Begtrup, Bodil (b. 1903)

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Begtrup, Bodil (b. 1903)

Delegate to the United Nations and crusader for women's rights who was Denmark's first female ambassador. Born Bodil Gertrud Andreasen in Nyborg, Denmark, on November 12, 1903; daughter of Judge Christian A. and Carla Sigrid (Locher) Andreasen; attended secondary school in Aalborg, Jutland; graduated from University of Copenhagen, Master of Economics, 1929; married Erik Begtrup, in February 1929 (divorced 1936); married L.B. Bolt-Jorgensen, in 1948 (deceased); children: (first marriage) one child and several stepchildren.

Served as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, Reykjavik (1949); served as ambassador (1955); was head of department, Ministry for Foreign Affairs (1956); served as Permanent Representative of Denmark to the Council of Europe, Strasbourg (1956); served as ambassador, Berne (1959–68); served as ambassador to Lisbon (1968–December 1973); was head of the Danish delegation to the World Population Conference, Bucharest (1974).

Awarded honorary Doctor of Law, Smith College (1949); was a member of the Executive Committee of the National Council of Women (1929), vice-chair (1931), chair (1946–49); was a member of the joint Council of the Maternity Welfare Service (1939–59); was a member of the Danish delegation to the 19th Assembly of the League of Nations (1938); was a member of the Danish delegation to the General Assembly of the UN (1946–52); served as chair of the UN Commission on the Improvement of the Social Status of Women (1947 and 1948–49); was a member of the Council of the "Norden" Association (1956); granted Order of the Falcon of Ireland, First Class.

With a large number of artists, writers, and musicians in her family, it was assumed that Bodil Andreasen (Begtrup) would follow the same path. But the Chinese philosopher Ku Hung Ming's book on the religion of citizenship inspired her to serve her fellow Danes, especially women. "I found there was much work to be done in Denmark," she recalled, "and applied myself as earnestly and intelligently as I could." Choosing to study economics at the University of Copenhagen, she was also active in student affairs and won a scholarship for study in Geneva.

After her marriage in 1929 to Erik Begtrup, a physician, her continuing work was combined with the new responsibilities of a family of stepchildren, as well as a child of her own. As a member of the Danish National Council of Women, she became vice-chair of the board (1931) and president (1946). In 1938, Begtrup was a member of her country's delegation to the League of Nations Assembly at Geneva; a year later, she was appointed to the Council for Maternal Health as well as to the chair of the Commission for Children's Health. Also beginning in 1939, Begtrup served as one of three Danish film censors. In this capacity, she worked to ban American gangster movies and, during the war years, prevented the showing of hundreds of German movies. She later became chief Danish Film censor and was a member of the Danish Board for Cultural Films and the film committee of the International Women's Organization.

In 1946, she was a representative to the First United Nations Assembly in London. In April of that year, she traveled to the United States to attend meetings of the United Nations Subcommission on the Status of Women—a unit subordinate to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights headed by Eleanor Roosevelt —where she was quickly elected chair.

Charged with examination of the political, civil, and economic status of women, with special regard for discrimination and limitation because of sex, the eight-women subcommission prepared a detailed document in two weeks, covering four major points: political rights; rights in the family and civil rights; rights on the labor market; and the right to education. The plan was first referred to the Commission on Human Rights, whose membership included nine men along with Eleanor Roosevelt. The document was admonished as too ambitious and, despite Begtrup's defense, the final version that went to the Economic and Social Council was cut to a few paragraphs. The Council was more generous, elevating the subcommission to commission status and praising them for "the first step they have achieved in raising their status to that of men." But it was to be a long battle, with Begtrup remarking when asked about progress on implementation of the goals, "See me in a thousand years." Her estimate was not unfounded. It would take nearly 30 years for the commission to materialize as the Conference of the International Year of the Woman, in 1975.

In the meantime, Begtrup went on to serve as Denmark's first female ambassador. Appointed in 1955, she served at the foreign office in Copenhagen (1956–59). Foreign posts included Switzerland (1959–68) and Portugal (1968–73). In 1974, she participated in the World Population Conference in Bucharest, Rumania. Modest of her many achievements, Begtrup was known to shun the honors frequently bestowed upon her throughout her long and distinguished career.


Danish Journal: Women in Denmark, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, 1980.

Rothe, Ann. Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1946.

Who's Who, 1982. West Sussex, England: European Association of Directory Publishers, 1982.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts