Women’s Professions

by Dr. Katharina Rietzler

It is easy enough to assume that few women thought deeply about international relations in the first half of the twentieth century. Analyses of women’s marginalization from diplomacy, academia and intellectual life invite the conclusion that women were not there, bar some exceptional figures. Environments that were conducive to international theorising, the reasoning goes, were at the same time hostile to women. However, bearing in mind recent calls for the social grounding of intellectual history, maybe it is time to begin by studying the audiences and wider publics that women were able to address. In the United States, there were several avenues for women to gain paid employment, a public profile and intellectual recognition in so-called women’s professions. And, from the 1900s, some of these professions ‘went international’. 

Together with Valeska Huber and Tamson Pietsch, I’ve explored the importance of women’s professions for international thought in a recent article in Modern Intellectual History (Huber, Pietsch, Rietzler 2019). Presenting case studies of three American women, we focus on their professional formation and how it shaped their careers and intellectual production. We discuss Fannie Fern Andrews (1867–1950), a schoolteacher and educational reformer whose peace curriculum taught American children how to deal with foreignness at home and abroad; Mary Parker Follett (1868–1933), who originally trained in social work but used her professional formation to rethink international, organisational and interpersonal relations in the context of organisational theory; and Florence Wilson (1884–1977), the chief librarian of the League of Nations, who merged theories of information management with theories of international governance.

These women thought about international society from distinct vantage points opened to them through their chosen professions. They were in active engagement with the ideas of their male contemporaries and sought to write themselves into the early-twentieth century conversation about international politics and institutions. At the same time, their respective professions informed their conceptualizations of international questions. Their ideas, and those of other professional women, we argue, remain to be explored by historians of international thought and a wider, reconceptualised disciplinary history of international relations (IR). Andrews and Wilson currently remain outside the bounds of disciplinary history, while Follett has received some recognition by IR scholars (e.g. Schmidt 1998, 168-71). Foregrounding the professional contexts of Andrews’, Follett’s and Wilson’s international thinking ultimately points to the gendered nature of the disciplinary and discursive boundary making that has characterized IR’s foundation.

Fannie Fern Andrews (Public Domain)

As a co-founder of the American School Peace League, Fannie Fern Andrews regarded the modern teacher as an “international figure” who could instil “the principles of justice, peace and international unity” in children. She argued that “these sentiments can be taught” and provided teachers with pedagogical techniques and contexts in which emotions such as international friendship could become meaningful – a kind of do-it-yourself internationalism to socialize children into what Andrews imagined as the international community. As other white American internationalists at the time, Andrews believed in stark racial and civilizational hierarchies that structured this community. White, native-born Americans assumed a privileged position in it, setting an example to the rest of the world. Andrews’ techniques for encouraging world-mindedness in children and expressing it through concrete experience became popular among American schoolteachers by the 1920s. By that time, however, Andrews made a career change. She had always been interested in international law (in fact, her curriculum had a very legalistic bent to it) and in 1923, she completed a Harvard PhD on the League of Nations mandates regime. Andrews underlined the importance of the experience of American colonialism for analysing the mandates system as a form of imperial reform because of the “transitionary character of the guardianship” in American colonies. Her thesis was “pioneer work”, relevant to historians of US Empire today. However, she could not get it published. In the end, Andrews wrote a new book. The Holy Land Under Mandate combined the reproduction of government documents with autobiographical passages. It pandered to contemporary clichés about the Holy Land but also drew on Andrews’ pedagogical work that emphasised emotion and lived experience. Scholars mocked the “personal and chatty” register and denied Andrews the status of an international relations expert. As an intellectual, she remains relegated to the less prestigious categories of ‘educator’ and ‘campaigner’.

Mary Parker Follett (Image believed to be in the Public Domain, )

The same does not hold true for Mary Parker Follett, who did find scholarly recognition in the field of management and organisational studies. However, her lectures and publications are also highly relevant to early twentieth-century international thought and were significantly influenced by her chosen profession, social work. Follett put forth an inherently social view of the individual that saw the group as central to politics because it was only through the group that the individual could realize freedom and be heard above the crowd. For Follett, all sorts of groups were the foundation of group relations – including international organizations. And the process of “recogniz[ing] and unify[ing] difference” through these groups would, Follett argued, give rise not only to a new kind of national state, but also, “through the further working of this principle,” to a “world-state.” Follett’s themes of authority, function and responsibility, the psychology of control and consent, leadership and mediation appealed to a business and management audience. This was a field that was “blazing new trails” that could also “be applied to government or international relations.” Ultimately, Follett’s approach to power grew from her understanding of human psychology – she advocated not the “balance of power” but instead “a jointly developing power [that] means the possibility of creating new values.” In this way, she argued, human activity could be organised on a world scale.

Florence Wilson

Florence Wilson, head librarian of the League of Nations Library in Geneva, was also a committed supporter of international organisation but for her, it was the mechanics of information that enabled international decision making and expanded participation in the international community. She was the only woman member of the American Peace Commission at the Paris Peace Conference and was asked to establish the Library of the League of Nations in 1920. Wilson assigned a central role to expertise and information in a complex world in which knowledge was constantly changing and expanding. She believed that librarians should invest time in cataloguing, indexing and guiding researchers to sources, as requests were “for information rather than books.” After leaving Geneva in 1926, Wilson explored other ways of thinking about international information. She wrote The Origins of the League Covenant under the auspices of the Information Department of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, a work that emphasised process, organization, dissenting opinions and structures of power in the crafting of international legal frameworks. Wilson’s concern with the individual’s relation to international information resonates with the focus on political subjectivity and the Deweyan vision of participatory experience that can be found in Andrews and Follett, but Wilson emphasised accessibility. Her thinking about the role of information in international society prefigures not only Cold War approaches to public diplomacy, but also more recent concerns with networks, expertise and publicity. At the same time, the methods she proposed to enable access, the nature of the information she sought to mobilize, and the international community she imagined, exhibited the biases of American liberal internationalism, a trait she shares with Andrews.

