Mona L. Siegel


On her book Peace on Our Terms: The Global Battle for Women's Rights After the First World War

Cover Interview of March 10, 2020

In a nutshell

Peace on Our Terms recounts the dramatic story of female activism around the world during a single, remarkable year in history, 1919, when the bloodshed of World War I finally gave way to the long-anticipated but still tenuous peace. Nineteen-nineteen witnessed the collapse of four major continental European and Middle Eastern empires, the first sustained challenge to European colonialism in Asia and Africa, and the emergence of the first standing world government. The year opened ripe with promise, as global statesmen gathered in Paris vowing to bring peace, democracy, and justice to a war-torn world.

Among the many millions listening attentively to the peacemakers’ promises were female suffragists, trade unionists, anti-imperialists, and civil rights activists. Though encouraged by statesmen’s lofty rhetoric, these women were not naïve. They knew that diplomacy was a man’s world. To have a voice in the shaping of the new world order, women were going to have to demand to be heard. Across Europe, North America, the Middle East, and Asia, these women rolled up their sleeves, packed their bags, and crossed oceans and continents, determined to hold global statesmen to their word.

Peace on Our Terms traces the history of these women’s historic actions. It invites readers to enter raucous meeting halls in Paris, Zurich, and Washington, D.C. and to join audacious women marching through the streets of Cairo and Beijing to demand a more just and equitable world.

The women who congregated, spoke, and marched in 1919 brought differing visions of women’s rights and responsibilities to the global stage, but their agendas were all shaped by the monumental expectations for democratic reform, economic justice, and global restructuring generated during the Paris Peace Conference. These pioneering activists shared a common belief that the construction of a just and stable world depended on the inclusion of women in all levels of political decision-making.

Some of these women—like American reformer and future Nobel peace laureate Jane Addams—were already famous in activist circles. Others—like Egyptian nationalist and feminist Huda Shaawari—would gain notoriety in the months that followed. Throughout 1919, they and thousands of like-minded women worldwide cracked open the male-dominated world of diplomacy and policymaking and transformed women’s rights into the global rallying cry that continues to reverberate around the world today.