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.


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 the first president, but she declined 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.[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 1899, the Council began to take on more substantive issues, forming an International Standing Committee on Peace and International Arbitration. Other standing committees were soon established, and through them, the ICW became involved in issues from suffrage to health.[5]

Twentieth century[edit]

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.[6] The 1909 congress was held in Toronto, Canada[7] and the 1914 conference took place in Rome.[8] The 6th Congress was held in 1920 in Kristiania, Norway;[9] followed in 1925 by the Washington, D. C. Congress;[10] and then in 1930, the conference was held in Vienna.[11] The next conference was a jointly-held congress of the ICW and the National Council of Women in India, hosted in Calcutta in 1936.[12] During World War II congresses were suspended.[5]

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.[13] Two additional coalitions were formed in 1931: the Liaison Committee and the Peace and Disarmament Committee. The ICW constitution was revised in 1936.[14] The ICW worked with the League of Nations during the 1920s and the United Nations post-World War II.

By 1938 the number of councils affiliated with the ICW, which had developed into one of the best known and most consulted of women's international organizations, had risen to thirty-six.[5]

World War II caused great disorganization in the Council's work. Some national councils discontinued their work altogether; in others the leadership and organization were disrupted. In 1946, the ICW met in Philadelphia to re-focus its efforts and recover its former unity. The Conference issued a statement condemning war and all crimes against humanity, as well as demanding a more active role for women in the national and international arena.[5]

Present day[edit]

Since 1947, ICW has Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) 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.[15] International meetings are held every three years.

List of presidents[edit]

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 2015–2022 South Korea
Martine Marandel 2022– France

International meetings[edit]

1888: Washington, D.C. (First Meeting)

1894: Berlin

1899: London

1904: Berlin

1909: Toronto

1914: Rome

1920: Kristiania

1925: Washington, D.C.

1930: Vienna

1933: Chicago

1936: Kolkata, organized jointly by the CIT and the National Council of Women in India

1946: Philadelphie

2006: Kyiv

2009: Johannesburg

2015: Seoul

2015: Izmir

2018: Yogyakarta

2022: Avignon


Papers of the International Council of Women are held at The Women's Library.[16] 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.


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 National Council of Italian Women in 1903,[17] and the National Council of Belgian Women in 1905.[18] The first National Council of Women of Australia was established in 1931 to coordinate the state bodies existing prior to Australia's Federation.

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 Alix von Cotta, National Archives, Retrieved 29 December 2016
  4. ^ Helene Stöcker, Lebenserinnerungen ed. Reinhold Lütgeeier-Davin, Kerstin Wolff. Cologne: Böhlau, 2003, p. 93; Helene Lange, Gertrud Bäumer, Handbuch der Fr auenbewegung (Berlin: Moeser, 1901, p. 151
  5. ^ a b c d "International Council of Women records, 1888-1981". Northampton, Massachusetts: Sophia Smith Collection. 1972. Collection number: SSC.MS.00352. Archived from the original on 9 June 2019. Retrieved 1 July 2019. This article incorporates text available under the CC BY 3.0 license.
  6. ^ Liddington 1989, p. 37.
  7. ^ Agenda for the quinquennial sessions of the International Council of Women, to be held at Toronto, Canada, June, 1909. Aberdeen, Scotland: Rosemount Press. 1909. ISBN 066-586-409-4. – via ASP: Women and Social Movements (subscription required)
  8. ^ Gordon, Ishbel Maria Marjoribanks, ed. (1914). International Council of Women: Report on the Quinquennial Meetings, Rome 1914. Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg: G. Braunsche Hofbuchdruckerei und Verlag. – via ASP: Women and Social Movements (subscription required)
  9. ^ Gordon, Ishbel Maria Marjoribanks, ed. (1920). International Council of Women: Report on the Quinquennial Meetings, Kristiania 1920. Aberdeen, Scotland: Rosemount Press. – via ASP: Women and Social Movements (subscription required)
  10. ^ "Image 3 of Mary Church Terrell Papers: Subject File, 1884-1962; International Council of Women, 6th Quinquennial Convention, Washington, D.C., 1925". Washington, D. C.: Library of Congress. 1925. Archived from the original on 1 July 2019. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  11. ^ Gordon, Ishbel Maria Marjoribanks, ed. (1930). Report on the Quinquennial Meeting, Vienna 1930. Keighley, West Yorkshire, England: Wadsworth and Company. – via ASP: Women and Social Movements (subscription required)
  12. ^ Gordon, Ishbel Maria Marjoribanks, ed. (1936). Joint Conference of the International Council of Women in India. Calcutta, India: Art Press. – via ASP: Women and Social Movements (subscription required)
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ The ICW Papers are housed at Smith College in the Sophia Smith Collection.
  15. ^ Contact Us, ICW web page
  16. ^ Library of the London School of Economics, ref 5ICW
  17. ^ "Consiglio Nazionale delle Donne Italiane" (in Italian). Consiglio Nazionale delle Donne Italiane. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  18. ^ Jacques, Catherine (2009). "Le féminisme en Belgique de la fin du 19e siècle aux années 1970" (in French). Courrier hebdomadaire du CRISP, No 2012-2013. Retrieved 13 February 2019.


External links[edit]