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League of Nations

League History & Overview

Established after WWI, through the negotiations of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the League of Nations was the first international organization to attempt an approach to collective security.  Inaugurated January 10, 1920, the League had several successes in negotiating territorial disputes, but ultimately was unable to prevent WWII and ceased operations in 1945 with the negotiations to establish the United Nations. 

"League of Nations", International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, volume 4, 2nd edition, Gale.

In addition to this guide please consult this Bibliography of Finding Aids to League of Nations Documents.

For assistance with this guide please contact the Government Information Librarian at Visitors to the Libraries to use League materials are welcome.

This guide is available as a PDF document.

Ginneken, Anique H. M. van. 2006.  Historical Dictionary of the League of Nations. Lanham, Md. : Scarecrow Press.  ebook available to NU-affiliated users.  Provides a chronology and introductory essay on the emergence of international organizations in addition to entries defining places, people and events in their relation to the League.  Appendices include the Covenant of the League, a List of Member States, a list of the Secretaries-General, the budget, organization schemes for the League, the League Secretariat, and affiliated organizations, and an extensive bibliography.

To identify books in the Northwestern University Libraries on the League of Nations search one of more of the following subject headings in NUSearch:

Table of Contents


Purpose of this Guide

This is an outline of League of Nations documentation. It describes the organizations of the League of Nations, sources of its publications and documents, and bibliographies of League materials. Researchers familiar with United Nations documentation and publications may find their knowledge to be of use, as the UN continues certain practices established by the League. Researchers interested in League documents concerning a specific event or subject should consult the bibliographies listed in this guide. Researchers may use the OCLC number in WorldCat to obtain a list of libraries that own the bibliography, use the bibliographies to identify documents, and ask for a librarian's help in locating the documents. A reference librarian can help provide access to the bibliographies.

Brief Description of the League

The victorious Allied Powers of World War I established the League of Nations. The League's charter, known as the Covenant, was approved as part of the Treaty of Versailles at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. The mission, as stated in the Covenant, was "to promote international co-operation and to achieve international peace and security." U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919 for his leadership in creating the League. Despite Wilson's efforts, the U.S. Congress refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles.

The Treaty entered into force on January 10, 1920. The original signatories of the Covenant were Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, the British Empire, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, India, China, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Hejaz, Honduras, Italy, Japan, Liberia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serb-Croat-Sloven State, Siam, Czechoslovakia, and Uruguay.

The League was ineffective in stopping the military aggression that led to World War II. It ceased its work during the war and dissolved on April 18, 1946. The United Nations assumed its assets and carries on much of its work. The Library of the United Nations Office at Geneva provides a history of the League of Nations on its web site, at

Organizations of the League: The Principal Organs and Committees, Commissions and Conferences

There are three categories of League of Nations organizations: autonomous bodies, the principal organs, and committees, commissions and conferences.

Autonomous bodies were those connected with the League, for example, the International Labour Organization and the Permanent Court of International Justice. The documents of these bodies are discussed in Aufricht's Guide to League of Nations Publications.

The Principal Organs and the technical organizations made up the League proper. The Economic and Financial Organisation and the Health Organisation are examples of technical organizations. The principal organs were the Assembly, Council and Secretariat. The United Nations General Assembly and Security Council were created as deliberative bodies similar to the League's Assembly and Council. The UN Secretariat continues a function of international civil service.

The Assembly was the annual conference of League member states. The Proceedings of the Assembly appeared as a separate publication for the first three sessions, the first of which was held in Paris on January 16, 1920. Thereafter, until 1938, they were issued as a Special Supplement to the Official Journal. Resolutions passed in the Plenary Sessions were also published in Special Supplements. These supplements were numbered consecutively over the years.

The Council's main function was to settle international disputes. The numbers of permanent and non-permanent members varied. Council meetings were held in ordinary session four times a year and as often as needed in extraordinary sessions. 107 public sessions were held between 1920 and 1939. From 1922 on, the minutes appeared in the Official Journal. Records for meetings held before 1922 were published separately. The resolutions can only be found in the minutes of the meetings. Aufricht's Guide lists Assembly and Council meeting records.

The Secretariat carried out the day-to-day work of the League, under the direction of the Secretary-General. The three Secretaries-General were Sir Eric Drummond, 1919-1933; Joseph Avenol, 1933-1940; and Sean Lester, 1940-1946. The Secretary-General wrote annual reports on the work of the League. These are listed in Aufricht's Guide.

Committees, commissions, and conferences received mandates from the League. Examples include the Opium Advisory Committee, the European Union Commission, the Office of the High Commissioner in Danzig and the Permanent Mandates Commission. Committee documents may not have been printed. The League ceased to print the minutes of most committees after 1931. If a committee submitted reports to the Assembly or Council, these reports were printed as Assembly or Council documents. Conference documents received a number using a scheme peculiar to the conference itself, and only received a formal League document number if they were submitted to the Assembly or the Council. The preliminary documents and the proceedings of conferences were often issued in collected form as League documents. Aufricht's Guide lists, by topic, the final acts and related documents from many conferences.

