Wambaugh, Sarah (1882–1955)

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Wambaugh, Sarah (1882–1955)

American author, lecturer, and consultant on international affairs . Born on March 6, 1882, in Cincinnati, Ohio; died on November 12, 1955; daughter of Eugene Wambaugh and Anna S. (Hemphill) Wambaugh; graduated from Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1902, master's degree, 1917; began graduate study at the London University School of Economics, 1920.

Assistant in history and government at Radcliffe College (1902–06); member of the League of Nations secretariat (1920–21); studied in Europe (1922–c. 1924); worked in Washington, D.C., and Lima, Peru (mid-1920s); awarded the Gold Decoration of the City of Arequipa (1926); became professor of the French-language Academy of International Law in the Netherlands (1927); appointed to help draft regulations for the Saar Plebiscite (1934); lectured at the Institute for Advanced International Studies in Geneva (1935); received honorary doctorate in social sciences from the University of Geneva (1935), LL.D degrees from Ohio State University and Western Reserve University, and an L.H.D. from Tufts University (1935); received Knight's Cross, 1st Class, of the Austrian Order of Merit (1935); received LL.D from Columbia University (1936); named an Officer of the Peruvian Order of the Sun (1937); received LL.D from Russell Sage College (1938); received the Heraldic Order of Christopher Columbus of the Dominican Republic (1940); was technical adviser to 600 Americans designated to observe Greek elections (1946).

Selected works:

Monograph on Plebiscites (1920); La pratique des plébiscites internationaux (1928); Plebiscites Since the World War (1933); The Saar Plebiscite (1940).

Sarah Wambaugh was born in 1882 in Cincinnati, Ohio. At age ten, she moved to the intensely academic environment of Cambridge, Massachusetts, when her father Eugene Wambaugh, a specialist in constitutional and international law, was appointed to the faculty at Harvard Law School. After graduating from Radcliffe College in 1902 and later working as an assistant there, she earned her master's degree in international law and political science in 1917.

Following World War I, some plebiscites (a direct vote by an entire people on an important issue) were held in disputed border territories. Looking for authoritative books on the subject, Wambaugh could find only one thin, turn-of-the-century French volume, written by a citizen of Alsace. So in 1920, while doing graduate work in London, Wambaugh published a comprehensive study on the topic, Monograph on Plebiscites, for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. It became the standard text on the subject of plebiscites and was widely used in foreign offices as well as at the U.S. Department of State.

That same year, Wambaugh took an opportunity to substitute temporarily for an American member of the League of Nations, and relocated with the League from London to Geneva. There she found working with people from all over the world extremely engaging, writing in an article, "Greek, Serb, Dane, Briton, Spaniard, so they were.… [I]n a few weeks they had become to me just so many interesting, courteous, and friendly men and women, working unselfconsciously together for a common purpose for a common cause." After teaching for a semester at Wellesley College, in 1922 Wambaugh again left the United States and traveled across Europe studying postwar plebiscites. In 1924, the ardent student of politics returned to her favorite place to study and work: the League of Nations in Geneva. There she served as an expert advisor on the Saar Basin and the Free City of Danzig (now Gdansk).

In 1925–26, Wambaugh served again as an expert advisor, this time to the Peruvian government on the Tacna-Arica plebiscite, and she divided her time between Lima, Peru, and Washington, D.C. Following this position, in 1927 she became a professor at an academy in the Netherlands capital and wrote several texts between then and the early 1930s. In 1935, she helped draft the regulations for the Saar Plebiscite, a vote held to decide the difficult question of whether that productive industrial area would belong to Germany or France.

During her lifetime, Wambaugh was honored many times over by organizations, universities and governments worldwide. The citation which accompanied the University of Geneva's honorary doctorate bestowed upon her in 1935 described her as "the brilliant historian [and] … one of the great artisans of peace … who represents the greatest technical competence in this field." Sarah Wambaugh died in 1955.


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

Current Biography 1956. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1956.

Jacquie Maurice , freelance writer, Calgary, Alberta, Canada