Women's International League

Women's International League

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In February 1915 fifteen hundred women delegates representing Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Britain, Hungary, Italy, Holland, Norway, Sweden and the United States met in Amsterdam to discuss the First World War.

At the meeting the women discussed ways of ending the war . Delegates also spoke about the need to introduce measures that would prevent wars in the future such as international arbitration and the state nationalization of munitions. As a result of the conference an International Women's Peace Party was formed.

Mary Sheepshanks was the leading anti-war figure in Britain. On 14th October, 1914, she wrote in Ius Suffragii: "Each nation is convinced that it is fighting in self-defence, and each in self-defence hastens to self-destruction. The military authorities declare that the defender must be the aggressor, so armies rush to invade neighbouring countries in pure defence of their own hearth and home, and, as each Government assures the world, with no ambition to aggrandise itself. Thousands of men are slaughtered or crippled... art, industry, social reform, are thrown back and destroyed; and what gain will anyone have in the end? In all this orgy of blood, what is left of the internationalism which met in congresses, socialist, feminist, pacifist, and boasted of the coming era of peace and amity. The men are fighting; what are the women doing? They are, as is the lot of women, binding up the wounds that men have made."

At a Council meeting of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies held in February 1915, Millicent Fawcett attacked the peace efforts of people like Mary Sheepshanks. Fawcett argued that until the German armies had been driven out of France and Belgium: "I believe it is akin to treason to talk of peace." After a stormy executive meeting in Buxton all the officers of the NUWSS (except the Treasurer) and ten members of the National Executive resigned. This included Chrystal Macmillan, Kathleen Courtney, Catherine Marshall, Eleanor Rathbone and Maude Royden, the editor of the The Common Cause.

In the autumn of 1915 women in Britain who attended the meeting in Amsterdam, including Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Chrystal Macmillan, formed the Women's International League of Great Britain. Other women who joined this group included Sylvia Pankhurst, Mary Sheepshanks, Charlotte Despard, Helen Crawfurd, Mary Barbour, Agnes Dollan, Ethel Snowden, Henry Harben, Ellen Wilkinson, Margery Corbett-Ashby, Selina Cooper, Helena Swanwick and Olive Schreiner.

We, the women of the world, view with apprehension and dismay the present situation in Europe, which threatens to involve one continent, if not the whole world, in the disasters and horrors of war ... Powerless though we are politically, we call upon the governments and powers of our several countries to avert the threatened unparalleled disaster ... Whatever its result the conflict will leave mankind the poorer, will set back civilization, and will be a powerful check to the gradual amelioration in the condition of the masses of the people, on which so much of the real welfare of nations depends. We women of twenty-six countries ... appeal to you to leave untried no method of conciliation or arbitration for arranging international differences which may help to avert deluging half the civilized world in blood.

I am strongly opposed to the above proposal, mainly for the reason that women are as subject as men are to national prepossessions and susceptibilities and it would hardly be possible to bring together the women of the belligerent countries without violent outbursts of anger and mutual recriminations. We should then run the risk of the scandal of a Peace Congress disturbed and perhaps broken up by violent quarrels and fierce denunciations. It is true this often takes place at Socialist and other international meetings: but it is of less importance there: no one expects the general run of men to be anything but fighters. But a Peace Congress of Women dissolved by violent quarrels would be the laughing stock of the world...

When Miss Sheepshanks was in Holland Aletta Jacobs told her she had heard recently from Elsa Luders who had complacently remarked how much for the welfare of the world the victory of Germany would prove because it would enable Germany to impose her culture upon all the other nations of the world, Aletta Jacobs was furious: here you have an example of the sort of thing that might happen during every day and hour of the proposed international congress...

feel so strongly against the proposed convention that I would decline to attend it, and if necessary would resign my office in the Women's International League if it were judged incumbent on me in that capacity to take part in the convention.

The League aims at uniting women in all countries who are opposed to every kind of war, exploitation and oppression, and who work for the solution of conflicts not by force of domination but by the recognition of human solidarity, by world co-operation, and by the establishment of social, political and economic justice for all, without distinction of sex, race, class or creed.

