History of ICJW
Jewish women first organized themselves on a national scale at the end of the 19th century. The pioneer organization was the National Council of Jewish Women in America (NCJW), which was followed by others around the world. In 1899, NCJW President Hanna G. Solomon encouraged the creation of the Union of Jewish Women of England, and the German Jewish women’s organization, Judischer Frauenbund, in 1904.
ICJW was founded in 1912 at a meeting held in Rome. Leaders of these organizations from the U.S., Britain, and Germany voted to establish a worldwide organization of Jewish women, with Bertha Pappenheim from Germany as its first president. It only became a truly international Jewish sisterhood in 1920, when NCJW sent delegates to Europe to study the problems of European Jewry and to explore ways of assisting them after World War I.
Two World Congresses of Jewish Women were held, in Vienna in 1923, and in Hamburg in 1929, to renew ties between the NCJW and European Jewish women. They met to exchange views on important issues and to participate in determining the destiny of the Jewish people. Their priorities in 1923 were: the duties of the Jewish woman within the community; the problem of refugees and orphans; the situation of homeless girls; aid for emigration; and support for Palestine.
Immediately after World War II and the Holocaust, the National Council of Jewish Women decided to revive its overseas program and to participate in the rescue actions of the Joint Distribution Committee. At their 1946 Convention, they agreed to re-establish the international Jewish women’s organization. 20 years after their last meeting, surviving members and new community leaders met in May 1949 in Paris to redefine the structures and principles of the ICJW, many of which apply to this day.
The International Council of Jewish Women defined itself as a federation of national women’s organizations, independent of each other, and apolitical in nature. Its objects were essentially: “To promote friendly relations and understanding among Jewish women of all countries; to further the best and highest interests of humanity; to uphold and strengthen the bonds between Jewish communities throughout the world; to support the principles of the United Nations Bill of Human Rights; and to improve the status of women.”
The historical archives of ICJW are kept at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem and their catalog can be accessed online here.