Andrews, Follett and Wilson were not the only professional women whose training and experience outside the academic discipline of International Relations and its cognate disciplines in the interwar years (International Law, History, Psychology, Economics and Political Science) shaped their international thought. It also matters that these three women were trained in what is sometimes referred to as ‘service professions’. Indeed, this fact should lead us to question the inside/outside dichotomy that makes it so easy to dismiss these women as marginal to the history of international thought. After all, as their professions were conceptualised as being ‘for others’, they matter deeply to the wider structure that was international thinking in the interwar years.  


Valeska Huber, Tamson Pietsch & Katharina Rietzler, “Women’s International Thought and the New Professions, 1900-1940”, Modern Intellectual History (2019)

Brian Schmidt, The Political Discourse of Anarchy: A Disciplinary History of International Relations (New York, 1998)

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Family, the State and War

by Professor Kimberly Hutchings

Conventional accounts of the history of international thought date recognition of the significance of private/ public distinctions for understanding international politics from the latter quarter of the twentieth century, for example, in books such as Jean Elshtain’s Women and War (1987) or Sara Ruddick’s Maternal Thinking: towards a politics of peace (1989). In this respect international thought is, as so often, figured as rather behind the curve, catching up with the work of feminists in other disciplines. When we think of the preoccupations of IR in the early to mid-twentieth century, we think of Waltz’s famous ‘images’, in which human (read male) nature, states and the international system are constituted as key sources of explanation and normative judgment.

For women international thinkers, however, it has never been so easy to overlook the importance of the organization of intimate relations and how these matter for big picture questions about the state and war and vice versa. Contra Waltz, the individual (man) does not exist in glorious isolation as bad, good or malleable, but is always in relation to others, including, of course, women. This does not mean, however, that women international thinkers from the early to mid-twentieth century interpret the significance of intimate relations in the same way. Some of them, such as Jane Addams (1860-1935), clearly prefigure the arguments of Ruddick. Others, however, such as Eslanda Robeson (1895-1965) and Emma Goldman (1869-1940) have a different story to tell.

In her entertaining piece “If Men Were Seeking the Franchise’, Addams adopts the standpoint of women in charge of families and households to poke fun at men’s standard arguments against women’s suffrage. Addams’s argument creates a parallel world in which women have had the vote and men have been denied it, and contrasts that world with the aggression and waste characteristic of politics as usual.

First, could not the women say: “Our most valid objection to extending the franchise to you is that you are so fond of fighting – you always have been since you were little boys. You’d very likely forget that the real object of the State is to nurture and protect life, and out of sheer vainglory you would be voting away huge sums of money for battleships, not one of which could last more than a few years, and yet each would cost ten million dollars; more money than all the buildings of Harvard University represent, although it is the richest educational institution in America”.  (Addams 1913)

Underneath the fun is a serious argument that the male ‘public’ world needs to learn from the caring and prudential virtues and values embedded in the female ‘private’ one. These virtues and values, when translated into the public sphere give rise, amongst other things, to pacific foreign policy, regulation of dangerous industries, investment in education, and reform of the penal system. Addams’s argument works because the family is defined as inhabiting a separate sphere, one in which the logic of state and war does not, or ought not to, enter.

As with Addams, Robeson frequently points to the ways in which family and household management provide lessons for state and international politics. In Robeson’s case, however, rather than being based on a public/ private distinction, her position relies on the denial of that distinction and the assertion of a strong continuity between the quality of familial, national and international relations. In response to a question from Pearl Buck about how Americans have come to lose ‘our sense of human relationships’, Robeson answers:

Maybe we never had it. We began in this country with slavery, remember. It’s impossible to develop human relationships, or to keep them if we had them, under slavery. Slavery itself is a violation of human relationships, and sets up false standards. (Buck and Robeson, 1950, p.33)

Robeson is clear-eyed about the ways in which raced and gendered international political and economic relations produce and are produced by not only the bourgeois mother but also the utter destruction of any realm of privacy or intimacy for enslaved, exploited and dispossessed women. Rather than a space for nurturing caring relationships, the private sphere in capitalist conditions is the breeding ground of racism and sexism. Thus although on the surface Robeson may sound as if she is following Addams’s lead, she is in fact doing something radically different. For her what is needed is not the exporting of a particular set of values from a distinct private sphere to a public one, but the building of all human relationships on the basis of democracy and equality. In this context the family is a crucial site of world politics because it is the context in which people are inducted into human relations, well or badly.

It is a common error to consider international affairs as remote, in a rarefied intellectual field. Actually international affairs are merely an extension of domestic affairs, which in turn are merely an extension of family affairs and relations with neighbours. (Robeson, 1958, p. 35)

Addams and Robeson both see the family, and within this women and mothers, as potentially playing a significant role in transforming state and world order. Goldman, in contrast, sees the family only as a key site of oppression, and is deeply suspicious of the ‘myth’ of women’s moral superiority, or the idea that they carry distinct values into the public sphere.

The insatiable monster, war, robs woman of all that is dear and precious to her. It exacts her brothers, lovers, sons, and in return gives her a life of loneliness and despair. Yet the greatest supporter and worshiper of war is woman. She it is who instills the love of conquest and power into her children; she it is who whispers the glories of war into the ears of her little ones, and who rocks her baby to sleep with the tunes of trumpets and the noise of guns. (Goldman, 1911 Chapter 9)

For Goldman the family is not a bulwark against state and war, but a key component of state power. A central aspect of this is the control of women’s sexuality and reproduction.

The defenders of authority dread the advent of a free motherhood, lest it rob them of their prey. Who would fight wars? Who would create wealth? Who would make the policeman, the jailor, if woman were to refuse the indiscriminate breeding of children? (Goldman, 1911, Chapter 11)

The family is a site for the reproduction of capitalism and war not only because it literally reproduces the population, but because it produces men and woman as puritans and patriots, disabling their capacity to think and act as individuals. Family relations oppress women, but women are also complicit in their oppression, particularly middle class women such as Addams, who embrace the task of regulating other people’s lives. Goldman dismisses the campaign for women’s suffrage as a struggle for ‘the “privilege” of becoming a judge, a jailor or an executioner’. If one is to revolutionise the world then woman must embrace her own freedom.

