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ National Woman Suffrage Association (1888). Report of the International Council of Women: Assembled by the National Woman Suffrage Association, Washington, D. C., U. S. of America, March 25 to April 1, 1888 pp.9–11.
  2. ^ See the University of Rochester Libraries' Online Exhibit of Susan B. Anthony: Celebrating "An Heroic Life" Archived 2013-12-07 at the Wayback Machine. for images of the Report and Proceedings of the first ICW as well as letters from Susan B. Anthony about the planning process.
  3. ^ Letter from von Cotta, National Archives, Retrieved 29 December 2016
  4. ^ Helene Stöcker (2015): Lebenserinnerungen, hg. von Reinhold Lütgeeier-Davin u. Kerstin Wolff. Köln: Böhlau, 93; Helene Lange und Gertrud Bäumer: Handbuch der Fr auenbewegung. Berlin: Moeser, 1901, p. 151,
  5. ^ See Dorothy P. Page, "'A Married Woman, or a Minor, Lunatic or Idiot': The Struggle of British Women against Disability in Nationality, 1914-1933," doctoral dissertation, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, 1984.
  6. ^ The ICW Papers are housed at Smith College in the Sophia Smith Collection.
  7. ^ Contact Us, ICW web page
  8. ^ Library of the London School of Economics, ref 5ICW


  • Beyers, Leen (2005), Des Femmes Qui Changent le Monde: Histoire du Conseil International des Femmes, 1888-1988, Bruxelles: Racine, ISBN 2-87386-399-4
  • Rupp, Leila J. (1994), "Constructing Internationalism: The Case of Transnational Women's Organizations, 1888-1945", The American Historical Review, 99 (5): 1571–1600, doi:10.2307/2168389, JSTOR 2168389
  • Rupp, Leila J. (2011), "Transnational Women's Movements", European History Online, Mainz: Institute of European History
  • Schneider, Dorothy; Schneider, Carl J. (1993), "Chapter 8. Women's War Against War", American Women in the Progressive Era, 1900-1920, New York: Facts on File, ISBN 0-8160-2513-4

External links[edit]