The impetus for an international organisation to promote the enfranchisement of women around the world came from the National American Woman Suffrage Association (N.A.W.S.A.) and from one of its most influential Presidents, Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947).
When Carrie Chapman Catt became President of the N.A.W.S.A. in 1900 the Association had already played a part in the international women's movement, hosting a women's congress in 1888 which had led to the formation of the International Council of Women. But although the International Council of Women had a Standing Committee on Suffrage and Rights of Citizenship it was not its principal raison d'être; this role would be filled by the new International Woman Suffrage Alliance (I.W.S.A.).
As a first step Carrie Chapman Catt invited international delegates to attend the 34th Annual Convention of the N.A.W.S.A. The invitation was accepted by representatives from Australia, Chile, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey who joined representatives from the U.S.A. and on 12 February 1902 the I.W.S.A. was born. An interim Committee was established, with Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) as Chairman and Carrie Chapman Catt as Secretary, to look after the affairs of the new Alliance until they could meet again at Berlin, Germany in 1904, in what was the first of their biennial international congresses.
The Congress at Berlin was attended by 33 delegates who adopted as their motto "In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas" [In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity] and defined their object "to secure the enfranchisement of the women of all nations and to unite the friends of woman suffrage throughout the world in organized cooperation and fraternal helpfulness". A Committee or Board of Officers was elected with Carrie Chapman Catt as President. The official languages of the Alliance were to be English, French and German.
Affiliation of a country to the Alliance was through the national woman suffrage society of that country. To avoid the confusion which might have arisen in an international organisation if internal differences of methodology and strategy, rife amongst suffrage campaigners in some of affiliated countries, had been allowed to dominate the agenda, only one society was eligible for affiliation from each country. So, in Great Britain, the affiliation was with the constitutional National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (N.U.W.S.S.), which subsequently became the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (N.U.S.E.C.), and not with the militant Women's Social and Political Union (W.S.P.U.). An exception to this rule appears to have been made in Denmark.
Countries which had no national association or which decided not to affiliate to the Alliance could send representatives to Congresses and fraternal delegates from any interested societies in affiliated countries were welcome to attend. Such delegates had no voting rights but it enabled their participation whilst also broadening the scope of the Congresses.
The first countries to affiliate to the Alliance were Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and the U.S.A. and they were soon followed by Denmark and Norway. By the time of the second biennial Congress at Copenhagen, Denmark in 1906 Canada and Hungary had affiliated and Australia expected to join.
It was here that the badge of the Alliance was adopted. This showed the sun rising from behind a woman who holds the scales of justice in her right hand and featured the Latin motto "Jus Suffragii" [The Right of Suffrage] which became the name of the journal of the Alliance. The journal, also sometimes known as the International Woman Suffrage News, was to be printed in English (later there was a French edition too) and was to be issued from Rotterdam, Netherlands.
The third biennial Congress was held at Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1908 and saw the affiliation of Bulgaria, Finland, Italy, Russia, South Africa and Switzerland. In the following year the first Quinquennial Meeting of the Alliance and its 5th Annual Conference (dated from the first Congress at Berlin in 1904 rather than from the Alliance's inception in 1902) were held in London; Belgium and France becoming affiliated.
The fourth Congress was held at Stockholm, Sweden in 1911. New affiliations up to and including the Congress were Austria, Bohemia, Iceland and Servia.
The fifth Congress was held in 1913 at Budapest, Hungary. Attended by 12 official delegates from each of the 26 affiliated countries, fraternal delegates from other interested societies, representatives from unaffiliated countries, visitors and the press, some 2800 people attended the Congress.
Also in 1913 an International Headquarters for the Alliance was established in London. The address was 7 Adam Street, Adelphi, although during the war they were to move to 11 Adam Street. The English edition of Jus Suffragii was to be issued from this office (the French edition was being issued from Paris) and it was also to administer the I.W.S.A. Information Bureau which collected, and supplied on request, information on women's issues worldwide. The archive of the I.W.S.A. comes from this office and covers the period from its establishment to 1920.
The next Congress should have been held in Berlin, again, in 1915 but the outbreak of the First World War made this impossible. The war inevitably diminished the activities of the I.W.S.A., not least because the women's organisations in all countries were using their skills, resources and contacts to administer war aid and the mobilisation of women into civilian trades as men were required for military service.
The work of the I.W.S.A. during the period of war should not, however, be underestimated. Their achievement was to maintain limited communications with at least some of the affiliated countries, even enemy nations, and to continue to publish in Jus Suffragii articles that could pass the censor and be read by women in countries that were at war with each other.
