This blog post is about the highly interesting Inter-Allied Women’s Conference that took place during the Paris Peace Conference, which is unfortunately rather neglected in our collective memory of the treaty of Versailles. This blog post gives a little bit of background information about the women and how I touched upon this conference using a website Thinglink.
In 2019, it was 100 years ago that the Paris Peace Conference took place in order to establish a new world order after the disastrous World War I, or so Mr Wilson, Mr Clemenceau, Mr Lloyd George and Mr Orlando thought. Of course, not everyone was invited to attend these highly important talks, which in this case included Germany, the highly mistrusted Russia, people from the colonies who fought alongside the Allied Powers, and women in general. Japan, one of the Allied Powers, was only granted minimal influence, shown by the rejection of the Racial Equality Proposal initiated by Japan. Up until this day, historians debate about the eventual treaty that was signed, as it clearly manifested a victors’ peace and can be seen as one of the main causes of World War II. The focus on the outcome of the Paris Peace Conference causes us to neglect more interesting things that took place during this time, namely the Inter-Allied Women’s Conference.
The Inter-Allied Women’s Conference was a parallel conference organised by women suffragists who wanted to have a seat at the table. The intention of the Paris Peace Conference was to make important decisions with far-reaching consequences, therefore women wanted to attend these meetings and bring the female perspectives to the fore. Thus from February to April 1919, women from all over the world lobbied, campaigned, discussed, wrote resolutions, in order to gain influence in the meetings that took place in Versailles. Eventually, the women got to meet with President Wilson and later on with his French colleague. Their proposals regarding women’s suffrage and political influence were put aside, however their ideas about labor conditions for women found more interest.
The women were utterly disappointed with the eventual outcome of the Peace Treaties, as, according to them, this could be seen as munition for a new war. After the Inter-Allied Women’s Conference, the women attended the Zurich Women’s Peace Conference in May 1919. In contrast to the Paris Peace Conference, German and Australian women were present and contributed to the conference. Furthermore, the women expressed disappointment about the minimal requirements for disarmament, rejections of self-determinations for colonies, and the system of reparations. This would according to the women “create all over Europe discords and animosities, which can only lead to future wars” and would doom “a hundred million people of this generation in the heart of Europe…to poverty, disease, and despair which must result in the spread of hatred and anarchy in each nation.” Unfortunately their observation has proven to be a rather accurate prophecy.
To teach about the Inter-Allied Women’s Conference, I used the women suffrage movement, namely the lack of political power of women during this time. As an introduction activity, the students filled out a table that asked them to compare the situation of women’s political rights of the past with the present. This is an exercise developed by ProjectZero from Harvard University, better known as Visible Thinking.
Thereafter students looked at this presentation about suffragists and suffragettes, as this topic was discussed in a unit about social movements. This helped them to elaborate on their predications regarding values and judgements of the past regarding women’s participation in politics. As this unit was about social movements, the Inter-Allied Women’s Conference was used to make students aware of transnational collaboration between women in order to change the values and judgements about them.
Therefore, students had a look at this picture that was taken of the delegates of the Inter-Allied Women’s Conference. The image contains links to more text or other photo, such an interactive image is easily created by using the free website Thinglink. This website is a great tool to add information to a picture, which can be in the form of text, or images, or videos.
Eventually students answered the following questions:
- Why would the women have more success in demanding improved labour conditions than in gaining political rights for women?
- What kind of action are women taken here?
- Would you consider the achievements of the Inter-Allied Women’s Conference successful? Why yes or no?
- What do you think we can learn from these women in 1919?
The aim of this short activity was for the students to familiarise themselves with some of these women and understand that the struggle for gender equality has been going on for a long time already. By incorporating this conference into a topic about women’s suffrage, students understand that this was a global struggle and that women collaborated, despite technological challenges, to achieve their goals.
More information about these inspirational women or other inspiring women: