Analysing the leadership networks of the first Portuguese women’s associations to internationalize (1914-1947)

Raquel Rego, Anne Cova, Isabel Freire and João Esteves

Time and Place: Friday, 02.07., 10:15–10:35, Room 1
Session: Networks and Power

Keywords: National Council of Portuguese Women; women leaders; personal networks; UCINET; 20th century

The Conselho Nacional das Mulheres Portuguesas (CNMP – the National Council of Portuguese  Women) was a particularly relevant women’s organization in Portugal throughout the first half of  the 20th century. Firstly, the CNMP succeeded in federating around two dozen associations (up to  24 ) in a country where associativism remained only weak and fragmented; secondly, this was the  first national women’s organization to internationalize, during the so called ‘belle époque’ of  feminisms, when becoming a member of the International Council of Women (ICW), founded in  Washington in 1888, and later of the International Women Suffrage Alliance (IWSA), established in  Berlin in 1904; thirdly, it was the longest active women’s association (1914-1947) prior to the  democratic regime; fourthly, this represented the leading organization campaigning for the  emancipation of women in that period. Whilst CNMP arose out of the republicanism and  freemasonry and collapsed under the dictatorship, the CNMP was above all the product of the  personal networks of its charismatic leaders.

The literature on the CNMP’s female leaders is both important and underlines the relevance of  particular networks: ‘The links that existed between many of the leaders explain the establishment  of networks that were a prelude to the creation of the councils.’ (Cova, 2014: 68). Urban elites  seemed to play a particular role deriving from their close links both with politicians and with the  French context, especially the counterpart organization, the Conseil National des Femmes  Françaises (CNFF). However, analysis of these networks has never extended beyond purely  metaphorical and non-systematic approaches.

This paper aims to provide the first description and measurement of the CNMP leadership networks  in accordance with the Social Network Analysis (SNA) methodology and through recourse to UCINET  software. We shall apply data collected from different national and private archives and taking into  consideration a total of 123 leaders: on the one hand, (a) the CNMP board members and, on the  other hand, (b) the delegates of affiliated associations, through the 33 years of its existence.  Describing the leaders’ relationships in terms of friendship, kinship, professions, associational  affiliation, etcetera, we also focus on the attributes of the leaders, especially their social capital,  language skills, financial resources, locality, and so forth. 

Although incurring risk due to the lack of complete data, considering our sources represent  secondary data, we believe this shall add significant value to the literature, in particular in terms of  the resulting measurements and graphical representations. Through applying network  measurements that accurately encapsulate the relational research objectives, we expect to add a  complementary insight into various aspects of these relational phenomena. In fact, ‘We should (…)  accept the idea that being interested in relationships does not imply that we will always prove that they have positive effects or even that they weigh more than classes, culture or institution’  (Lemercier, 2015: 16).

The SNA still remains a relatively unknown theoretical-empirical approach despite the over four  decades of promotion by the International Social Network Association-INSNA. This lack of  knowledge particularly impacts on certain regions, as the Lusophone countries, and disciplines, as  is the case of history which, nevertheless, counts with over a decade of inputs from the Historical  Research Network Conference. In fact, while stating that social ties matter is nothing new,  ‘Describing exactly how, and at which scale, [networks] matter – which ties matter for what, which  do not, and how different sorts of ties interact – is a more interesting, but also more difficult  purpose’ (Lemercier, 2015: 3).

This paper is part of an ongoing research project, Women and Associativism in Portugal 1914-1974,  funded by the Portuguese national agency for research, the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia  (ref. PTDC/HAR-HIS/29376/2017) and coordinated by Anne Cova of the Instituto de Ciências Sociais  from the Universidade de Lisboa. The project focuses on a wide variety of associations; not only  feminist and progressive entities but also associations supporting the dictatorship (1926-1974)  through a combination of historical and sociological approaches.  


Costa, Célia (2007), O Conselho Nacional das Mulheres Portuguesas (1914-1947) – Uma  Organização Feminista, Dissertação de Mestrado, Lisboa, Universidade Aberta.  Cova, Anne (2014)The National Councils of Women in France, ltaly and Portugal: Comparisons and  Entanglements, 1888-1939. In : Janz, O., Schonpflug, D. (Eds.) Gender history in a transnational  perspective: Networks, Biographies, Gender Orders, Berghahn, pp.46-76 .  

Lemercier Claire (2015) Formal network methods in history: why and how?. Social Networks,  Political Institutions, and Rural Societies, Brepols, pp.281-310.  

Varanda, M., Rego, R., Fontes, B., Eichner, K. (2012) A análise de redes sociais no mundo lusófono:  contributos para o conhecimento de uma comunidade científica em desenvolvimento, REDES – Revista Hispana para el Análisis de Redes Sociales, Vol. 22, pp.147-188.