The women came to Washington from across the globe — from France to Japan, Argentina to India — to demand better working conditions.

They addressed equal pay, breastfeeding breaks and paid parental leave, and one delegate even proposed that housework should be counted as part of a standard eight-hour workday.

“Women are the builders of the race,” Margaret Dreier Robins said to about 200 women during the first session of the International Congress of Working Women.

“To us is entrusted the protection of life,” Robins said. “The social and industrial order must meet this challenge. There can be no compromise with the exploitation of women.”

Though these are the same arguments being made on Capitol Hill today as Congress turns its attention to a $2 trillion social spending bill, Robins spoke to this conference of women in November 1919.

And in that sweeping, revolutionary conference of women, a blueprint was created for the kind of paid maternity leave that the rest of the industrialized world adopted and has followed for a much of the past century. It’s been adopted everywhere except the very place it was born — the United States.

The International Congress of Working Women was formed when it became clear that the International Labor Organization (ILO) — a boys’ club that would set the international standard for workers — had little consideration for women who weren’t going back home after becoming part of the industrialized workforce during World War I.

In early 1919, as the ILO was building a foundation for international labor standards, women gathered in Paris to protest their lack of representation. After speeches and petitions and meetings, the ILO eventually included language about equal pay in its charter. But it punted on the idea of paid parental leave.

So Robins, who was head of the Women’s Trade Union League in the United States, organized an international gathering of women in Washington to preempt the coming ILO session planned here for October 1919.

The women arrived by ship from Europe and Cuba, from North and South America. The delegate from Japan, Tanaka Taka, caused an uproar among Japanese men because she was four months pregnant and traveled alone, according to Dorothy Sue Cobble’s book, “For the Many: American Feminists and the Global Fight for Democratic Equality”. Other women made the journey with their young children in tow.

They debated what their demands should be. The French were in favor of half-hour breastfeeding breaks at work; the Americans and British were not. The Belgians said women should have Saturday afternoons off for housework and shopping. Women from France and Italy argued for day cares. The delegates from Norway and Sweden believed women shouldn’t be allowed to work at night — it was too dangerous. And the Czechoslovakian delegate believed that housework should be counted as part of an eight-hour workday (no one seemed to agree with her). All of them agreed that women should get paid time off before and after giving birth.

The women’s deliberations were covered in local papers, from the substantive issues they were debating to their tours of Valley Forge, Bryn Mawr and Mount Vernon.

“We are come here to the tomb of Washington,” said Jeanne Bouvier, speaking for the French delegates, when the group gathered at George Washington’s tomb at Mount Vernon, “to gather strength from the memory of the past to use in the struggle of the future — our struggle for the women still unfreed, and for the children hereafter,” according to coverage in the Evening Star on Nov. 4, 1919.

And there was less substantive coverage by a reporter smitten with the secretary of the French embroiderers union, Georgette Bouillot, who, according to the reporter, led Paris embroiderers on strikes.

“Parissienne from the tips of her dainty boots to the crown of her saucy little felt hat, Mlle. Bouillot is one of the gayest, most striking personalities at the conference,” according to the Washington Times on Nov. 6, 1919.

After days of meetings, the delegates adopted “a clause providing that women about to become mothers, on presentation of a doctor’s certificate, would be entitled to benefits equal to the minimum wage of women working in that district six weeks before and six weeks of the birth of a child,” according to the Evening Star’s Nov. 4, 1919, report. And they presented it to the ILO.

Those standards became the ILO’s Maternity Protection Convention, 1919. And in less than a century, 37 of 38 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development based their paid parental leave on these 1919 demands.

Some are more generous than others, with the Slovak Republic guaranteeing 164 weeks of paid leave and Mexico offering the 1919 benchmark of 12 weeks.

All of them, though, are more generous than the United States, which is the 38th nation on that list and offers zero weeks of paid parental leave. Still.