Her development, her freedom, her independence, must come from and through herself. First, by asserting herself as a personality, and not as a sex commodity. Second, by refusing the right to anyone over her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them; by refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the family, etc., by making her life simpler, but deeper and richer. That is, by trying to learn the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities, by freeing herself from the fear of public opinion and public condemnation. Only that, and not the ballot, will set woman free, will make her a force hitherto unknown in the world, a force for real love, for peace, for harmony; a force of divine fire, of life-giving; a creator of free men and women. (Goldman, 1911, Ch 9)

Whatever one’s views as to Addams’s, Robeson’s and Goldman’s arguments, they were all drawing attention to the importance of the relation between intimate and international relations well before Enloe reminded us that the ‘personal is international’ (Enloe 1989). Does this matter for those of us working on these issues today? Arguably, it does matter in two ways. First, the way we tell the story of feminist IR tends to perpetuate a teleological narrative through stages from ‘add women and stir’ to more sophisticated decolonial or queer feminist perspectives. This is a narrative that just does not stand up once we look at the actual history of women’s international thought in 1913, never mind in the 1980s (see Hemmings 2011). Second, in their substantive claims, all of these thinkers underline the ways in which the exclusion of ‘family’ or the ‘private’ from the examination of ‘state’ and ‘war’ disables our capacity to understand or change the world around us.


Jane Addams (1913) “If Men Were Seeking the Franchise”, Ladies Home Journal (June). Available at: http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/gilded/power/text12/addams.pdf

Pearl S. Buck and Eslanda Goode Robeson (1950) American Argument (London: Methuen & Co.)

Jean Bethke Elshtain (1987) Women and War (Chicago: Chicago University Press)

Cynthia Enloe (1989) Bananas, Beaches and Bases: making feminist sense of international politics (Berkeley: University of California Press)

Emma Goldman Anarchism and Other Essays, 1911. Available at: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/emma-goldman-anarchism-and-other-essays.

Eslanda Goode Robeson (1958) “Women in the United Nations”, New World Review, Vol. 26 (March): p.33-35.

Clare Hemmings (2011) Why Stories Matter: the political grammar of feminist theory (Durham: Duke University Press)

Sarah Ruddick (1989) Maternal Thinking: toward a politics of peace (Boston: Beacon Press)

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On the Heirs to Agnes Headlam-Morley

By Professor Patricia Owens

We currently know very little, and certainly not based on archival work, about the history of women’s international thought inside the Anglo-American academy, the dominant locations of disciplinary IR. Academic women are only one – but an obviously important – part of the story of how women in the past thought about relations between peoples, empires, and states. In this blog post, I share some very preliminary findings, based only on a small portion of the British side of the archival work for this part of the Leverhulme Research Project.

First consider a puzzle. In IR’s intellectual and disciplinary history, women appear to be less present between the late 1940s and 1980s than at any time in the first half of the 20th century (Owens, 2018). This is puzzling because we tend to think of women’s position as improving through the course of the twentieth-century, especially as their access to higher education increased. So why does their position seem to regress in IR?

To illustrate, a very large proportion of what today we would consider core IR subject matter was taught by women scholars from as early as 1904 when Lilian Knowles began teaching imperial and great power economic history at the LSE.

Lilian Knowles

Women were among the first appointed to the earliest IR departments in the 1920s, such as Lilian Friedlander in Aberystwyth and Lucy Philip Mair, again at the LSE. In the United States, women’s international thought was institutionalised, most significantly at the Bureau of International Relations at Radcliffe College, in existence from 1924 until 1942. While there is no British equivalent, women’s colleges in Oxford and Cambridge appointed historians to teach international relations.

There is remarkable continuity between the interests of very many of these academic women and today’s core IR subject matter. Consider just two of the substantive themes and scale of global historical processes.

One, of course, was the mutual constitution of international and race relations. Outside the academy, for ‘race women’ activist intellectuals such as Claudia Jones, international meant neo-colonial relations. Inside the academy, Merze Tate, partly trained in Oxford, combined analyses of racial hierarchy with a quite realist approach to diplomatic history. What I’ve called ‘white women’s IR’ in Britain largely centred on the imperial background of diplomatic history and colonial administration, including works by Lilian Penson, Margery Perham, Lucy Philip Mair, Sybil Crowe, Mary Proudfoot, and Agatha Ramm. Clearly, their marginalization in IR’s intellectual and disciplinary histories is partly explained by this substantive focus. Imperial-international relations was itself later erased from IR’s disciplinary history (Vitalis, 2015).

But another prominent theme that fascinated early academic women makes their absence from IR’s intellectual and disciplinary histories much more difficult to explain. This is the centrality of power-political and geopolitical relations between different kinds of polities. Early geopolitical thinkers, like Ellen Churchill Semple, economic historians, like Knowles and Eileen Power, and diplomatic historians like Elizabeth Wisekmann and Tate, centred their analyses on the role of geopolitical/international (as well as imperial) relations in shaping national polities and economies. So how do we explain their marginalization given the substantive focus on IR’s core subject of power politics and diplomacy?

Part of the answer is related to a third preliminary finding and to assumptions about the fields and approaches through which a separate IR discipline should be formed. It is here that we can begin to address the puzzle of historical women’s partial presence in pre-disciplinary IR and a seemingly greater absence from the late 1940s to 1980s.

The vast majority of the IR women we’re finding in university and college archives were trained as historians engaged in often very practical and always empirically-grounded research. In contrast, the professionalization of academic IR involved a conscious break away from diplomatic history, especially in Britain. From the 1970s, IR largely organised itself around a set of ideological ‘isms’ and ‘Schools’. Diplomatic history was caricatured as incapable of advancing ‘theory’, the level of abstraction necessary for a distinct theory of the ‘international system’. This marginalized all of the women mentioned above. Unsurprisingly since it mirrors what we already know about the history of History and Sociology, it is starting to look as though the carving out of a distinct IR discipline was a gendered process.

Consider one of the most disparaged figures in the break from diplomatic history, Agnes Headlam-Morley, the first women to become a full Professor at the University of Oxford. She held the Montagu Burton Chair in International Relations between 1948-1971. An historian of Anglo-German relations and one-time would-be Tory MP, at Oxford she was a famed salon hostess and College woman.  

