This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

'Women in a Changing World': The International Council of Women, Global Power, and the Boundaries of Sisterhood, 1888-1966




Skelton, Victoria

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation



Restriction Status


Restriction Type


Date Available



This dissertation explores the first seventy-eight years of the International Council of Women (ICW) – the first multipurpose international women’s organization – through the lens of global structures of power, specifically nationalism and imperialism, to understand the limits of sisterhood in international feminist organizing during the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The project utilizes the official records of the ICW to illuminate the process of gatekeeping to the organization’s imagined gendered community, and how ICW leaders constructed boundaries to belonging that hinged on contemporary understandings of womanhood, national identity, and imperial maternalism to limit the organization’s membership. Unpacking the multiple, layered meanings of sisterhood, politics, and national identity in an international discursive arena, the dissertation demonstrates the fluidity of a multivalent feminism that afforded women in the ICW the ability to offer and deny belonging to its sisterhood. Though the parameters to accessing the ICW sisterhood remained ambiguous over time, an imperial, nationalist Euro-American ethos permeated organizers’ language and actions throughout the seventy-eight years in question.