The timing of the Congress after the War proved to be controversial with some members feeling that too much time had already been lost and others feeling that national sensibilities were too raw to attempt any kind of international gathering without first allowing time for the reconstruction of countries and the rebuilding of shattered lives.
There were plans for a Congress in Spain but ultimately the venue chosen was Geneva, Switzerland and the date 1920. The late date precipitated the resignation of Mary Sheepshanks, a key figure within the Alliance who had responsibility for the Information Bureau and Jus Suffragii, from her position as Headquarters Secretary, although she was at pains to make clear that she had no disagreement of principle with her colleagues who made up the Board of Officers and Presidents.
At Geneva there were further affiliations with Argentina, Greece, Spain and Uruguay. In the following years there were further affiliations and Congresses held at Rome, Italy (1923), Paris, France (1926), Istanbul, Turkey (1935), Copenhagen, Denmark (1939) and Interlaken, Switzerland (1946). By this stage the franchise had been extended to women in the majority of affiliated countries and after the Second World War the organisation was to find a new role as an advisory group to the United Nations, changing its name to the International Alliance of Women (I.A.W.).
During the period covered by the archive (1913-1920) members of the Board of Officers, most of whom also played important roles in the national associations of their respective countries, were as follows:
President - Carrie Chapman Catt, U.S.A.
1st Vice-President - Millicent Garrett Fawcett, England
2nd Vice-President - Annie Furuhjelm, M.P., Finland
3rd Vice-President - Anna Lindemann, Germany
4th Vice-President - Marguerite de Witt de Schlumberger, France
1st Corresponding Secretary - Katherine Dexter McCormick, U.S.A.
2nd Corresponding Secretary - Rosika Schwimmer, Hungary/Jane Brigode, Belgium
1st Recording Secretary - Chrystal Macmillan, M.A., B.Sc., Scotland
2nd Recording Secretary - Marie Stritt, Germany
1st Treasurer - Adela Stanton Coit, England
2nd Treasurer - Signe Bergman, Sweden
The Headquarters Secretary at 7/11 Adam Street, Adelphi, London was Mary Sheepshanks, until her resignation in 1919, and then Elizabeth Abbott.
During the same period the affiliated associations, in alphabetical order of country, and their presidents, were as follows:
Australia - Women's Political Association, Vida Goldstein
Austria - Oesterreichisches Frauenstimmrechts-Komitee, E. von Furth
Belgium - Fédération Belge pour le Suffrage des Femmes, Jane Brigode
Bohemia - Vybor pro volebni pràvo zen, Frantiska Plaminkova
Canada - Dominion Woman Suffrage Association, Flora MacD. Denison
China - National Woman Suffrage Association, Sophia Chang
Denmark - Danske Kvindeforeningers Valgretsforbund, Eline Hansen
Denmark - Danske Landsforbundet, Elna Munch
Finland - Federation of Auxiliaries, Annie Furuhjelm
France - L'Union Française pour le Suffrage des Femmes, Marguerite de Witt de Schlumberger
Galicia - Polish Woman Suffrage Committee, Mme Hedvige Tomika
Germany - Deutscher Verband für Frauenstimmrecht (later Deutscher Reichsverband für Frauenstimmrecht), Marie Stritt
Great Britain - N.U.W.S.S./N.U.S.E.C., Millicent Garrett Fawcett
Hungary - Feministàk Egyesülete, Vilma Glücklich
Iceland - [a woman suffrage association in Iceland], Briet Asmundsson
Italy - Comitato Nationale per il Voto alla Donna, Prof. Anita Dobelli-Zampetti/Marchesa Clelia Pelicano
Netherlands - Vereeniging voor Vrouwenkiesrecht, Dr. Aletta Jacobs
Norway - Landskvindestemmeretsforeningen, F. M. Qvam
Portugal - Associaçao de Propaganda Feminista, Jeanne d'Almeida Nogueira
Roumania - National Suffrage Association, Eugenie de Reus Jancoulesco
Russia - League for the Equality of Women's Rights/Union of Defenders of Women's Rights, P. Schischkina Yavein, M.D.
Servia - Szpshi narodni zenski Saves, Hélène Losanitch
South Africa - Women's Enfranchisement Association, M. Emma Macintosh
Sweden - Landsforeningen för Kvinnans Politiska Röstratt, Signe Bergman/Anna Whitlock
Switzerland - Verband für Frauenstimmrecht, Emilie Gourd/M.M. de Morsier, Deputy
U.S.A. - N.A.W.S.A., Rev. Anna H. Shaw