The consensus among the chroniclers of IR’s history is that she failed to develop the subject because she continued to view IR as a subfield of History. In Ian Hall’s words, Headlam-Morley was ‘a staunch opponent of the study of contemporary international relations, let alone the use of newfangled social scientific methods’ (2012: 53). In any case, for Martin Ceadel, Agnes’s intellectual interests were ‘inherited’ from her father, James, an historian and senior civil servant who helped draft the Treaty of Versailles (Ceadel, 2014: 189). On this account, IR’s fortunes only revived after Agnes’s retirement in 1971 and the return to Oxford of Hedley Bull, who held the Montagu Burton Chair between 1977 and 1985.

Agnes Headlam-Morley painted by
Lutyens, Robert; St Hugh’s College, University of Oxford.

For others, the stakes were even higher than the fate and methods of a fledgling discipline. Headlam-Morley appears on the very last page of Carroll Quigley’s infamous book, The Anglo-American Establishment: From Rhodes to Cliveden,on the Anglophone network seeking to establish global racial supremacy through imperial federation. ‘[T]he great idealistic adventure which began with Toynbee and Milner in 1875 had slowly ground its way to a finish of bitterness and ashes’ when this ‘middle-aged spinster… with one publication to her credit’ sat in the Oxford chair (1981: 310).

I focus on Agnes Headlam-Morley not to endorse her international thought, a ‘great man’, ‘great power’ kind of history, and certainly not her politics. Nor because those dreams of imperial federation have been revived in Brexitland with talk of ‘Global Britain’ and the ‘Anglosphere’. And it is only partly to point to the obvious misogyny in how she is discussed, most clearly by Quigley, as well as the gendered and constitutive marginalization of diplomatic history in the process of making ‘disciplinary IR’.

Rather it is because the disparagement of Agnes Headlam-Morley, who supervised Merze Tate, seems to be more than ironic today. For it is not at all clear that the most significant and interesting international relations scholarship today is being conducted by the heirs to those who broke from diplomatic history to forge a new discipline of IR. Indeed, such work is just, if not more, likely to be pursued by the heirs to Agnes Headlam-Morley, and indeed Merze Tate: contemporary practitioners of the new international and global history.

Historians have long moved away from the study of diplomatic relations, narrowly conceived, towards the historical understanding of international and global dynamics, working with the many thematic, conceptual and theoretical moves that IR scholars import.

If there ever was time that IR could point to the outmoded character of diplomatic history as the raison d’être for a separate discipline that time has long past. As IR continues to move beyond and slowly recover from its ‘grand theory wars’, embracing mixed methods and genuine interdisciplinarity, it could do worse than enter into new and productive conversations with earlier generations of women thinkers, such as Headlam-Morley and Tate, who were constitutively marginalized in the process of what should be, but is not yet, the academic home of the best international relations scholarship.

Through this Leverhulme project, it’s been an absolute pleasure to work alongside contemporary scholars of the new international and global history, Headlam-Morley’s other heirs.


Ceadel, Martin (2014) ‘The Academic Normalization of International Relations at Oxford, 1920–2012: Structures Transcended’ in Christopher Hood, Desmond King, and Gillian Peele (eds.) Forging a Discipline: A Critical Assessment of Oxford’s Development of the Study of Politics and International Relations in Comparative Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp.184-202

Hall, Ian (2012) Dilemmas of Decline: British Intellectuals and World Politics, 1945-1975 (Berkeley: University of California Press)

Quigley, Carroll (1981) The Anglo-American Establishment: From Rhodes to Cliveden (New York: Books in Focus)

Vitalis, Robert (2015) White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press)

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On the Recovery of Female Scholarly Habitus:

by Dr. Sarah C. Dunstan

The 15th January this year was the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Rosa Luxemburg. A commemorative procession through the streets of Berlin to the Friedrichsfelde cemetery where she was buried attracted the attention of the international press and the last few days have seen a proliferation of articles on the activist. Luxemburg is one of the canonical thinkers in our project so I was curious to see how she would be popularly remembered. After all, as Patricia Owens observed in an earlier blog post, Luxemburg is one of the few women to appear in histories of international thought, even if these mentions are usually very brief.

One key theme seemed to underpin most of the commentary: Luxemburg was an exception to the rule. In a Guardian article on the German commemorations, Mark Jones from the University College Dublin described her as ‘a high achiever who rose in the very male-dominated world of Social Democratic politics.’ In Zeit Online, Robert Misik calls her ‘a kind of a miracle’ for making a name for herself at a time when women were supposed to take second seat to men, particularly in intellectual spheres. In their article in the Conversation, historians Ingrid Sharp and Corinne Painter underlined the way that Luxemburg is treated as exceptional. They used the anniversary as an opportunity to draw attention to female German revolutionaries who have been written out of history. Some, like the writer Lola Landau who envisioned the German revolution as an opportunity to create a new world order based on tenets of peace, left published, if overlooked, political tracts behind. The experiences and thought of other activists they work on, such as Martha Riedl and Hilde Kramer, are accessible primarily through their memoirs and eye-witness testimonies. None of these women, however, succeeded in establishing themselves within the masculine landscape of revolutionary thought in the same way as Luxemburg. This is not reflective of the significance of their contributions. But it does tell us something important about how we think about the categories of ‘thinkers’ and, in this case, ‘revolutionaries.’ One of the objectives of Sharp and Painter’s own research is to encourage us to stop thinking about revolutions and revolutionary thought as primarily male spaces.

There is a pattern here that is important for the research objectives of our Leverhulme project on Women and the History of International Thought. From the beginning we have argued that one of our driving questions is not ‘why women have not contributed to international thought?’ but ‘what happened to historical women’s international thought?’ We are interested not just in the recovery of thinkers who have been lost but, amongst other things, in understanding why they were lost in the first place. Key to creating such an understanding is thinking through the way we describe intellectuals such as Luxemburg as thinkers who have excelled despite masculine norms.

In a 2011 article in History & Theory, Herman Paul called for philosophers of history to look beyond the published output of historians. For Paul, histories of the discipline and its methodologies would be incomplete without the acknowledgement of what he called the ‘historian’s “doings.”’ Production of knowledge, he argued, begins to look quite different when we inquire into the ways that ‘scholarship is embedded in ‘practices’ or ‘epistemic virtues’ (Paul, 2011: 1). Such doings or virtues are embedded in ‘routinized forms of behavior,’ associated with each discipline.  Paul’s thinking has a longer history. Italian Idealist Benedetto Croce made this argument for history when he insisted that historical process, like humanity, “has no being except in the making of it, and the making of it is never a making in general but a determinate and historical task.’ (Croce, 1955:274). Croce’s contemporary, the French historian March Bloch made a similar observation when he wrote in his Apologie pour I’histoire, ou , metier d’historien (1941) that historical scholarship required a particular ‘intellectual ethic.’