Women's International Thought: A New History

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  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Online publication date: January 2021
  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online ISBN: 9781108859684
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108859684
  • Subjects: History, Politics and International Relations, International Relations and International Organisations, History of Ideas and Intellectual History

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Book description

Women's International Thought: A New History is the first cross-disciplinary history of women's international thought. Bringing together some of the foremost historians and scholars of international relations working today, this book recovers and analyses the path-breaking work of eighteen leading thinkers of international politics from the early to mid-twentieth century. Recovering and analyzing this important work, the essays offer revisionist accounts of IR's intellectual and disciplinary history and expand the locations, genres, and practices of international thinking. Systematically structured, and focusing in particular on Black diasporic, Anglo-American, and European historical women, it does more than 'add women' to the existing intellectual and disciplinary histories from which they were erased. Instead, it raises fundamental questions about which kinds of subjects and what kind of thinking constitutes international thought, opening new vistas to scholars and students of international history and theory, intellectual history and women's and gender studies.


'A breath-taking eye-opener of a book and required reading for everyone studying international relations and the history of political thought. With cutting-edge scholarship … it reveals new horizons of internationalism, socialism, and solidarity. It unveils fierce critiques of the nation-state and imperialism, centres race and gender as topics within international thought, and reveals the ways in which the politics of race and gender have shaped the field. This book reshapes the field beautifully.'

Hannah Dawson - King’s College London

'This defies all conventions, categories, and canons to bring new, nuanced histories of women, intellectualism, and internationalism into view. With essays on socialist internationalist theory, war and empire, and global black liberation, these authors show that no study of internationalism - institutional or otherwise - can be complete without rigorous examination of women theorists.'

Ashley D. Farmer - University of Texas, Austin

'This points the way to a renovation of our canon in a field first named by a woman in 1929. Portending a new historiography, the results so far correct, encourage, and reprimand all those who have tried to write the history of antiracism, human rights, and peace, among so many other international causes and frameworks.'

Samuel Moyn - Yale University

'By recovering the international thought and practice of a diverse group of brilliant and dedicated women scholars and activists, this essential volume rewrites the history of the field. Often working under duress and at the edges of the academy, these thinkers nonetheless shaped understandings of – and galvanized engagement with – the pressing global problems of their times. We have much to learn from their work, and from their example.'

Susan Pedersen - Columbia University

'This remarkable collection upends the unspoken consensus of virtually all of those who write about the foundational thinkers and ideas about international relations: that women never mattered.'

The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom turns 100 with a public party

The group formed at The Hague a century ago celebrates, reminisces and looks to the future.

 Since 1915, when it was founded in the Hague, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom has had a long history of opposing fascism and fomenting peace, from influencing Woodrow Wilson’s policies to its long-term close ties with the United Nations, through its economic and social council, and now working for the safety and security of women, particularly in war-torn zones.

So, on Tuesday, League members are gathering at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod to celebrate the group's 100th year. The event, organizers say, will be anything but didactic, with on-screen exhibits, food, wine and story-telling. Slam–poet Kristin Knowles will give the League's history from 1915 to now. ꃞnya Levine and others will play music. The gathering is free and open to the public.

Remarkably, five of the League's United States section past presidents are Cape residents. (Four full-time, one part-time.) They are Betty Burkes, Laura Roskos, Nancy Munger, Chris Morin and Mary Zepernick, all of whom will tell League stories, as will a handful of other League participants.

Laura Roskos has been involved with the League since 1992 when it helped poor women in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (her home state,) who were being denied aid by what she calls 𠇌ruel bureaucratic maneuvers” resulting in suffering, “including children’s deaths.” The League helped  pass an ordinance – in accordance with the U.N.'s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This 𠇊mazing experience,” led her on a journey to 𠇏lip” her understanding of women’s equality.

“I had to come to terms with and understand the radicalism of women’s equality as a cornerstone of sustainable peace.” She says, “The old view is that once we have peace, we will give you equality, but it needs to be turned around.”

 Now living in Eastham, Roskos has taught gender studies and human rights, most recently as senior lecturer at Suffolk University in Boston. She was the U.S. Section president of Women's International League for Peace and Justice, elected to two three-year terms (spanning 2008-2014), the first of which she was co-president with Nancy Munger. Roskos says the U.S. chapter has worked on many critical issues nationally and internationally such as establishing the importance of women’s unpaid labor – including care-giving –ਊnd economic equality for women. She says the League has given her a broader world. Whether traveling to their international social forum in Caracas, or working on issues in India or Sweden, “I met women who saw and cared in the same way.”

ਏor the next 100, Roskos says, “WILPF has never been in a stronger position of influence and execution, whether with intervention teams in conflict areas which help women rebuild peace and their lives right away, or with its involvement in disarmament through a new nuclear abolition treaty (I-CAN) to replace the old one of nuclear non-proliferation. It’s sweet to find an organization which started in 1915 dedicated to eradicating the root causes of war, still valid 100 years later, still in the vanguard of political analysis and action.”

 Mary Zepernick who, with civil rights activist Margaret Moseley, regenerated the flagging Cape branch of the League in the 1990s, says her own biggest contribution as membership coordinator, and then US section president, was “to travel within the country teaching branches needed process skills, such as conflict resolution, which are the bedrock of organizing.” She also traveled abroad, to the Soviet Union, twice to Cuba, once to Bolivia, the latter with Elenita Muniz (now Barnstable Human Rights Commission coordinator), for the first �ucus on Lesbian women, ever.”

 Zepernick said the Cape branch has been involved in racial and gender justice, in Israel-Palestine issues through its West Asia group, and has three members on the Human Rights Commission. Cape members of the League have supported and helped sponsor or organize around many other activist issues over time, whether ending war, pursuing peace, economic fairness or environmental decisions.

 “This is a different world, a more technological world then when I joined. But the important thing is to know our ‘herstory’ and draw on it to activate, collaborate and strengthen to spread the word in this era of what is necessary for security and peace.”

To that end, goals going forward should be working with other groups and creating “relationships within WILPF in order to better organize ourselves and reach out to and welcome others.” (Including men.) In this way, Zepernick suggests, the League can tackle issues to create a “Peaceable Queendom” in the world, and “to make a better Cape community,” locally.

 Proud too, of the League's 𠇌heekiness,” Zepernick tells a story: One of first organizations to reach out to Soviet women to break barriers and create understanding, they set up meetings here and abroad. �I Director J. Edgar Hoover had a spider web on his wall at the center was WILPF as ‘subversive.’ So we were red-baited by the Washington Post,” Zepernick says. But League members found a photo of the first meeting, in which Post publisher Katherine Graham’s own mother appeared –ਊnd Graham retracted the editorial.

ਊ tale Zepernick also likes is about Jane Addams, and is a quintessential one. Addams, who helped found Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, went to many heads of state with initiatives to end war. “You may think it silly that women are talking about this,” Addams said to one of them, with female reticence common to those times. “Madame, these are the most sensible words I’ve heard in years,” the statesman replied.

਎vent organizer Jan Hively, who will speak about her league involvement, partly came to the Cape in 2010 – returning to home turf  –�use the Cape was home to Zepernick , with whom she had connected while living in Minnesota. There entrepreneur Hively was involved in the League's struggle for water rights, commemoration of Hirsohima-Nagasaki, and Women Creating Art, who make issue-based exhibits, also allying with "Women in Black."

“WILPF is my tribe,” Hively says. “I really want to honor these women. It’s a big deal to be a president of a national organization, and it’s amazing that five of them are here on the Cape.”–

Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. U.S. Section

Author, editor, journalist and lecturer advocate of internationalist pacifism influential member of the Socialist Party in the 1930s genealogist recorder of Rhode Island history and lore named Harold Devere Allen.

Art for World Friendship Records

Art for World Friendship originated in 1946 as a project undertaken by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. It was the first organization to exchange child art on an international level and was entirely run by volunteers.

Emily Greene Balch Papers

Katherine Devereux Blake Collected Papers

Katherine Devereux Blake was a suffragist and peace activist through the first half of the twentieth century. She was a member of the Ford Peace Expedition in 1915-1916, served on the national board of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and its international executive board, and was the chief speaker for the Disarmament Caravan, which toured 9,000 miles in 1931.


Genevieve Riccoboni is the Programme Associate for WILPF's Women, Peace and Security Programme, where she coordinates communications and delegations and supports other aspects of programme work including monitoring the UN Security Council, research, and publications. She graduated with distinction with an MPhil in World History from the University of Cambridge, where she was active in the student research group for the Cambridge Centre for Governance and Human Rights, and holds a BA with Joint Honours in History and Political Science from McGill University. Genevieve has experience in communications, programming, and marketing for a variety of organizations that focus on youth civic participation and social justice, and also previously worked in the private sector in marketing. She is active in politics and community organizing in New York, and recently served as a senior policy advisor to a progressive Congressional campaign. She is fluent in German and proficient in Spanish.

