Co-operative Women's Guild and the International Co-operative Women's Guild

The Women's League for the Spread of Co-operation was founded in April 1883 by Alice Acland and Mary Lawrenson, and by June of the same year there were 50 members and within a year some 235. A number of branches were established, the first in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire.

In 1885 the organisation changed its name to the Women's Co-operative Guild. Mary Lawrenson stepped down as general Secretary in 1889 to be replaced by Margaret Llewelyn Davies, who held this position for 32 years. Under her direction the Guild combined socialism and feminism. The work of the Guild fell into two broad areas. Firstly, it promoted the principles of the co-operative movement through its publications whilst also involving itself in political campaigns designed to improve the political and legal position of women. The health and social conditions of working class women were a second major area of concern. The Guild encouraged women to join trade unions and lobbied for a minimum wage for women along with equal pay.

During the First World War the Guild took a pacifist stance. Attempts to forge links beyond Great Britain came to fruition in 1921 with the establishment of the International Co-operative Women's Guild. Emmy Freundlich became the first President while Honora Enfield became General Secretary. The success of the WCG continued after the retirement of Margaret Llewelyn Davies, also in 1921, and was illustrated by its large publishing output. By 1933 there were 72,000 members and 1513 branches. After the Second World War the Guild began feeling the pressure of the drive to return women to the home. As a result it began to identify itself more closely with other co-operative societies. The ICWG reacted in the same manner and became a Committee of the International Co-operative Alliance in 1963. In the same year the WCG changed its name to the Co-operative Women's Guild.

The records of the WCG held at the History Centre include minutes of the central committee, the annual meeting of congress, and of the South-Eastern Section. A collection of annual reports spans the period 1909-1970, although there are gaps. There are numerous photographs, mainly taken at annual congresses between 1893 and 1963. The archive also contains Guild publications, mainly pre-dating the Second World War, and notes for Guild speakers, for the 1940s onwards, as well as rules, and handbooks and resolutions of annual meetings and congresses, 1894-1970. There are subject files relating to the Scottish and Irish Co-operative Women's Guilds, plays and pageants, and other projects and campaigns undertaken. [U DCW

The papers of the International Co-operative Women's Guild comprise files kept by the English Guild and include minutes, 1932-1962, conference files, 1921-1951, and reports, 1921-1959. The collection includes some 98 ICWG publications. There are also three files relating to the imprisonment and death of Emmy Freundlich. [U DCX]

A recent addition to the Hull History Centre is a scrapbook created by the Co-operative Women’s Guild. Containing information on the Co-operative it also offers a comprehensive history of the city including its first Charter (1299), information on the city’s Lord Mayors, local government and politicians from 1900-1977 including the early political career of John Prescott.[C DSCG]

The Co-operative women's Guid website is at