Types of League Resources: Archives, Documents, and Sales Publications

Archives are the records of individuals, institutions, and governments. They are produced as a result of the work of a person or group, and may include any of the written or media formats in which people record information. The Library of the United Nations Office at Geneva is the repository of the League of Nations Archives. Examples of the League archives are the personnel files of League employees and the papers of Secretaries-General Sir Eric Drummond and Joseph Avenol. In 1999, the Library published Guide to the Archives of the League of Nations, 1919-1946 (OCLC 43853567). Frequently Asked Questions About the League of Nations Archives is available on the Archives' web site,

Documents were circulated to members of the League and depository libraries. Documents were distributed by one of the principal organs or were issued by committees or conferences. The fundamental difference between documents and sales publications is in their distribution. The content of a document may be more administrative or procedural than that of a sales publication. An example of a document is the Organisation for Communications and Transit's Juridical and Administrative Systems in Force on the Frontier Sections of Railway Lines and at Junction Stations. This document was assigned the official number C.144.M.75.1935.VIII.

Sales publications were sold to the public to provide information about the work of the League, and to provide the results of research in which the public would have interest. It is more likely that a library collection has sales publications than documents. Two examples of sales publications are the books The Course and Phases of the World Economic Depression (1931.II.A.21) and The Population of the Soviet Union: History and Prospects (1946.II.A.3). Some publications were distributed first as documents, and then published for sale when the League determined that the information had a wider audience. Materials published as both documents and sales publications received both document and sales publication symbols. An example of a work issued as both a document and a sales publication is that which was previously mentioned, Juridical and Administrative Systems in Force on the Frontier Sections of Railway Lines and at Junction Stations. This document was assigned the symbol 1935.VII.2 when it was published for public sale. Both the official document number and the sales number are printed on the title page. The major serial publications of the League, such as the Statistical Yearbook, were considered sales publications.

Document and Publication Symbols

The Secretariat assigned symbols to League documents and publications. The earliest documents and periodicals, such as the Official Journal and Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, were never assigned a symbol. Researchers use the symbols to identify items and find them in a library collection. This is a summary of League symbols. The bibliographies referenced in this guide provide detailed descriptions.

For the most part, the League used three symbol schemes: official number, committee or conference number, and sales number.  All of the tables below can be found on the tab, League Document Symbols Explained.

  • Table 1: Official Number on Documents Produced Up To November 1919
  • Table 2: Official Number on Documents Produced November 1919 - April 1921
  • Table 3:  Official Number on Documents Produced From 1921 - 1947
  • Table 4. Committee or Conference Number
  • Table 5. Sales number, 1926 - 1946
  • Table 6. Roman Numerals Used In Official and Sales Numbers


League Documents and Publications In Print and Microfilm


The World Peace Foundation ( was the authorized sales agent of League publications for the United States from 1920 to 1936. The Foundation offered a global subscription service, through which American libraries acquired League documents. The Foundation bound documents together by year and by sales category, and supplied title pages to the collected volumes. Libraries that received documents through the World Peace Foundation may have shelved them in order by sales category. The Foundation published catalogs of League documents for research and bibliographic control, some of which are listed in the bibliography of this guide.

From 1929-1939 the Royal Institute of International Affairs ( included the text of many League documents in its annual series Documents on International Affairs (OCLC 1566847).


In 1973, Research Publications, Inc. produced a microfilm collection titled League of Nations Documents and Publications, 1919-1946. The collection, 555 reels of microfilm, contains more than 25,000 documents and the most important serial publications of the League. The printed guide to the microfilm, edited by Reno, is described in the bibliography of this guide. The Robarts Library at the University of Toronto provides a description of the collection on its web site

Researchers interested in using the microfilm collection should consult the Reno guide and ask for the help of a reference librarian. The microfilm collection's OCLC number is 4172871. The Center for Research Libraries owns the collection.


Aufricht, Hans. Guide to League of Nations Publications: A Bibliographical Survey of the Work of the League, 1920-1947. New York: Columbia University Press, 1951. Reprint New York: AMS Press, 1966.

  • OCLC 556203 and 389535 (AMS Press 1966)
  • explanations of the League and its documents
  • lists of documents, with annotations, organized by subject, authoring agency, and chronology

Birchfield, Mary Eva. Consolidated Catalog of League of Nations Publications Offered for Sale. Dobbs Ferry: Oceana, 1976.

  • OCLC 1502508
  • consolidates the League's Catalog of Sales Publications, 1930-1935, its annual supplements, and Carroll's Key
  • covers only League sales publications
  • indexes documents by official number, sales number, and alphabetically by title and subject
  • series are covered in detail

Carroll, Marie J. Key to League of Nations Documents Placed on Public Sale, 1920-1929. Boston: World Peace Foundation, 1929. With Supplements covering the years 1930, 1931, 1932-33, 1934-36.

