Eleanor Roosevelt to Stella Reading

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Stella Reading

26 May 1947 [Chicago]

Dear Lady Reading:

I quite understand your feeling about taking the chairmanship of the International Council of Women. I think you are doing the right thing to stick to the very important job which you are doing within your own country. Your problems seem to me tremendously difficult to face and I think it will require every bit of brains that can be brought to bear on them for solution.

The great trouble about the project which you and I talked about, is the fact that the State Department is not really interested in doing much about women.16 It is so upset about its own program and contacts with the USSR,17 I think it can give very little thought to anything else.

If I get an opportunity to talk to anyone again, I shall do so, but my last conversations with the State Department gentlemen were so discouraging that I decided it was best not to try.

I think of you often with great affection and concern, and admiration for the gallantry which you and the British women are showing.



1. From October 11 to 20, 1946, more than 200 women representing all forms of government and political ideologies (including former Axis powers) met in New York's Catskills Mountains to promote "a road to understanding" and foster approaches to "common problems" in ways that "knock down the walls of prejudice" and "whittle away at their conceptions of national sovereignty in order to create international understanding." ER, who helped sponsor the gathering, addressed its opening assembly, telling the delegates that "this meeting will be effective because it is bringing together women from all parts of the world with a willingness to discuss their differences" ("Women Delegates Arrive for Parley," NYT, 11 October 1946, 36; Lucy Greenbaum, "Women of 53 Lands Meet in Catskills," NYT, 14 October 1946, 20).

2. Neither ER nor the State Department retained a copy of this memorandum and Lady Reading's papers were not preserved; therefore, its full contents remain unknown.

3. Other sponsors included the National Council for Negro Women, the Greek Red Cross, and the National League of Italian Women.

4. Among the delegates to the assembly were Tsola Dragoycheva, a member of the Bulgarian Communist Party Central Committee and Politburo and the Bulgarian National Assembly, and Madeleine Braun (1907–), a Communist and vice president of the French Constituent Assembly. A Communist Party member since 1919, Dragoycheva organized the Bulgarian Workers' Party before World War II, had been arrested and imprisoned for her party activities, and early in World War II was condemned to death in absentia. After the war she won election to the posts cited above and, in 1947, appointment as minister of posts, telegraphs, and telephone.

Although Dragoycheva and Braun attended the ten-day meeting, the conference organizers, mindful of the split between the United States and the Soviet Union, did not actively encourage Communist participation or allow any pronouncements that could be construed as having Communist overtones. They did invite Russia to send a delegate, but no one came ("Women Delegates Arrive for Parley," NYT, 11 October 1946, 36; Lucy Greenbaum, "French Red Denies Moscow Cash Aid," NYT, 16 October 1946, 14; WWSCE, vol. 1, 257; Lucy Greenbaum, "Argentine Woman Assails Dictators," NYT, 25 October 1946, 5; Lucy Greenbaum, "Women of 53 Lands Meet in Catskills," NYT, 14 October 1946, 20; Rupp, 46-47, 244 n204).

5. The information service planned to "dispense 'unbiased information and data' to women worldwide to promote global understanding." It selected Mrs. G. H. Dunbar, overseas and special representative for Lady Stella Reading's Women's Voluntary Services, to manage its operations. UNESCO officially began work in November 1946, but was not yet in full operation (Lucy Greenbaum, "Argentine Woman Assails Dictators," NYT, 25 October 1946, 5; Lucy Greenbaum, "New World Board Balked by Women," NYT, 20 October 1946, 53; EUN).

6. The date(s) of Lady Reading's meeting(s) with Herbert M. Phillips, Sir Alexander Cadogan, and Lord Inverchapel are not known. Herbert M. Phillips (1908–1987), formerly an assistant secretary of the British Ministry of Labour and National Service, served as counselor for economic and social affairs to Sir Alexander Cadogan (1884–1968), chief British delegate to the UN. Phillips was also alternate UK delegate to ECOSOC. Cadogan, a career diplomat and war-time advisor to Prime Minister Churchill, also served as permanent representative on the UN Security Council. Lord Inverchapel (1882–1951), a chief British advisor at the Cairo, Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam conferences and former ambassador to China and the Soviet Union, was British ambassador to the United States from 1946 to 1948 (Who Was Who, 1981–1990, 596; "N.Y.U. to Give Lectures," NYT, 7 July 1947, 14; "Bill of Rights Tied to World Security," NYT, 11 May 1946, 16; "British Name Economic Group," NYT, 22 February 1947, 39; "Sir Alexander Cadogan Is Dead; Represented Britain at the U.N.," NYT, 10 July 1968, 39; "Lord Inverchapel, Diplomat, Is Dead," NYT, 6 July 1951, 18).

