The Birth of the Cold War: The First Inter-American Congress of Women, Guatemala City, 1947

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:20 AM
River North Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Patricia F. Harms, Brandon University
In August of 1947, an extraordinary event occurred in Guatemala City. Two
hundred women gathered from across the Americas to outline resolutions designed to
promote global democracy and peace, support associations in the struggle for basic
human rights, and advance both political and civil rights for women. In the face of
growing East-West hostilities, the women of the First Inter-American Congress of
Women affirmed a faith in democratic movements as the path to eliminating political
extremes on the rise from both the right and the left.
The 1947 Congress represented a critical historical moment for inter-American
relations among women. Initiated by the U.S. section of the Women’s International
League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the Congress was organized specifically to
create a counter-discourse to the growing global escalation of armaments. The women
who gathered in Guatemala City represented independent and democratic women’s
movement distinct from either governmental agencies or existing international
organizations, such as the Pan American Union or the Commission on Women. Brought
together by the 1947 Congress, the challenge of inter-american organizing was
heightened by the Cold War in its earliest moments. Women from the United States with
radical ideas of peace and justice, openly opposed their government without a full
appreciation of its effect on their female neighbours to the south and in particular,
Guatemala. The political and economy hegemony of the United States complicated the
political conversations at such an event. Even the perception of resistance to U.S.
economic and foreign policies among Latin American women created international
This paper will focus on the dynamics between the women who organized the
1947 Congress and how this event was both effected by and contributed to the escalating
Cold War sentiments expressed within the Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (also known
as the Rio Pact).