To consider the beginning of the IrFUW it is necessary to begin with the history of the International Federation of University Women (IFUW) renamed Graduate Women International in April 2015.
The book ‘Science, Gender and Internationalism – Women’s Academic Networks, 1917-1955’ written by Christine von Oertzen, a Research Scholar at the Max Plank Institute for the History of Science, Germany (translated by Kate Sturge and published by Palgrave Macmillan in July 2014) records how in October 1918 an official British Education Mission to establish links with the American Emergency Council on Education arrived in New York. Two eminent women academics were part of this mission – Caroline Spurgeon, Professor of English at Bedford College London, and Rose Sidgwick, Lecturer in Ancient History at Birmingham University. Their vision was of a world community of women academics who could network internationally in friendship and support, establishing international standards in education and encouraging shared research projects. This Mission and the subsequent Council on Education led in part to the establishment of the League of Nations which was later to become the United Nations.
This vision led to the setting up of the International Federation of University Women in London in 1919. It is to be noted that the growth of IFUW closely reflected the social environment of the post-World War I era. Eight countries joined in 1919 and by 1922 the number of National Federations had increased to 22 through the key activities of networking, friendship building, scholarships, mentoring and opportunities for research across nations – breaking down the barriers of age, race, nationality, religion, political opinion and gender or other status which might serve to divide women.
Part of the development was the establishment of University Clubs in London, Washington and Paris. Perhaps the most famous of these was the Crosby Hall University Club in London – the Trust of which still continues to promote scholarships of women of all nationalities to study in the United Kingdom.
Another key date in the development of IFUW was 1926 with the establishment of the German Federation of University Women who subsequently joined the IFUW in 1927.
During the World Word II era the International Federation give heroic support in sometimes dangerous situations to displaced and refugee women to continue their studies and research both in their own countries and in British Universities. Many women had to leave their families and flee to escape the war in Europe and in the case of many Jewish women they never saw their family members again.
IFUW members in Britain continued to offer practical support and mentoring contacts to these students throughout the period of their stay at British Universities thus continuing the spirit of our Founders in IFUW for support to a ‘world community‘ of women graduates irrespective of race, religion or political barriers.
It has been recognised by historians that in the post-World War I years, because of the loss of males during the war, that there were less restrictions on the women succeeding in academia. Post-World War II and the subsequent Cold War circumstances appears to have changed again and many women encountered barriers against their promotion – the ‘glass ceiling’ into what had returned to a mainly male dominated university life.
In 1902 The National University Graduate Association (NUWGA) was formed and laid foundations for the Irish Association of Women Graduates and Candidate Graduates (IAWG&CG).
In 1909 IAWG&CG affiliated to the Federation of University Women, London and in 1914 the Irish Members divided into three associations:
- Trinity College Dublin (Dublin University)
- National University of Ireland – Dublin, Galway and Cork
- Queen’s University of Belfast
In 1925 while each of the Associations maintained their local autonomy, the Associations joined together to form the Irish Federation of University Women which affiliated to IFUW in the same year. The IrFUW has remained an all Ireland body over the years of political and economic changes.
As we look to the future, the IrFUW faces many challenges and this brief history recognises and celebrates the history but also the challenge to face the changes of the future.
Proud of our Heritage we now have responsibility to carry this heritage on as our legacy into the future.
At the annual Conference in Galway in 2014 the Irish Associations accepted the challenge to appoint an Archivist within each Association to preserve each Association’s history. We will add each Association’s work to our website in the future. This is a means of honouring the past and carrying the vision of our founders through the twenty first century while challenged by restrictive societies who threaten and inhibit the human rights of girls and women, including education, as a means of control.
Thus the IFUW’s vision for the future remains education for all, as it faces its centenary in 2016; it has similar challenges to the founders a hundred years previously.