7. H. Freeman Matthews (1899–1986), a career Foreign Service officer and a US advisor at the Cairo, Yalta, and Potsdam conferences, was then director of the Office of European Affairs in the State Department. He also spoke with ER about the women's information service sometime between January 8 and January 15, 1947. Matthews supervised the drafting of a reply to this letter for Acheson's signature in which Acheson said that he (Matthews) had notified the British embassy on January 10, 1947, that the State Department agreed with Lady Reading's proposal. Acheson concluded: "I trust Lady Reading has by now been able to go forward with her plans." Lady Reading received a similar response from the British Foreign Office on January 27, 1947 (Acheson to ER, 24 January 1946, RG59, NARA II; "H. Freeman Matthews, Diplomat Since 1920's," NYT, 21 October 1986, D31; J. Y. Smith, "H. F. Matthews, Career Envoy, Dies at Age 87," WP, 21 October 1986, B7; Florence Kirlin to Mr. Matthews, 15 January 1947, RG59, NARA II; Paul H. Gore Booth to Lady Stella Reading, 27 January 1947, RG59, NARA II).

8. For Reading's persistence in this matter, see n10.

9. An internal State Department note suggests that Florence Kirlin drafted this letter for Acheson's signature (T. Wailes to Miss Kirlin, n.d.; Florence Kirlin to Mr. H. Freeman Matthews, 15 January 1947, RG59, NARA II).

10. On January 30, ER wrote Acheson enclosing a letter from Lady Reading "in further reference to sending one or two women whom you trust to London." On February 3, Lady Reading wrote ER asking if it would be "possible for you to 'prod' your end so that somebody comes over? I am very much afraid as things are now, nobody will come before March and it is going to take … all our time to get anything done quick enough to be of any value. I hate to keep on bothering you but I do feel that the matter is a serious one and I know that you … feel that there is urgency in getting preliminaries looked into, even if nothing further is determined on." On February 13, ER again wrote Acheson and enclosed a letter from Lady Reading. No copy of this second letter could be found in ER's papers (ER to Dean Acheson, 30 January 1947; Lady Stella Reading to ER, 3 February 1947; ER to Dean Acheson, 13 February 1947, RG59, NARA II). See n5 for information on the status of UNESCO.

11. See also n7 for Acheson's earlier correspondence with ER in which he makes this same point. Doris Cochrane (1903–1954), who worked with several women's organizations, joined the State Department as an informational and liaison officer in March 1945. She served as special assistant to the public liaison officer of the US delegation at the UN's founding conference in San Francisco. In his note to Miss Kirlin (see n9 above), Edward Thompson Wailes suggested that "unless Mrs. R knows Miss Cochrane shouldn't we suggest where she can be reached and then perhaps 'prime' Miss Cochrane by phone as to what it is all about?" The notation "done" appears at the end of the note with the initials FK. ER's papers contain no reference to a meeting with Cochrane (RDS, 1 December 1946, 180; "Cochrane Rites Set for Monday," WP, 6 March 1954, 27; Sonia Kwan to Jan Lambertz, 19 April 2005, ERPGW; T. Wailes to Miss Kirlin, n.d. RG59, NARA II).

12. Founded in late 1945 at an international congress in Paris and initially headquartered there, the Women's International Democratic Federation quickly gained a reputation at the UN for being Communist or Soviet-aligned and ultimately lost its consultative status within ECOSOC altogether in 1954. A US branch of the organization, the Congress of American Women, formed in February of 1946. The American group disbanded in 1950, under pressure from the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which viewed it as subversive, and from the Justice Department, which had ordered CAW's board to register as "foreign agents" (Stienstra, 86-87; Rupp, 47; Alonso, 144-46; Lady Stella Reading to ER, 21 April 1947, AERP; ER to Lady Stella Reading, 26 May 1947, AERP).

13. Reading founded the WVS in 1938 to enlist upper-class British women to help improve national welfare by collecting and distributing food and clothing, organizing fuel-saving drives, and working in hospitals (Hinton, 35, 172-75, 225).

14. Established in 1888 by members of the National Women's Suffrage Association, the ICW sought to address issues of education and workplace equality internationally. Dr. Jeanne Eder of Switzerland became president of the ICW in September, while the outgoing president, Baroness Pol Boel, presided over the Philadelphia convention (Stienstra, 48-49; "Leader in World Group Officially Welcomed Here," NYT, 3 September 1947, 32).

15. Lady Reading to ER, 21 April 1947, AERP.

16. On ER and Lady Reading's attempts to secure State Department backing for Reading's proposed information service for women, see Document 183 and Document 184.

17. The typescript in the extant carbon copy reads "USST," but the editors believe ER intended to write "USSR" and thus probably corrected it by hand on the recipient's copy before she mailed the letter.

Answering a College Student's Questions

Peter R. Lucas, a reporter for the Yale Daily News, wrote ER December 27, 1946. Knowing that ER's schedule precluded a face-to-face interview, Lucas hoped ER could take the time to answer the following questions for the Yale student body:

What do [you] think that a college student, including the veterans, can do to help keep the peace that we have just won?

What can the nation do as individuals to handle the question of the A-Bomb?

Can veterans be of help in forming UN policies? If so, how?

How can both the veteran and non-veteran student be of help in keeping the services from lapsing into the state that they were just previous to Pearl Harbor?

What are your thoughts on College for veterans?1

ER answered his letter two weeks later.

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