“How excellent… for a woman”? The fellowship program of the International Federation of University Women in the interwar period

Anna Cabanel


Funding bodies and their fellowship programmes became a cornerstone of the scientific world in the twentieth century, not only providing scholars with the means to conduct their research in practice, but also decisively influencing the perception of their scientific persona as an expression of their expertise. Although women were increasingly entering the scientific realm at the time, few succeeded in obtaining such fellowships. In this article, I shall take a closer look at the fellowship programme of the International Federation of University Women during the interwar period, specifically designed to enable women to continue their research abroad. By focussing in particular on the selection process, as evidenced by the minutes of committee meetings and the fellows’ files, I shall explore the implicit norms and expectations to which candidates were subject in order to reconstruct the ideal type of woman scientist. The fellowship programme was meant to function as a meritocratic and excellence-oriented system, in which personal and non-scientific characteristics did not serve as criteria in the allocation of funding. Deliberately understating aspects of gender and developing a strictly meritocratic discourse, the Federation promoted a “disembodied" type of scientific persona as a strategy aimed at overcoming a long-standing bias against the alleged amateurism of women scientists. Whereas other funding bodies such as the Rockefeller Foundation contributed to the shape of a masculine persona, the IFUW sought to promote a universal model, in which women could be recognised as legitimate scientists. 


Scientific persona; gender; fellowship programme; women scientists; internationalisation; interwar period

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.21153/ps2018vol4no1art687


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