Dean, Vera Micheles (1903–1972)

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Dean, Vera Micheles (1903–1972)

Russian-born American author and international relations analyst who opposed the worst excesses of McCarthyism to argue for a world peace based on a rationally realized U.S.-Soviet détente. Born Vera Micheles in St. Petersburg, Russia, on March 29, 1903; died in New York City on October 10, 1972; daughter of Alexander Micheles and Nadine (Kadisch) Micheles; married William Johnson Dean; children: Elinor and William.

Selected writings:

Europe in Retreat (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1941); On the Threshold of World Order (NY: Foreign Policy Association, 1944); The Four Cornerstones of Peace (NY: Whittlesey House, 1946); The United States and Russia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1948); Foreign Policy Without Fear (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1953); The Nature of the Non-Western World (NY: New American Library, 1957); Roads to Peace (NY: Public Affairs Committee, 1962).

Born in Tsarist Russia into a liberal and culturally assimilated Jewish family, Vera Micheles and her sister and brother were educated for a cosmopolitan world. Not only philosophically but practically as well, the three Micheles children were well-equipped to survive in an unstable world, being tutored in a number of languages. Vera became fluent in seven languages besides Russian, including French, German and English. Decades later, her linguistic abilities would enable her to not only discuss matters of state with high officials but the grubby details of daily life with cab drivers and flea market vendors. Vera's father, of German-Jewish background, had worked in New York City from 1888 to 1896 as a reporter and thus had fully mastered English, while her mother, though of Polish and German Jewish background, had been baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church and educated in England and Germany. Nadine Kadisch after her 1899 marriage to Alexander Micheles not only assisted her husband with his business affairs but also translated English novels into Russian (besides raising three children).

As a bourgeois intellectual and capitalist, Alexander Micheles did not dare return to Bolshevik Russia after November 1917 from Finland where he had taken his family that summer. In 1919, the family succeeded in going to London. Vera was sent to live in Boston under the care of William Nickerson, an executive of the Gillette Company for whom her father had worked in Russia. Trained by her family to be practical, Vera attended a business school in order to support herself and worked briefly as a stenographer. In 1921, however, she enrolled at Radcliffe College. In her junior year at Radcliffe, she earned Phi Beta Kappa honors and graduated with distinction in 1925. Supported by a Carnegie Endowment fellowship, she attended Yale University, from which she received a master's degree in 1926. Now it was back to Radcliffe, which in 1928 awarded Vera Micheles a doctorate in fields that were then quite novel, international relations and international law.

In 1928, Vera Micheles became a citizen of the United States and moved to New York City to work for the Foreign Policy Association. In August 1929, she married William Johnson Dean, a New York attorney. Unlike many Americans, the Deans were fortunate during the Great Depression, remaining relatively affluent and secure. A daughter, Elinor Dean , was born in 1933. Tragedy struck in 1936 when William Dean died, but Vera had little time to mourn. Five weeks later, she gave birth to her son William. Extensive lecture tours, writing and teaching kept family finances healthy and required that Vera Dean organize every minute of every working day.

By 1938, Dean had been promoted to the post of research director of the Foreign Policy Association. At the heart of the FPA goal of educating the public were a series of informative publications, including Foreign Policy Reports, the monthly Foreign Affairs Bulletin, and the "Headline" series of books. Dean's numerous writings focused on the threat posed to U.S. security by isolationist attitudes. She argued forcefully that only a policy of collective security could halt the drift toward war and chaos. The dangers of Fascism were also made clear, and the urgent necessity of the United States to take an increasingly active role in world affairs was spelled out in publications she wrote or edited for the Foreign Policy Association.

After Pearl Harbor, Dean became an ardent advocate of preparing for a postwar world in which strong world organizations stabilized not only the political but also the social and economic foundations of nations as well. In recognition of her efforts, the U.S. Department of State invited her to serve as an advisor to the American delegation at the founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945. Deeply concerned by the rapid increase of American-Soviet tensions after 1945, Dean spent much time and energy over the next decade writing about the necessity of achieving a solid basis for East-West under-standing and détente. Fearing that the Cold War could suddenly erupt into a nuclear catastrophe, she wrote in 1947 that the only "inevitable" between the two superpower victors of World War II should be "the war against hunger, disease, illiteracy, poverty and fear. In this war there are no frontiers, and there should be no ideological differences. In this war the United States and Russia can fight side by side as peace-time allies."

Exhibiting considerable courage in her 1953 book Foreign Policy Without Fear, Dean challenged the fearmongering spirit most strongly associated with Senator Joseph McCarthy by asserting that "As long as any American who does not agree one hundred percent with a given set of doctrines can be called 'subversive'…the United States will find it increasingly difficult to inspire confidence in its common sense, its integrity, and its reliability in time of crisis." Described as "a stately, dark blonde" with a "brusque and direct" manner, Vera Micheles Dean displayed an incredible amount of energy. Besides her many duties at the Foreign Policy Association, she taught over the years at such noted schools as Harvard University, Barnard College, Smith College, the University of Rochester, and the Graduate School of Public Administration of New York University. Desiring to address as large an audience as possible, she published in countless journals, including The New Republic and The Christian Century.

Resigning as FPA research director in 1961, Dean continued to teach at New York University for another decade until her health began to decline. Besides being awarded more than a dozen honorary doctorates, she received the French Legion of Honor in 1947 and the Jane Addams Medal in 1954. She died in New York City on October 10, 1972, after a heart attack. A memorial service was held in her honor at the United Nations Chapel.


Vera Micheles Dean Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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