Lobbying the League : women's international organizations and the League of Nations
This thesis is an account of women's international work at the League of Nations. While feminists' shift from the national to the international arena has been noted in studies on the inter-war women's movement, most often it has been interpreted as a reflection of the heightened salience of peace work in the aftermath of the First World War. This is an important observation but it overlooks the fact that women's activities at the League embraced the full spectrum of feminist causes: social reform, women's rights and peace. This thesis gives prominence to inter-war feminist activity played against the backdrop of institutional developments at the League which encouraged women to believe their goals could be advanced under its auspices. One of the major goals of the Women's International Organizations was to establish a political role for women in international affairs. The first chapter describes the efforts of women's organizations to secure the representation of women in the League of Nations. Many recently enfranchised women in Europe and North America identified the League as an institution toward which they should direct their newly won political influence. This is assessed in the context of ideas that emerged in the aftermath of the First World War about the transformation of the international sphere through the infusion of female values. The second, third and fourth chapters present a profile of the women's networks operating in and around the League. The study reveals a high level of interaction between the Women's International Organizations and women in official positions at the League. Chapter 2 examines the aims of the Women's International Organizations and exposes tensions between social feminist and equal rights feminist organizations that led to a struggle for influence at the League. The third and fourth chapters assess the impact of gender-stereotyping on patterns of appointments to the League. However much appointments to Assembly delegations and League advisory committees should have carried with them national allegiances, women delegates were often seen to represent women and this both positively and negatively affected women's participation. The remaining chapters assess women's impact on the development of League activities with particular attention to the implications of the idea that women as women had a special contribution to make at the international level. Chapter 5 explores the extent to which the assertion of difference enhanced women's influence with regard to the League's social and humanitarian work in the 1920s and enabled them to have several gender-specific concerns placed on the agenda. The Depression and the rise of reactionary ideologies influenced feminists to call for more decisive League action on the status of women in the 1930s. Most member states of the League, however, did not view the status of women as a subject for international consideration. Chapter 6 looks at the conflict between social and equal rights feminists over what League initiatives would prove most effective for advancing the status of women and traces developments that ultimately led to the League sponsored Inquiry on the Legal Status of Women in 1937. The seventh chapter assesses the impact of traditional associations between women and peace on women's peace activities at the League. Cultural representations of women as peace-loving had political relevance in the context of League activities and the League attempted to bolster support in the 1930s by intensifying collaboration with women. Significantly, the Women's International Organizations responded by asserting that only with equality would women's influence for peace be fully available. The interplay between equality and difference permeated women's international work at every level and the conclusion evaluates the way in which this tension influenced women's participation in and contribution to the activities of the League of Nations.