The International Federation of University Women (IFUW) founded in 1919 defined itself as a “league of educated women” (IFUW 1920, 76) who “by reason of a common type of education and training, have also in common certain traditions and ideals and who in a very real sense, therefore, speak a common language”(IFUW 1920, 10). For the IFUW, the expertise accruing from a university training distinguished the IFUW from other international women’s organisations. IFUW President, Virginia Gildersleeve, noted in 1925: “We do not wish to merge our own identity too far in other international organisations. We think we have a great advantage, among them all, in our common background of a university training, in the prevalence of an international mind in scholarship, and in our consequent comparative homogeneity (IFUW 1925, 7).
The paper unpacks the role of the IFUW’s Committee on Standards and its processes of standardisation in regulating the membership as it sought to create and preserve the “comparative homogeneity” to which Gildersleeve referred. In the context of the uneven development of higher education for women internationally and the resulting potential for the term “university woman” to be differently interpreted in different countries (Cabanel 2018) the IFUW Committee of Standards investigated the qualifications held by members of national associations of university women (Hunyadi 2016) in order to advise the IFUW council on the requirements for membership in national associations wishing to affiliate. The first section of the paper unpacks the assumptions governing processes of standardisation around national society affiliation in the work of the Committee of Standards.
The IFUW’s first constitution noted that the term national federation was not to be taken to mean an exclusively national or racial society but was to combine all university women living in the same geographical area into one federation representing the country in which they lived. The second section of the paper focuses on “communities within communities” by looking at how aspects of national identities and imperialism threaded through the “comparative homogeneity” of the IFUW in the context of displaced peoples in Europe in the aftermath of the Versailles settlement. It does so by unpacking how the IFUW dealt with the aspirations of university women belonging to national minorities in relation to dominant IFUW configurations of the nation-state based on Western territorial notions.
The IFUW was founded by British and American women in the wake of the 1918 British Educational Mission to America. The standardisation process that the IFUW adopted was similar to the process that the American Association of University Women (AAUW) had used since the late 1880s to determine national membership of local American associations and to advance conditions and status for women students and faculty in higher education. In a context where educational opportunities for African Americans lagged far behind those of white women, and few black women attended collegiate level schools, the affiliation process resulted in the membership of the AAUW being almost exclusively white, despite the organisation not specifically banning African American members (Eisenmann 2010). In looking at how the IFUW”s “comparative homogeneity” was fractured around race the third section considers how tensions within transnational and transatlantic flows played out around the IFUW’s “comparative homogeneity” at the point when the IFUW introduced what came to be known as the “race clause” into its constitution as it sought to deal with racism in respect of its national societies in Germany, Austria and Italy with the rise of fascism in Europe during the 1930s.
Joyce Goodman, Creating a “League of Educated Women”: Comparative Knowledge, Transnational Flows and Dividing Practices in the IFUW, 1919-48, presentation delivered online at ECER 2021, organised by the University of Geneva, 6-10 September 2021
Image: from Lili Skonhoft, Types of University Training (Oslo: Lié, 1934)