The Women, Peace and Security Programme (PeaceWomen) is a programme of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), an international organisation established in 1915 to work for peace and freedom through demilitarisation, disarmament and women’s full and equal rights.

WILPF has global offices in New York and Geneva and over 100 local branches in 33 countries, many in conflict and post conflict countries. WILPF also works with many other local, national, and international affiliated organisations.

WILPF has programmes on Human Rights, Disarmament (Reaching Critical Will) and Women, Peace and Security (PeaceWomen), as well as our projects in key crisis areas. Together with WILPF members and our network of women peace advocates, WILPF programmes support the organisation in achieving our organisational aims.

WILPF envisions a world free from violence and armed conflict with justice and equality for all.

WILPF’s mission is to achieve feminist peace for equality, justice, and demilitarised security.

Feminist peace is based on equality, justice, demilitarised security and nonviolent inclusive social transformation it enables the development of systems where social and political equality and economic justice for all can be attained to ensure real and lasting peace and freedom.

WILPF’s Theory of Change is that by addressing the root causes of violence with a feminist lens and by mobilising for nonviolent action, WILPF can advance feminist peace for equality, justice, and demilitarised security.

WILPF’s Overall Aims and Principles

  • Bring together women of different political beliefs and philosophies who are united in their determination to study, make known and help abolish the causes and legitimisation of war
  • Work toward world peace, universal disarmament, the ending of violence and coercion in the settlement of conflict and its replacement in every case by negotiation and conciliation
  • Strengthen multilateralism and support the civil society to democratise the United Nations system
  • Support the continuous development and implementation of international human rights and humanitarian law, promote political and social equality and economic equity, contribute towards co-operation among all people, and enhance environmentally sustainable development.
Fellowships and Internships

Meet our current fellows and interns, and learn more about the application process for PeaceWomen fellowships and internships.

Mission and Strategy

Learn more about PeaceWomen's mission and strategic objectives.


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Women's International League - History

In 2015 Durham was honoured with a WILPF Centenary PeaceWomen Award.

Archival resources

Fryer Library, The University of Queensland

  • Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Queensland Branch Records, 1960 - , UQFL251 Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Australia (1919 - ), Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Queensland Branch Fryer Library, The University of Queensland. Details

Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection, State Library of New South Wales

  • Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. N.S.W. Branch - Records, 1960-1990, 1960 - 1990, MLMSS 5395/Boxes 1-3 MLMSS 5395/Item 4X Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection, State Library of New South Wales. Details

Murdoch University

National Library of Australia, Manuscript Collection

  • Papers of Meredith Stokes, circa 1970-1997 [manuscript], c. 1970 - 1997, MS 9486 Stokes, Meredith National Library of Australia, Manuscript Collection. Details
  • Papers of Vivienne Abraham 1938-1989 [manuscript], 1938 - 1989, MS 9152 Abraham, Vivienne (1920 - 2003) National Library of Australia, Manuscript Collection. Details
  • Records of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Australian Section, 1943-2014 [manuscript], 1943 - 2014, MS 7755 Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Australia (1919 - ) National Library of Australia, Manuscript Collection. Details

State Library of New South Wales

  • Irina Dunn papers, ca. 1980-1984, with papers collected relating to early feminists, 1873-1983, 1873 - 1984, MLMSS 5324 Dunn, Patricia Irene State Library of New South Wales. Details
  • Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. N.S.W. Branch - further records, 1960-1992, together with the records of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Australian Section, 1963-1992, 1960 - 1992, MLMSS 7028 MLMSS 7028 Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Australia (1919 - ) State Library of New South Wales. Details

State Library of South Australia

  • International Women's Day Committee Research Project : Summary Record [sound recording] Interviewers: Celia Frank and Kirstin Marks, May 1993 - February 1994, OH 210 J. D. Somerville Oral History Collection State Library of South Australia. Details

State Library of Victoria

  • Papers of Anna Vroland, 1947-1973. [manuscript]., 1947 - 1973, Accession no: MS 10301 Vroland, Anna Fellowes (1902 - 1978) State Library of Victoria. Details
  • Records of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1915-1973. [manuscript]., 1915 - 1973, Accession no: MS 9377 Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Australia (1919 - ) State Library of Victoria. Details
  • Records, 1952-1982. [manuscript]., 1952 - 1982, Accession no: MS 13187 Australia-China Society. Victorian Branch. State Library of Victoria. Details

