The Inter-Allied Women’s Conference as a response to Paris Peace Conference

Bob Stradling Partners

On 1 February 1919 a group of French women suffragists met with Wilson at his residence in Paris to request that women delegates participate in the Peace Conference. Wilson replied that women’s labour issues could be part of the conference agenda but women’s civil and political rights were domestic issues. The French Union for Women’s Suffrage now invited colleagues from other countries to join them in Paris to hold a parallel conference, The Inter-Allied Women’s Conference, starting 10 February 1919. Delegates attended from Armenia, Belgium, Britain, France, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, South Africa and the United States. On 11 February an international delegation from the Women’s Conference met with Woodrow Wilson and received the same response as the French delegation ten days earlier. On 11 March a delegation from the Women’s Conference met the Supreme Council and identified a number of issues relating to votes for women, women’s employment rights, prostitution, prison reform, child marriage and trafficking of women and children.  The Supreme Council responded that women’s civil and political rights should be settled by national governments but they did propose that the women present their case to the Commission on International Labour Legislation and the League of Nations Commission.  A women’s delegation presented its case to the Commission on International Labour Legislation on 18 March 1919. Their recommendations on equal pay, maternity leave, limits to working hours and child labour were adopted by the International Labour Organisation as international standards for employment.  They met with less success when a delegation presented its case for civil and political rights for women to the League of Nations Commission. However, Article 7 of the Covenant of the League of Nations did specify that all positions at the League, including the Secretariat, “should be open equally to men and women.” By 1925 just under 250 women were employed at the League of Nations; most of them were typists or working in office administration. Only two women had risen to be Heads of Service, one in charge of the typing pool and the other in charge of the stenographers who transcribed speech into shorthand. Both were paid less than men in charge of other services

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Faisal–Weizmann Agreement

Bob Stradling Partners

In June 1918 Dr Chaim Weizmann, president of the Zionist Organisation travelled to Transjordan to meet Emir Faisal, son of King Hussein of Hejaz. They informally agreed that the Zionist organisation would support the creation of an Arab Kingdom after the war while Faisal and his associates would support a Jewish settlement in Palestine. The two met again in London in January 1919 where Colonel T.E. Lawrence translated from English into Arabic a document drafted by Weizmann and his associates. Its preamble stated that “mindful of the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between Arabs and the Jewish people, and realizing that the surest means of working out the consumation of their natural aspirations is through the closest possible collaboration in the development of the Arab State and Palestine” the two parties agreed to recognise and implement the Balfour Declaration of 1917 calling for a Jewish national home in Palestine; to accept freedom of religion and worship there; to accept Muslim control of  Muslim holy sites there, and the Zionist Organisation would help to develop the economic resources of an Arab State. Weizmann signed the Agreement on behalf of the Zionist Organisation while Faisal signed it on behalf of the Kingdom of Hejaz. However, he added a caveat to the document to the effect that: “If the Arabs are established as I have asked in my manifesto of Jan 4, addressed to the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, I will carry out what is written in this agreement. If changes are made I cannot be answerable for failing to carry out this agreement.” Faisal submitted a written statement to the Supreme Council on 27 January and Weizmann did the same on 3 February. Faisal made a personal appearance to argue his case on 6 February and the Zionist delegation appeared before the Council on 27 February. Both groups then waited months for a decision. At the Conference of London in the spring of 1920 it was announced that Syria would be mandated by the League of Nations to France while Palestine and Iraq would be mandated to Britain. Since this was different to what Faisal had discussed with the British government the Weizmann-Faisal Agreement was now null and void as far as Faisal was concerned.

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Paris Peace Conference in the context of Catalonia

Bob Stradling Partners

In Catalonia in the second half of the 19th century a movement emerged, the Renaixença, which was dedicated to a revival or renaissance of Catalan culture, language and history. In 1891 the Unio Catalanista (Catalan Union) was formed, drawn mostly from intellectuals and middle class youth and in 1892 they held a conference in Manresa which drew up a political manifesto, Bases for a Regional Consitution. Rather than demand secession from Spain, the manifesto called for a dual state, along similar lines to Austria-Hungary.

By the turn of the century Catalan nationalism was not just the manifestation of cultural revivalism amongst the Catalan bourgeoisie. Catalonia had become the most industrialised region of Spain and it was heavily dependent on trade with the remaining Spanish colonies, Cuba, Puerto Rica and the Philippines. When these colonies were lost in 1898 after Spain’s defeat in the war with the USA there was an economic recession, employers cut wages and used toughs to break up any industrial action by workers. The Catalan working class blamed this situation on the government in Madrid and this fuelled nationalist sentiments amongst the Catalan working class as well as the bourgeoisie. Though ideologically divided they shared the goal of greater autonomy within Spain rather than secession.   In the first two decades of the 20th century Catalan politics divided along class lines. Many in the working class were attracted to anarcho-syndicalism and to socialism and, while Spain remained neutral during the war, it was not immune to the radicalism and revolutionary fervour emerging elsewhere in Europe by 1918. In Barcelona from 1918 to 1923 there was violence on the streets between workers and the police and national army units.

It was in this climate that in 1919 the Unio Catalanista decided to send a delegation to the Paris Peace Conference to present the Supreme Council with a petition seeking self determination for Catalonia. However, they met with little support, mainly because of the diplomatic efforts of the Spanish government.

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Consequences of the Paris Peace Conference

On 18 June 1919 a young man working as a kitchen assistant at the Ritz Hotel in Paris sent a letter to US Secretary of State Lansing, who was a delegate at the Paris Peace Conference. He signed it, Nguyên Ái Quõc, a nom de plume meaning ‘Nguyên who loves his country’. His given name was Nguyên Sinh Cung, but we know him better as Hõ Chí Minh, leader of the Viêt Minh Independence movement that fought the occupying forces of Vichy France and Japan during World War Two and then fought French colonial forces from 1945 to 1954 followed by US forces from 1955 to 1975 (the Vietnam War).

He attached to the letter a petition titled The Claims of the Annamite People (the name used by the French colonial administration for the people who now live in Vietnam. At the time Annam was a protectorate within French-controlled Indochina. In that petition he and his associates – ‘The Group of Annamite Patriots’ – called for full civil rights for the Annamite people, a free press, the same rule of law as in France, an amnesty for Annamites imprisoned for their political activism, and a permanent Annamite delegation to the French National Assembly. Lansing replied that he would pass on the Note to President Wilson but no further action was taken. Hõ also sent copies of the petition to all the other political delegations at the Paris Conference. In the meantime a copy of the petition was published in L’Humanité, the French Socialist newspaper and copies were handed out on the streets in Paris. In 1920 Hõ Chí Minh was a founder member of the French Communist Party and then in 1923 left Paris to live in Moscow where he worked for the Comintern. In 1940 he acted as a link between Moscow and the Chinese Communists and then returned to Annam in 1941.

We can only speculate as to whether  a more positive response from Wilson would have enabled the USA to avoid a costly and futile 20-year war in the second half of the 20th century.

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