In order to answer the research problematic of ‘what happened to historical women’s international thought?’ then we need to establish an understanding of the ‘epistemic virtues’ and ‘intellectual ethics’ presumed to underpin the category of international thought and international thinkers.  Gender is the silent cornerstone of scholarly practice. As we have seen in the commemorative comments about Luxemburg, the fact of her historical gender makes her the exception that proves the rule of masculine thinking.

Finding the answer to what happened to historical women’s international thought thus requires us to re-fashion how we think about the categories of ‘intellectual,’ ‘international’ and, indeed, ‘women.’ One way of doing this, is to be more expansive in our approach to where we look for international thought. Whilst activists like Rosa Luxemburg and Lola Landau or political scientists and historians such as Anna Julia Cooper and Merze Tate (whom Katharina Rietzler wrote about last month on this site) published within more conventional academic outlets, the contributions of other female thinkers to international thought appear in alternate mediums. The French-Congolese Senator, Jane Vialle, for example, published in the French language resistance journal Combat and the newspaper she founded herself, the Journal de l’Association des Femmes de L’Union Française. Likewise, the African American activist Eslanda Robeson published many of her pieces in magazines such as Asia and America and Challenge as well as in travel and ‘talk-book’ formats. As Kim Hutchings explained in her recent post on this site, another such medium often utilised by women thinkers is that of the novel. Intellectuals such as Bertha Von Suttner and Ayn Rand mapped out their visions of the international through this form. Expanding the canon of international thought to include such pathways is crucial to the intellectual project of the history of women’s international thought because of the sheer reach of gendered exclusion. This goes some way in explaining why Luxemburg and Tate have some, albeit peripheral and recent, presence in disciplinary histories in ways that other historical women do not.

But this still only gives us an insight into the published form of women’s thought. Writing about race, bell hooks has written about how “black folks have, from slavery on, shared in conversation with one another ‘special’ knowledge of whiteness gleaned from close scrutiny of white people. Deemed special because it was not a way of knowing that has been recorded fully in written material, its purpose was to help black folks cope and survive in a white supremacist society.” (hooks, 1992: 165). This notion of ‘ways of knowing’ can also help us understand how historical women experienced intellectual spheres at the intersection of race and gender. I think it is past time for intellectual history to include those ‘ways of knowing’ that are not recorded fully in written material yet shape the development and transition of ideas and thought.  This is true for race and gender as well as sexual identity. Publication is shaped by factors that go beyond the authors desire to transmit a certain idea to the page: career trajectories, personal concerns and concepts of audience shape those ideas scholars feel are necessary or, in a different frame, permissible to share.

So what tools can we use as historians to gain greater insight into the production of knowledge, to ways of knowing that have shaped the field of international thought? One answer, I think, lies in oral history.

Historically, there has been a great deal of opposition to the use of oral history to draw out anything more than the personal recollections of an individual. Scholars attempting to write intellectual or disciplinary histories, as we are here in this project, have been far more circumspect in deploying them. Historian AJP Taylor famously described the practice as ‘old men drooling about their youth.’ (Harrison, 1972-3, 4.) In a more recent Guardian interview, Niall Ferguson declared that ‘Oral history is a recipe for complete misrepresentation because almost no one tells the truth, even when they intend to.’

Nevertheless, social historians, particularly those whose research concerns traditionally marginalised groups and individuals such as people of colour, members of the LGBTQ community and women, have long made the case for oral history in its value as an instrument of recovery. It provides a means through which the historical record can encompass their experiences despite a lack of textual records or as a counterpoint to material that privileges the perspectives of those in power. The Italian pioneer of oral history, Luisa Passerini, framed it in terms of the need to recognise ‘a subjective reality which enables us to write history from a novel dimension undiscovered by traditional historiography. This will avoid its nature of piling up facts and its failure to make explicit the political nature of all historical writing, while also presenting in the concept of subjectivity a tool of analysis peculiarly appropriate to social history.’ (Passerini, 1979: 86)

Oral sources then, might prove a way into an intellectual history of the discipline of International Relations which does not simply involve the recovery of ‘forgotten women’ but which teases out the structures of gender, racialization and class in shaping disciplinary genealogies. I contend here that oral history is a useful tool of intellectual history, not as a tool for establishing authorial intent but as a means of illuminating the specific context in which particular actors generated thought. It gives us an insight into institutional structures and cultures, the historically contingent notion of the IR practitioner or scholar or author or intellectual and their practices. When we place it alongside the recovery of materials not traditionally considered as spaces for international thought, then a much richer picture of the field will emerge.

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Merze Tate and Women’s International Thought

by Dr. Katharina Rietzler

A few months ago, when we started working on the Women and the History of International Thought Leverhulme Research Project, we had to choose a fitting avatar for our twitter feed (and if you haven’t followed us yet, please do so!). It did not take us long to choose a photograph of a historical woman international thinker.

Merze Tate Collection-WMU Archives & Regional History Collections, Fair Use.

The image we chose is of the African-American scholar Merze Tate, taken while she was a student in Oxford in the 1930s. Looking purposeful and determined, aiming her gaze into the distance and not at the camera, Tate is seated on a bicycle, in front of Oxford University’s Radcliffe Camera. Wearing her academic gown, and adopting the pose of a woman who knows exactly where she is headed, Tate gives the impression of belonging in this world of dreaming spires and earnest scholars. And yet, she doesn’t. She is positioned outside the grounds, in front of a cast-iron spiked fence, with her back turned to the library. This does not seem like a scholarly mise-en-scène in the narrow sense, taken inside a cosy common room or a don’s study. Tate remained an Oxford outsider, commenting on her singular status as “the only colored American in the entire university, man or woman.” Her life’s work illustrates some of the challenges but also opportunities inherent in recovering and re-evaluating women’s international thought.

