International Council of Women

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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, England, 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 international level. The ICW enjoys consultative status with the UN and its Permanent Representatives to: ECOSOC, ILO, FAO, WHO, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNCTAD, UNIDO, etc.


Rachel Foster Avery managed much of the details of the planning of the first ICW, and Susan B. Anthony presided over 8 of the 16 sessions.[1] 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 president but she refused to serve. Other early ICW presidents were:

In 1899, the ICW met in London, UK, and in 1904 in Berlin, Germany.[2]

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 from 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 woman's rights (and their nationality) when married to a man from another country.[3] Two additional coalitions were formed in 1931: the Liaison Committee and the Peace and Disarmament Committee. The ICW constitution was revised in 1936.[4]

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 the United Nations Economic and Social Council, the highest accreditation an NGO can achieve at the United Nations. Currently, it is composed of 70 countries and has a headquarters in Lasaunne, Switzerland. International meetings are held every three years.


Papers of the International Council of Women are held at The Women's Library at the Library of the London School of Economics, ref 5ICW

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 in 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. ^ See the University of Rochester Libraries' Online Exhibit of Susan B. Anthony: Celebrating "An Heroic Life" for images of the Report and Proceedings of the first ICW as well as letters from Susan B. Anthony about the planning process.
  2. ^ 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, URL:
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ The ICW Papers are housed at Smith College in the Sophia Smith Collection.


External links[edit]