"Self Government" and the Intercollegiate Association of Women Students

According to the 10th Annual Conference of the Middle Western Intercollegiate Association of Women’s Self Government, “The time is ripe for the discussion of the questions suggested by the phrase ‘self government.’ All over the world there seems to be a desire for opportunity to try the experiment.” In the first decades of the twentieth century, the Women’s Intercollegiate Association for Student Government was the national entity for women’s self-governance, with delegates from schools nationwide—their conferences and bulletins informed women’s groups across the nation of happenings at other schools and reported on how women students at co-ed institutions were enacting governance. The IAWS Convention Report of 1946 stated, “the philosophy of student government could be stated somewhat as follows: The evolution of a system of social control which tempers student freedom with social responsibility.”  The booklet continued, asserting that self-government “leads towards self-dependence and creativity which is ideal.” Furthermore, the Intercollegiate Association of Women Students advocated for “a body of students eager to carry the responsibility of student control” (IAWS 1946 Convention Report, pg. 13).

The 1946 IAWS convention attendees noted that women’s government groups were often taken less seriously than the campus’ student council or general governance organization. As such, many of the conference’s panels and sessions focused on the logistics of setting up successful self-governance groups, including how to attract membership and how to elect leaders. Additionally, the conference dealt with issues surrounding women’s experiences on campus, such as how to engage with women living off-campus, as well as the orientation of new students. Delegates from Ohio State presented on “Development of Personal Growth Within Living Groups,” standards committees of WSGA at OSU, and cooperative dorms.

According to the IAWS Philosophy (as recorded in the Fall 1960 IAWS Journal): “IAWS occupies a unique position among the collegiate organizations of this nation by virtue of its being the only national women’s student government group in the United States of America…IAWS is a service group dedicated to cultivating an attitude of preparing women to govern themselves throughout their college careers, and thereby increasing their ability and desire to fulfill the role of educated and competent women in a democratic society to the highest degree of social, physical, intellectual, and spiritual achievement.”


A description of the philosophy of the Intercollegiate Association of Women Students, as recorded in the Fall 1960 IAWS Journal.