By May 1, 1915, the world was deep into the worst war in history (up until that point). World War I was billed as “The War to End All Wars” and is usually the primary focus for historians who study the period between 1914 and 1919.
But there were other things going on that were equally important. By the 1910s, the United States was beginning to rediscover itself after the horror that was the American Civil War. And while the pain and healing that was associated with that bloody period in history would be felt for decades beyond even World War I, Americans were, for the most part, moving on.
One of the issues that popped up and became high priority for Americans was women’s suffrage, or women’s right to a voice in government. But this wasn’t only an American concern. For the most part, women didn’t have the right to vote in most countries around the world. In the United States, 1920 was the year that women finally got the right to participate in American elections.
As you can imagine, the fight for women’s right to vote was polarizing all around the world. And as countries fought in World War I, the fight for women’s rights intensified, not only for the right to vote, but also for their right to lobby for peace.
On April 28, 1915, a large group of women from 12 nations gathered together at The Hague in the Netherlands. They labeled themselves the International Congress of Women. On May 1, they released their resolutions. They called for all nations to cease fighting, in hopes that neutral countries could broker peace.
This wasn’t the first International Congress of Women. The first was held in Paris in 1878, then in several different cities: London (1899), Berlin (1904) Amsterdam (1908), Toronto (1909), Stockholm (1911), Zürich (1919), and Vienna (1921).
There were two goals that the members of this organization strove for. Women’s rights, particularly suffrage, and peaceful solutions to the conflicts around the world.
Many ideas came out of the Congress in 1915. One of them was the Society of Nations, a precursor to President Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations (which was eventually abandoned due to non-participation) and the United Nations, which was founded in the 1950s.
The International Congress of Women also founded a group called the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, which is still active today. Jane Addams, a very famous American suffragette (and a founder of the famous Hull House), was the first president of the new organization.
The Congress sent delegates, including Addams, to talk to President Woodrow Wilson. They hoped to influence the US into staying out of World War I by using their method of peaceful mediation. However, it was not to be. By 1917, the US entered the war after continued attacks by the Germans on American naval vessels.