State Library of Western Australia, J.S. Battye Library of West Australian History

  • [Collection of information relating to the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, WA Branch], c. 1970, PR11959 State Library of Western Australia, J.S. Battye Library of West Australian History. Details
  • Records 1941-1984 [manuscript], 1941 - 1984, MN 1742 ACC 5272A Peace Education Project (W.A.) State Library of Western Australia, J.S. Battye Library of West Australian History. Details
  • Records, 1942-1996 [manuscript], 1942 - 1996, MN 1408 ACC 4435A ACC 4857A Women's International League for Peace and Freedom - Western Australian Branch (1933 - ) State Library of Western Australia, J.S. Battye Library of West Australian History. Details

The University of Melbourne Archives

  • Pethybridge, Eva, 1943 - 1963, 1987.0172 The University of Melbourne Archives. Details
  • Records of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1939 - 1950, 1987.0184 The University of Melbourne Archives. Details

Published resources


  • 'Peace and Freedom', Journal of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Australian Section, 1962-. Details


  • 'Peace and Freedom', Journal of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Australian Section, 1962-. Details
  • W.I.L.P.F. bulletin / Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, N.S.W. Branch, 1966-1996. Details

Online Resources

See also

  • Caine, Barbara, 'Greenwood, Irene', in Caine, Barbara (ed.), Australian feminism : a companion, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1998, pp. 429-430. Details
  • Caine, Barbara, Gatens, Moira et al. (ed.), Australian Feminism: A Companion, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1998, 607 pp. Details
  • Fabian, Suzane and Loh, Morag, Left-wing Ladies : The Union of Australian women in Victoria 1950-1998, Hyland House, Flemington, VIC, 2000, 196 pp. Details
  • Fryer Library with research by Yorick Smaal, Worth Fighting For!, University of Queensland, 2005, https://webarchive.nla.gov.au/awa/20050708180233/http://www.library.uq.edu.au/fryer/worth_fighting/. Details
  • Moore, Eleanor M. (Eleanor May), The quest for peace as I have known it in Australia, s.n., [Melbourne], [1949], 208 pp. Details

Jane Carey and Clare Land

Created: 23 November 2001, Last modified: 7 April 2019

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

© Copyright in The Australian Women's Register is owned by the Australian Women's Archives Program
and vested in each of the authors in respect of their contributions from 2000

The Australian Women's Register is published quarterly by the Australian Women's Archives Program
ISSN 2207-3124

What We Do

For more than a century, The Junior League has been on the forefront of social reform, identifying problems&mdashpollution, illiteracy, domestic violence, foster children without a safety net&mdashand finding solutions.

&ldquoWe have the responsibility to act, and we have the opportunity to conscientiously act to affect the environment about us.&rdquo That was how Mary Harriman described the mission of The Junior League more than 100 years ago. 19/01, our editorial platform, aspires to capture how the organization and its members breathe life into Mary&rsquos sentiment today.

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The Paris Peace Conference

Women's organizations lobbied to be included in the meetings of the Paris Peace Conference after the end of the First World War. Even after they were granted access to the 12th meeting of the League of Nations Committee, the women were limited to matters which the committee felt had a direct bearing upon women. Nevertheless, the gro up of women presented "The Wome n's Charter," in which they requested that a woman's nationality be declared independent of her husband, that the League ban the trafficking of women and girls, and that women be afforded the same labour rights as men. Many of the women present at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference would later become involved with the work of the League of Nations, either directly or through women's organizations.



Rebecca Adami is Associate Professor at the Department of Education, Stockholm University and Research Associate at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies). She specializes in critical human rights theory through counternarratives, and studies on intersectionality, cosmopolitanism and childism. Author of the book Women and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights . In 2018 a UN photo exhibit "Women Who Shaped the Universal Declaration" based on the book was exhibited at the United Nations in New York by Secretary General António Guterres and first Latin American female President of the General Assembly María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, now available online.

Dan Plesch is Professor of Diplomacy and Strategy at SOAS University of London. His books include, The Beauty Queen's Guide to World Peace, Human Rights After Hitler and America, Hitler and the UN. His research focuses on strategies for preventing global war and emphasises a restorative archeology of knowledge of the effective peacemaking work in the 1940s.

Watch the video: Womens International League for Peace and Freedom WILPF DR Congo Covid19