August 2017 - Stamp from the International Woman Suffrage Congress, Budapest 1913
The seventh Congress of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance was held in Budapest in June 1913, with 22 countries represented. The first Congress had been hosted in Washington DC in 1902, with subsequent meetings in Berlin in 1904, Copenhagen in 1906, Amsterdam in 1908, London in 1909 and Stockholm in 1911.
The 1913 Congress was widely reported in newspapers and journals from Shanghai, to London and across the Atlantic, and here in the Library you can read a detailed description of its events in the 20 June 1913 issue of Votes for women, a British journal that promoted the cause of female suffrage.
In her opening address Carrie Chapman Catt (Congress President) highlighted the ‘phenomenal growth of the women’s movement’. She went on to express dismay that (with the exception of the Spanish American Republics) there were seven independent nations without an organised woman suffrage movement. Three of these were in Europe, namely: Greece, Spain and Luxembourg. The other four were Liberia, Turkey, Japan and Persia (modern day Iran).
In the previous 12 months the greatest advancement in the realisation of Woman Suffrage had been in America, with another million women being given the vote by constitutional amendment at state level (Illinois State legislature). In the winter of 1912, woman suffrage was considered in no fewer than 17 national parliaments and 33 state and other legislatures; Norway was however the only country to attain full and universal female suffrage.
The hot topic that dominated the Congress was the ever-growing issue of militancy within the movement. The memory of Emily Davison, who had died at the Derby under the hooves of the King’s horse a mere eight days prior to the conference, was still fresh in the minds of all campaigners of woman suffrage.
The Congress issued the following statement:
“Since the International Alliance for Woman Suffrage is bound to the strictest impartiality in matters of national tactics it can express neither a favourable nor an unfavourable opinion. But since neither revolution nor revolt were ever adduced as arguments against men’s suffrage the Congress protests against the action of the enemies of woman suffrage who take as an excuse for withholding their right from the women of the whole world the tactics adopted by a minority in a single country.”
The statement gives a blind nod to militancy without condoning extremism; it urges caution and responsibility. It speaks of a movement that has found itself, a movement that knows what it wishes to achieve, and like their patriarchal counterparts in the dusty halls of powers, they knew the game had to be played.
The plans for another conference two years hence in Berlin came to nothing because of the outbreak of World War One; the Alliance did not gather in this way again until 1920 in Geneva.
The International Woman Suffrage Alliance lives on today as the International Alliance of Women, which comprises 41 member organisations involved in the promotion of women’s human rights, of equality and of the empowerment of women – find out more at http://womenalliance.org.
James Hinchcliffe, volunteer
This object was purchased thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund Collecting Cultures grant. Find out more about our project Voting for Change at www.wcml.org.uk/collecting-cultures.