  • OCLC 22557410
  • covers sales publications and documents made available to the public
  • lists documents with reference to meetings and conferences, by year and by subject category
  • lists documents issued by subsidiary bodies, and items published as special supplements to the Official Journal, that are not listed elsewhere

Ghebali, Victor-Yves and Catherine. A Repertoire of League Serial Documents, 1919-1947/ Repertoire des Séries de Documents de la Société des Nations 1919-1947. 2 Vols. Dobbs Ferry: Oceana, 1973.

  • OCLC 740888
  • complements, rather than duplicates, existing guides
  • includes items found in Carroll and Aufricht, but not in Reno
  • lists serial publications in thematic order, then in Document Series Number order
  • documents that were not issued a symbol are included

Reno, Edward A. League of Nations Documents, 1919-1946. A Descriptive Guide and Key to the Microfilm Collection. 3 Vols. New Haven, Research Publications, 1973-75.

  • OCLC 590017
  • descriptive guide and reel index to microfilm collection
  • lists documents by subject category, then by year, and then by document number
  • includes "Consolidated Number Index," a chronological and sequential list of documents by document number
  • If a researcher has only the sales number or title of a document, her or she must consult Aufricht to get the document number.

Project Description & Credits

Northwestern University Library's digital collection League of Nations Statistical and Disarmament Documents contains the full text of 260 League of Nations documents. The League existed from 1919 to 1946. Although Russia and the United States refused to join, its members included countries from Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America. The documents in this digitized collection focus on three areas: the founding of the League, international statistics published by the League, and the League's work toward international disarmament. To promote peace and security, the League reduced national armaments and prevented the manufacture of implements of war. Most of the publications in this digital collection concern disarmament. For assistance with this resource, please contact the Government Information Librarian at

The HathiTrust League of Nations Statistical and Disarmament Documents collection is a preservation copy of these digitized publications, many of which remain under copyright protection and cannot be viewed on the Hathi site.  League materials in the Hathi repository that are in the public domain, for which copyright protections have expired, are available to all users.

Between the conception of this project in 1998, and its launch in 2001, several Northwestern University Library (NUL) departments worked together to digitize and make accessible through the Internet select League of Nations publications. This project is a result of the vision and hard work of various staff members of the following NUL departments:

  • Catalog Department
  • Government and Geographic Information and Data Services Department
  • Library Management Systems Department
  • Preservation Department
  • Serials Department

For assistance with this digital collection or other League of Nations Collection help,contact staff at

Project History and Technical Information

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded a National Leadership Grant for Digitization to Northwestern University Library in 1998. IMLS grants are awarded to research libraries and museums to develop creative solutions for building digital libraries. The grant allowed the Library to provide access to materials in which there is global interest and to preserve the collection in electronic and print formats. Northwestern University Library hopes that other institutions may digitize League publications. The Government Publications Department would support a cooperative endeavor by serving as a clearinghouse for League digitization projects


Preservation Department and Library Management Systems staff emphasized the presentation of the facsimile image of the original documents, to preserve the context and work within limits of OCR conversion for historical documents. The PDF "image plus text" format supplies page images with invisible text below from the OCR engine. This background OCR enables some text searching within each document. The OCR text is not marked-up or edited for separate presentation or data manipulation.

  • Vendor: NMT Corp. (formerly Northern Micrographics), LaCrosse, Wisconsin
  • Production dates: Fall 1999 -- Spring 2000
  • Archival images: bitonal TIFF images at 600 dpi resolution, group IV compression
  • Web format: PDF "image plus text" mode (background OCR)


Northwestern University Library staff provided a guide to League of Nations publications, a documents database, and text searching within the documents to support the use of the material by a wide community.

  • Catalogers created MARC records for the hard-copy reprints generated from the scans. These records have been uploaded to Northwestern's online catalog (NUcat) and the OCLC library database.
  • Library Management Systems and Preservation Department staff exported data from the MARC records to a web-accessed SGML database.
  • Preservation Department staff indexed chapter headings for the Armaments Yearbook, Statistical Yearbook, and Statistical Yearbook of the Trade in Arms, Ammunition and Implements of War. The documents database retrieves individual PDF files per chapter.
  • Preservation and the Government and Geographic Information and Data Services Department staff created a web page of HTML links to the PDF files of the Statistical Yearbook, which they expect to be the most popular of the digitized titles.
  • To avoid problems caused by downloading large files, Preservation Department staff separated all documents with more than 40 pages into PDF documents of fewer pages. These PDF files are retrievable through the database.


Materials published by the League of Nations prior to 1926 are in the public domain as of January 1, 2021, and are not subject to copyright restriction.

More recent materials in this digital collection will enter the public domain on an annual basis, as described in Public Domain in the United States (Wikipedia).

External Resource Links

The United Nations Office at Geneva

Digitized and Full-Text League of Nations Documents

League of Nations Collections