Merze Tate’s biographer, Barbara Savage, is one of fifteen contributors to Toward a History of Women’s International Thought, a collection of essays we are currently putting together. The book analyses the thought of eighteen women thinkers and considers their gendered and raced social positioning, as well as their status inside or outside the academy. Adopting a broad definition of ‘thought’ and relevant sites for intellectual production, we were struck by some recurring themes.

One of these was the widespread commitment to teaching beyond the academy, whether through pamphleteering, lecturing or journalism. Another was a recurring concern with international political economy. We were also intrigued by the complex connections between ideology and spirituality, which led some of ‘our’ thinkers to put forward a religiously informed critique of colonialism, while others embraced a millenarian vision of Anglo-American empire. Overall, we encountered diverse perspectives on race, empire, war, economy and ideology – as we expected. In the following, I will discuss three themes that connect Tate’s life to those of other women international thinkers, and thereby also offer a sneak preview of Toward a History of Women’s International Thought. These themes are profession, patronage and the figure of the pioneer.

Before Merze Tate became an academic, earning degrees from Oxford and Harvard, she already had a profession as a history high school teacher. Indeed, as Barbara Savage has uncovered, American teachers were the main audience for Alfred Zimmern’s international relations summer school at Geneva, the site of Tate’s ‘international awakening’. It was also Tate’s all-black sorority network, consisting largely of school teachers, that got her to Oxford. Professional solidarity was limited by racial discrimination, highlighted by the fact that Tate taught in a segregated school and that her professors at her undergraduate institution, Western Michigan University, sought to minimize her race their letters of recommendation for her.

Yet, recognising professional training and networks as important to women’s intellectual production and international thought is crucial. Education is a largely hidden part of the history of international thought. Women teachers were not just at the forefront of opening higher education to women in America, they were also active in professional organizations that sought to internationalise the American high school curriculum before the First World War. During the war, teachers active in the National School Peace League formulated critiques of the creeping militarization of American society that drew on their professional ethos, as pedagogues who knew best how to educate the young citizens of the nation.

Merze Tate herself remained committed to educating ‘ordinary citizens’, for example black soldiers who went off to fight in World War II, and she enthusiastically participated in cosmopolitan pedagogical experiments, not least Tagore’s World University in Shantiniketan, India. Tate is not alone here – other women thinkers shared a commitment to educate the general public, often in the context of strong national traditions of citizens’ education. In Britain, we can point to Elizabeth Wiskemann who bridged the divide between academia and journalism, but also Barbara Wootton, committed to pamphleteering and a ‘practical’ approach.

The second theme I would like to highlight is patronage. Merze Tate was clearly a remarkable woman but professional success would likely have remained elusive had it not been for the timely interventions of academic mentors such as Alfred Zimmern and Agnes Headlam-Morley. Interestingly, patronage networks can be multi-generational. In the 1930s, Tate got into the Harvard graduate programme thanks to Bernice Brown Cronkhite. In 1918, Bernice Brown herself received a Carnegie Endowment fellowship in international law partly thanks to a recommendation from Fannie Fern Andrews, a former teacher, educational reformer and now forgotten international thinker – one of the first to write on the League of Nations’ Mandates System. Other women international thinkers in our volume also relied on networks of patronage, not necessarily those confined to academia. Elizabeth Lippincott McQueen, a spiritual entrepreneur who also spoke at international relations summer schools in Southern California, relied on personal benefactors to erect her shrine to international aviation.

Such support, especially from male patrons, was not always altruistically given. The Oxford academic Florence Melian Stawell had a mentor in Gilbert Murray, who arranged publishing contracts for her but also appropriated her ideas. Anna Julia Cooper had to defend her Sorbonne dissertation in front of a committee that was not predisposed to taking her challenging ideas on race and the French empire seriously. And at Howard, Merze Tate was excluded from the patronage networks that benefited her male peers. Patronage remained a double-edged sword for women thinkers, never something to be relied upon exclusively.

The third category, that of the pioneer, is the most difficult. Merze Tate was clearly a remarkable and extraordinarily ambitious woman whose success should be celebrated. It is tempting to label her a pioneer, even if we might question the masculinist and settler-colonialist connotations of the term. Other women international thinkers can also lay claim to having done something first, from Florence Melian Stawell’s use of the term ‘international thought’ to Krystyna Marek’s writing the first monograph on the birth and death of states.

In a more figurative sense, Tate also scoped the ‘field’ of academic IR, by raising new questions for both international relations and African-American studies. She also broke with some of her mentor’s cherished ideas, not least those on public opinion. And her exceptional status as a black woman in academe also caused an at times overwhelming sense of responsibility – Barbara Savage speaks of the “burden of representation”.

But what does the celebration of exemplary women, gently mocked as the search for ‘women worthies’ by an earlier generation of women’s historians, obscure? The danger may well be that it obscures systematic erasure and structural exclusion and further a politics of exceptionalism. Despite striking a solitary figure in the image, Tate must be situated in her concrete life worlds, structured by profession and patronage.

(This is an edited version of comments offered on the occasion of the 2018 Vere Harmsworth Lecture given by Professor Barbara Savage, the Barbara Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought at the University of Pennsylvania and Oxford Harmsworth Professor in 2018/2019.)

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Reading Women

by Professor Kim Hutchings

One of the aims of this Leverhulme project is to make the ideas and arguments of historical women about international politics visible. Over the past few weeks, I have been familiarising myself with the work of four women who wrote about international politics (amongst other things) from the late nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth century. They are all women who were very famous in their day, but none of them figure in accounts of the history of international thought or, interestingly, as reference points for feminist IR. As a feminist IR scholar I had not previously read any of their work. The women are, in chronological order:

Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914)

Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964)

Emma Goldman (1869-1940)

Eslanda Robeson (1895-1965)

Of course, this is not to say that these women are entirely unknown or unstudied. Recent work on black feminism and black internationalism has opened up the work of Cooper and Robeson to scholarly scrutiny (May 2007; Ransby 2013). Historians of peace and of women’s peace activism recognise the role of Bertha von Suttner (Stiehm 2013). Emma Goldman remains an iconic figure in the history of anarchism (Ferguson 2011). Nevertheless, little attention has been paid to how these women thought about and analysed the world of international politics. This is in part because their work does not fit with disciplinary norms about what kind of literature counts as significant within the history of international thought.

