Building Transatlantic Women's Communities and Networks, 1880s–1940s

AHA Session 207
Coordinating Council for Women in History 11
Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Chicago Ballroom G (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Mary Jo Maynes, University of Minnesota
Ann T. Allen, University of Louisville

Session Abstract

This panel examines the importance of international feminisms through research on the development of transatlantic connections from the 1880s to the 1940s. All three papers explore the personal, professional, and political intricacies of transatlantic networking among European and American women newly engaged in sociopolitical reform. Our panel has two complementary foci: the personal networks that engendered international women’s organizations (in this case, the pioneering International Council of Women or ICW) at the fin de siècle, followed by the organization of women’s professional networks (in this instance, legal, medical, and educational) during the early twentieth century.  The speakers will address the tensions between the “national” realities and the “international” aspirations among women.

Two of our papers address the connection between the French and the Americans at the nexus of Chicago. Karen Offen’s paper focuses on the early French and American connections that preceded the 1893 ICW meeting held at the World’s Columbian Exposition, and the French contribution elicited for the Women’s Building. Sara Kimble’s paper follows up by examining the key players at the 1933 ICW meeting held at the “Century of Progress” World’s Fair, also held in Chicago. Sara focuses on the knitting together of the international alliances between feminist jurists and lawyers. Karen and Sara’s papers will both explore representations of women’s achievements at the 1893 and 1933 Chicago World’s Fairs.

Kerstin Bornholdt’s paper will explore how German and Austrian Jewish women turned to their network within the Medical Women’s International Association (MWIA) to assist with their emigration during the interwar and war years. The MWIA was founded in 1919 with apolitical objectives but international crises and growing antisemitism created unforeseen political demands. Sara and Kerstin’s papers both take account of the ways in which politics interfered with the normal operation of women’s professional organizations during the 1930s-1940s. These two papers explore the organizational responses to politics and individual women’s circumstances by groups such as the International Federation for Women Lawyers, and the MWIA.

Our probing of cross-national network formation, along with the interactions of women’s professional groups with the organized women’s movement can provide new insights into the history of women and women’s communities during this era.  

Our chair and commentator are both senior historians of comparative women’s history: Mary Jo Maynes and Ann Taylor Allen.

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