American women's transnational volunteerism in Czechoslovakia

Erika N. Cornelius Smith, Purdue University


During World War I, the Young Women's Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.) became one of a select few private organizations involved in the reconstruction of post-W.W.I. Europe. In 1919, the nature of their war work changed when women representing Czechoslovak private organizations invited American volunteers to Prague. In cooperation with Czechoslovak government agencies, philanthropic organizations, and private Czechoslovak citizens, representatives from the American Y.W.C.A. conducted industrial and health surveys of the new state, developed a training program for future Czechoslovak social workers, and implemented new educational programming for a growing student population.^ The notion of a "woman consciousness" repeatedly appeared in the writings of both American and Slavic women working together on internationalist projects in Czechoslovakia. The American women were in a period of deep reflection about their own position as women of a new international order and in a world of expanding political possibilities. They believed that these types of professional exchange programs represented a new beginning –reports of American activity in Prague spurred changes in American survey methods and requests for American Y.W.C.A. social service, in the form of temporary survey assistance or support for permanent association development, came in from all across Europe.^ Embedded within each subsequent individual effort, organizational formation, and professional social collaboration were the tenets of international progressivism that motivated the original partnership. Progressivism simply did not disappear in 1920, but filtered out through different channels represented by the women in this story of internationalism. It was able to survive the challenging climate of the 1920s and reemerge following World War II for the same reason it developed in the first place: the need to address the failures of the international state system and social and economic injustices of the capitalist market. ^




Nancy F. Gabin, Purdue University.

Subject Area

History, European|Political Science, International Law and Relations

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