International Council of Women Records
The International Council of Women (ICW), founded in 1888, was one of the first international women's organizations. The second international conference of the National Woman Suffrage Association, called by Susan B. Anthony, May Wright Sewall, and other suffragists, created the ICW. The aim of the conference was to form a National Council of Women in each self-governing country of the world. The councils would bring women from many countries together to work for women, not only in the cause of suffrage, but on many fronts. The United States National Council formed immediately, but progress elsewhere was slow. By 1893, Canada had formed a national body. In Great Britain the National Union of Women Workers federated with the National Council of Women in 1898 and later changed its name to the International Council of Women. 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.
In the early years of its existence, the ICW promoted National Councils and gained acceptance in the international community, but it's primary activity was planning the regular congresses. The ICW, regarded by members of other women's groups as the most conservative of women's international organizations, took pride in it's reputation, viewing it as a consequence of maintaining a broad program. It's early refusal to take a position on suffrage contributed to the formation of more radical organizations, such as the International Alliance of Women. 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.
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.
Since its inception in 1888, the ICW's aims have been consistent-the unification of women's organizations for action to promote human rights, sexual equality, peace, and women's involvement in the international sphere. As of 2002, there are National Councils in seventy-five countries, and Regional Councils in America and Europe. The ICW continues to organize women globally, focusing on local education and health programs.
For further information about the ICW see: Worlds of Women: The Making of an International Women's Movement by Leila J. Rupp (Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ, 1997).