With so much emphasis on the national sphere it is easy to forget that women’s suffrage was an international campaign, from Europe all the way to China. In 1893 New Zealand granted the vote to women, the first country to do so; however this did not set a precedent and women in countries throughout the world continued to campaign for their voting rights well into the 20th century.
During the early years of the 1900s there was recognition particularly by American women’s suffrage organisations that they were not alone in their campaign and that women across the continents were fighting for the same cause. In 1904 off the back of the International Council of Women (ICW), an international women’s reform organisation established in Washington in 1888 by leading American suffragists Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA) was founded in Berlin. Attempts had been made to raise the right to vote as a campaign issue within the International Council of Women; however there was a significant proportion of members who opposed the idea, despite being women. As a result the IWSA became a splinter group of the ICW, whose primary focus was bringing international women’s suffrage organisations together to support and encourage their national causes. As their founding constitution, the ‘Declaration of Principles’, boldly proclaimed:
….the ballot is the only legal and permanent means of defending the rights to the “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” pronounced inalienable by the American Declaration of Independence, and accepted by all civilised nations. In any representative form of government, therefore, women should be vested with all political rights and privilege of electors.
The IWSA became an international platform of unity for the fight for the vote. The Congress, which took place on average every two years, in a different country each time, brought together all the member organisations from around the world to discuss developments and new resolutions in women’s suffrage, as well as providing individual national organisations with the opportunity to speak about their situations back home and their experiences in the fight [click here for information about a commemorative stamp in the Library collection from the 1913 Congress in Budapest]. In this regard the IWSA successfully united organisations from across the globe under one fundamental idea and aim, and provided a sisterhood of support without enforcing a specific approach. Respect was given to the fact that each situation and country was different.
The badge shown in the picture above has the logo of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance on the front with the female figure of Justice holding her scales and the words Jus Suffragii, the Latin for ‘the right to suffrage’ written around the edges of the figure. It is a recent acquisition to the Working Class Movement Library as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project, Voting for Change. It dates from 1906, and was perhaps bought at the Copenhagen congress by an organisation member. Badges like these, much like a lot of suffrage merchandise and souvenirs, were made from cheap materials to make them affordable to everybody.
In 1904 when the International Woman Suffrage Alliance came into being there were seven founding members with five additional countries joining soon after; and over the years, until 1913, the alliance undertook a number of world tours, continually gaining support from thousands of women and organisations globally. Of the seven founding member states Great Britain was one, with leading suffragist and president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies Millicent Garrett Fawcett sitting on the executive board of the alliance. These strong women took their national fight onto an international stage in order to inspire and influence other women to fight for their freedoms back home. The success of the alliance can be seen in the fact that it still exists, albeit under the name of the International Alliance of Women, who still stand by the founding constitution but have broadened their campaign to one which fights for international women’s human rights, equality and empowerment.
Helen McFeely, volunteer