"Spectacular Feminism": The International History of Women, World Citizenship and Human Rights

Title"Spectacular Feminism": The International History of Women, World Citizenship and Human Rights
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsSluga, Glenda
EditorHaan, Francisca de, Margaret Allen, June Purvis, and Krassimira Daskalova
Book TitleWomen’s Activism: Global Perspectives form the 1890s to the Present

In her memoirs, Many a Good Crusade, Virginia Gildersleeve, an American delegate to the 1945 United Nations Conference on International Organization (UNCIO) in San Francisco that drafted the United Nations Charter and brought that new international institution into existence, records that over the course of the conference she received 65,500 letters. The majority were written by women advocating specific additions to the Charter, and suggesting that money be found to support women working for the promotion of the new UN. Gildersleeve’s autobiography was in part an attempt to write herself and other women into this international history. She reminded the reader of her own unacknowledged role as the contributor of the phrase ‘We the people of the United Nations’, which famously introduces the UN Charter’s preamble. As a member of the Committee discussing the preamble, Gildersleeve, an English literature professor and Dean of Barnard College at Columbia University, desperately tried to bring some poetry to the prosaic draft of the Charter. That prose was the work of General Jan Smuts, the seventy-five-year-old liberal hero of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference that had drafted the Covenant for the League of Nations. Unsurprisingly, Smuts’ version of the UN Charter was in the spirit of that earlier document, which invoked ‘The High Contracting Parties’. Gildersleeve’s revision purposely resonated the more democratically minded opening lines of the US Constitution. But the rest of her revision was mostly abandoned in favour of Smuts’ long-winded legal language. [Author]

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