Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Women at the UN--1945

Eleanor Roosevelt's role at the United Nations in the 1940s is well documented, but there were other women present from the beginning. Virginia Crocheron Gildersleeve, the dean of Barnard College from 1911 to 1947, was a member of the American delegation to the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco in 1945. In her memoir, Many a Good Crusade, she describes what it was like for women at the San Francisco Conference:
When Miss Florence Horsbrugh and Miss Ellen Wilkinson arrived in San Francisco, they were met by enthusiastic reporters demanding to know how it felt to be women delegates. The two Britons replied indignantly: "We are not 'women delegates.' We are delegates of our country and ministers of our government." This little episode illustrated a difference of opinion which arose at the San Francisco Conference between the idea of women as a separate group representing women and the conception of women in the Conference as equal comrades with men working for the same end and on the same basis. I myself knew that I had been appointed partly because I was a woman, an appointment urged by a committee representing women’s organizations. Our government thought it desirable that there should be one woman on the Delegation. But I hoped that I had been chosen also because I had had considerable experience in international affairs and in the study of the organization of peace. I was confident that I could serve my sex as well as my country best by just being a good delegate.
Unfortunately, little has been written about the role of women (other than Eleanor Roosevelt) in the United Nations. There are interesting stories yet to be told about Virginia Gildersleeve, Bertha Lutz (of Brazil), and Minerva Bernardino (of the Dominican Republic), among others.