Of all of them, only Cooper did scholarly work in the most conventional sense, and her key work on international politics: Slavery and the French Revolutionists 1788-1805, was her Sorbonne PhD, written in French and only translated into English and published in 1988. Although Robeson was trained originally in Chemistry and then Anthropology, her writings were all directed to broader rather than scholarly audiences, These thinkers developed and expressed their ideas in novels (von Suttner), travel writing and journalism (Robeson), speeches, pamphlets and letters (Goldman), and memoirs (von Suttner and Goldman).

Although their lifetimes overlapped, they represent, roughly speaking, three generations, von Suttner a woman of the later nineteenth century, Cooper and Goldman spanning nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and Robeson the first half of the twentieth century. Von Suttner was an aristocrat from the Austro-Hungarian empire, Cooper an African-American women born into slavery, Goldman a Jewish immigrant to the US from the Russian empire, Robeson a middle class African-American woman. All of them travelled in Europe and the US, Robeson more widely in Africa, Latin America and China. Goldman and Robeson both experienced living in exile. The only direct interaction I know of was between Goldman and Robeson, who shared commitment to various radical causes. They were in correspondence until Robeson cut contact due to Goldman’s attitude towards the USSR. However, it is certainly the case that von Suttner was a target of Goldman’s dismissive remarks about women pacifists, and it seems likely that, at the very least, Robeson had knowledge of Cooper and her work.

The texts I have been reading were selected on the basis that they have something to say about international politics, that they are not well known in IR, and that the writers were women. At this stage, my analysis is a very preliminary one, but it is already clear that although there are many overlaps and interconnections between their arguments, these women were highly distinct thinkers. The most obvious similarity between them is in relation to the question of ‘voice’. Cooper is the only one of the four thinkers to subject the question of voice to theoretical reflection. Her advocacy of the importance of hearing the voice of black women is now well-recognised as a founding argument for the importance of ‘standpoint’ in claims to knowledge, particularly when it comes to the meaning of oppression. But the other three also ground their thinking in their own positionality and insist on the relation between their insights and their situation as aristocratic woman (von Suttner), working class woman (Goldman), black woman (Robeson).

Von Suttner’s influential novel Lay Down Your Arms was written from what was clearly von Suttner’s perspective, in which feminine emotion (of a very nineteenth century upper class kind) is the starting point for sustained questioning of militarism. This perspective works through her memoirs and her journalism and advocacy for the establishment of an international tribunal to settle disputes between states. Goldman sees the world from the position of those oppressed by capitalism. Like Suttner, for Goldman passion is central to political engagement and analysis, however whereas Suttner emphasises love Goldman emphasises anger. In Robeson’s ‘conversation’ with Pearl Buck in American Argument (1949), she is insistent that whereas Buck looks at questions of war and peace from the perspective of privilege, she looks at them from the background of oppression and therefore sees something different.

There is something interesting here about how voice and emotion work through the style and method of the work of these women. But there is also much of interest in their substantive claims about questions that continue to be important in IR. Some of what they argue fits with recognisable strands of thought in late nineteenth/ early twentieth century international thought, but much of it also prefigures arguments that are much more recent. Von Suttner and Cooper both share a belief in progress, universalism and civilization characteristic of liberal internationalism. In von Suttner, Cooper and Goldman one finds reference to evolutionary and psychological theorising, including around sex and sexuality, typical of their time. All of the thinkers are committed to internationalism and a certain moral universalism.

Cooper foreshadows the work of C.L.R James and the contemporary revival of interest in the Haitian revolution. She and Robeson clearly spell out the international politics of racialisation, and its significance within international political economy, empire and state-making long before today’s scholars returned to this theme. Goldman analyses the relation between the modern state and capitalist economy in relation to war – prefiguring themes in contemporary international historical sociology. Robeson traces the same relation within the workings of the UN, prefiguring later work in critical and decolonial political economy. Von Suttner and Goldman both expose the relation between gender, patriotism and militarism in ways that prefigure the work of later thinker such as Sarah Ruddick and Carol Cohn. And all four thinkers refuse to draw a clear line between domestic and inter-state relations.

Of course it is not possible to do justice to the range and value of all of the work of these thinkers in this short blog. Our Women and the History of International Thought project has only just begun, and I am still in the process of learning from the work of these women. I will conclude with some quotations, so that you can hear something of the voices to which I am currently listening.

“ – war is the negation of education, and therefore all the triumphs of education must be annihilated by it; it is a step backwards into barbarism and must therefore have everything that is barbarous in its train” von Suttner Lay Down Your Arms (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1894: 262).

“High Politics, that is fifty or sixty men and a following of newspapers, see to it that there shall never be any rest, that no progress can ever be made towards the healing of internal troubles, the elevation of human society.” Von Suttner Memoirs of Bertha von Suttner: records of an eventful life Volume 2 (Boston and London: Ginn & Co., 1910:174).

“The slave trade was a catalyst for the plunder, the atrocious wars, and the anarchy which for three centuries dislocated Western Africa, giving reign to savagery and impeding the progress of all civilization” Cooper Slavery and the French Revolutionists 1788-1805 (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1988: 33)

“The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class, – it is the cause of human kind, the very birthright of humanity” Cooper A Voice from the South (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988: 120-1).

“If for no other reason, it is out of surplus energy that militarism must act to remain alive; therefore it will seek an enemy or create one artificially. In this civilized purpose and method, militarism is sustained by the state, protected by the laws of the land, is fostered by the home and school, and glorified through public opinion.” Goldman “Preparedness: the road to universal slaughter”, originally published in Mother Earth, December 1915, accessible in: theanarchistlibrary.org.

“Citizenship has become bankrupt: it has lost its essential meaning, its one-time guarantee. Today the native is no more safe in his own country than the citizen by adoption. Deprivation of citizenship, exile and deportation are practiced by every government; they have become established and accepted methods.” Goldman A Woman Without a Country, originally published 1937, reproduced in The New Anarchist Library (Orkney: Cienfuegos Press, 1979).

