In the Drawing Rooms of Paris: The Inter-Allied Women's Conference of 1919

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 11:40 AM
Monroe Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Mona Siegel, California State University, Sacramento
Even before the ink had dried on the Armistice, Western feminists were strategizing for the peace negotiations to come. “The world,” American President Woodrow Wilson had famously declared upon leading his country into World War I, “must be made safe for democracy.” If the peace to be forged in Paris was to bring democratic governance to the nations of the world, women needed to be there to remind global statesmen that neither democracy nor peace could be secured were they to exclude half of humanity.

This paper will examine Western feminists’ lobbying efforts in Paris in spring 1919, focusing on their attempts to secure women’s representation at the peace conference itself and to promote women’s political participation at both the national and international levels in the global order to come. To such ends, on February 10, 1919, French feminists convened an Inter-Allied Women’s Conference, which would doggedly defend a women’s rights agenda in the drawing rooms of Paris and before the commissions of the Peace Conference itself. Drawing on the Inter-Allied Women’s Conference archives—only recently repatriated to France from the former Soviet Union—as well as feminist papers and diplomatic documents from France, Britain, and the United States, this paper will examine the strategies that women used to demand recognition of their political rights. It will highlight the skillful ways that women employed Wilsonian rhetoric to win over the plenipotentiaries, including Woodrow Wilson himself, showing that Article 7 of the Covenant of the League of Nations would eventually bear the stamp of their efforts. Finally, it will explore why French feminists, who were most responsible for making women’s voices heard in 1919, were unable to capitalize on the international spotlight of the peace conference to secure recognition of their own political rights at home.