“The colonial powers of the ‘free world’ have always thought and spoken of Africa in terms of themselves, not in terms of the African people; in terms of raw materials, cheap labour, areas for expansion and settlement, strategic bases and military man-power, always for themselves, not for the African people” Robeson New World Review Vol 20, 1952, July.

“The UN, like most large families has special little cliques within itself. These cliques, in order to get their way on points at issue, use parliamentary, diplomatic, procedural techniques, as well as personal, political and especially economic pressure to further their aims. They intrigue, gang up, take sides, threaten; they call their opponents names and try to ridicule them” Robeson New World Review Vol 24 1956 January.



Buck, Pearl S. with Eslanda Goode Robeson (1949). American Argument. New York: John Day Co..

Ferguson, Kathy (2011) Emma Goldman: political thinking in the streets. London: Rowman and Littlefield.

May, Vivian M. (2007). Anna Julia Cooper, visionary black feminist: a critical introduction. London: Routledge.

Ransby, Barbara (2013). Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson. New Haven: Yale University Press

Stiehm, Judith Hicks (2013). Champions for Peace: women winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. London: Rowman and Littlefield.

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What happened to women’s international thought?

Welcome to the first monthly blog post for the Leverhulme Project on Women and the History of International Thought. In this opening post, Patricia Owens presents some of the findings from an article just published in International Studies Quarterly (available for download here).

There can be little doubt that existing histories of international thought and disciplinary International Relations (IR) have marginalized historical women. By historical women, I mean those figures working before the late twentieth-century and the historically constructed rather than biological character of sex difference and gender identity.

What is the magnitude of the problem? In answering that question might be also find resources for remedying historical women’s exclusion and thereby rewrite the history of international thought?

To establish the number, proportion, and identity of historical women in existing histories, I analyzed sixty texts from 1929 until the present, and across four genres: histories of international thought; IR’s disciplinary histories; anthologies of canonical figures; and IR ‘states of the art’.

Across all texts, of 4421 references to historical figures there were 130 to historical women: 2.94%. The 130 references yielded 79 individual historical women with at least partial recognition in IR’s intellectual and disciplinary history.

The genre least likely to highlight the intellectual contributions of historical women is that which establishes a catalog of intellectual ‘greats’ or ‘classic’ thinkers. Across eighteen anthologies of canonical figures, there were only nine occasions when a historical woman was profiled: 1.54%.

Only six historical women are recognized as ‘great thinkers’: Hannah Arendt, Susan Strange, Simone de Beauvoir, Margaret Mead, Susan Sontag, and Virginia Woolf.

The maximum number of historical women included in any one work that aims to establish, or even expand, the ‘canon’ is two. Even anthologies and readers edited by self-consciously ‘critical’ scholars perform no better than so-called ‘mainstream’ texts.

Results by Genre: Historical Women in Sixty Histories of International Thought

Genre No of Texts Cumulative number of historical figures for each genre Cumulative number of historical women* %
Canonical Thinkers 18 584 9 1.54%
History of Int. Thought 18 1952 47 2.41%
IR ‘state of the art’ 14 698 16 2.29%
Disciplinary History 10 1187 58 4.88%
Overall Total 60 4421 130 2.94%

Across all sixty texts, only twenty-two historical women were mentioned more than once, nearly half of these twenty-two mentioned just twice. The figure most recognized was British IPE scholar, Susan Strange. In second and third place are Prussian-born Hannah Arendtand Polish-born Rosa Luxemburg, both Jewish.

No women working outside the US, UK, or Europe is included among those mentioned more than once.

Only four women of color, all African-Americans, are among the seventy-nine: Merze Tate, Eslanda Robeson, Lorraine Hansberry, and Pauli Murray, and all from one text: Robert Vitalis’s recent,White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations.

Twenty-Two Most Recognized Historical Women in Sixty Histories of International Thought

Name (alphabetical by mention) Mentions Main location and field
1. Susan Strange (1923-1998) 10 British-based international political economist
2. Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) 7 Prussian-born US-based political theorist
3. Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) 5 Polish-German based philosopher and socialist revolutionary
4. Margaret Sprout (1903-2004) 4 US-based independent IR scholar
5. F. Melian Stawell (1869-1936) 4 Australian-born British-based classicist
6. Helena Swanwick (1864-1939) 4 German-born British-based political writer and feminist
7. Jessie Bernard (1903-1996) 3 US-based highly prolific sociologist and feminist scholar
8. Adda B. Bozeman (1908-1994) 3 US-based IR scholar
9. Susan Lawrence (1871-1947) 3 British-based Labour politician
10. Margaret Mead (1901-1978) 3 US-based anthropologist
11. Ellen Churchill Semple (1863-1932) 3 US-based geopolitical thinker
12. Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914) 3 Austrian-born writer, peace advocate, Nobel Peace Prize winner
13. Jane Addams (1860-1935) 2 US-based social worker and philosopher
14. Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961) 2 US-based sociologist and leading pacifist
15. Kathleen Courtney (1878-1974) 2 British-based political activist, suffragist, internationalist
16. Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933) 2 US-based sociologist and organizational theorist
17. Mary Agnes Hamilton (1884-1966) 2 British-based Labour Party politician
18. Agnes Headlam-Morley (1902-1986) 2 British-based IR scholar
19. Lucy Philip Mair (1901-1986) 2 British-based scholar of colonial administration
20. Margery Perham (1895-1982) 2 British-based scholar of colonial administration
21. Ruth Savord (1896-1966) 2 US-based librarian
22. Barbara Ward (1914-1981) 2 British-based development economist

We already know from some earlier studies and preliminary work for this project that women in the past have thought deeply about international relations. But their work has been ignored, marginalized, or appropriated.

The historical women identified through this survey are the tip of the iceberg of those who, in different ways, are part of the history of international thought.That there is little convergence on which historical women were referenced suggests that larger numbers are completely hidden from view.

Historical women’s exclusion from IR’s intellectual and disciplinary tells us very little about the quantity and quality of women’s intellectual work in this domain. It tells us much more about how selective histories are produced and maintained and how gendered and racial hierarchies shape intellectual organization.

So, perhaps, the real question is not, to paraphrase then Sussex historian Martin Wight’s famous query: ‘why is there no international theory’by historical women? Rather, it is: what happened to women’s international thought?

Over the course of the next four years we hope to provide a systematic answer to that question.

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