VIRGINIA CROCHERON GILDERSLEEVE:
DEAN OF BARNARD COLLEGE
America's Top Woman at the U.N. Charter Conference in 1945 (n.30)
Virginia Crocheron Gildersleeve was born in 1877, one of five children. Her father had been graduated from Columbia School of Law, later becoming a criminal court judge and founder of the American Rifle Association. He taught his tomboy daughter to shoot and to golf.
Virginia Gildersleeve, class of 1899, entered Barnard College on her 18th birthday and spent the next 52 years there as either student or employee of Columbia University. She joined Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, was president of her sophomore and senior classes and academically tops.
Her greatest teacher was James Harvey Robinson of Columbia, a founder of the radical "new history" aproach to writing about the past while keeping an eye on the present. With a young Canadian graduate student named James Thomson Shotwell, Virginia Gildersleeve worked in a Robinson seminar on medieval history. In 1908 she earned her PhD degree in English and Comparative Literature. In 1911, when she was 33, President Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia appointed her Dean of Barnard, a position which she filled with honor for 36 1/2 years.
As Dean, Dr Gildersleeve spent much time on the internal affairs of Columbia University. here she consciously developed her own feminine techniques for being agreeable to powerful and argumentative males and for bringing them slowly around to her views: skills very useful to her in 1945 at San Francisco, especially with the sceptical and suspicious Senator Arthur Vandenberg.
Early in the First World War she thought out her own scheme for a league of nations. She contributed vigorously to wartime civil defense activities in New York City. Dr Gildersleeve became a member of former President Taft's League to Enforce Peace. On May 27, 1916 she sat just below the podium in Washington at the League's second conference where she observed close up Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and President Woodrow Wilson as they spoke in favor of postwar international organization. On February 22, 1918 Dr Gildersleeve gave a major address calling for
"some ordered system of international government, backed by power enough to give authority to its decrees" (n. 31).
She argued that no world federation could come about without supportive public opinion. She spent the rest of her life trying, precisely through rousing public opinion, to build a climate supporting peace and international cooperation.
After the Senate rejected U.S. membership in the League of Nations in 1920, Dean Gildersleeve still held high her internationalist torch. She was in the Shotwell-Eichelberger League of Nations Association. She was apointed a member of the American national Committee on Intellectual Cooperation (n. 32). She was a co-founder of the International Federation of University Women and later of the American Association of University Women.
Europe and the world came alive to Dean Gildersleeve through travels abroad and through her leading positions in international organizations. This was especially true of the Arab world and the Near East. She sat on the board of the Near East College Association and was Chairman of the Trustees of the American College for Girls in Istanbul. After she retired as Dean in 1947, Miss Gildersleeve devoted herself to clarifying issues of the Near East, especially Zionism and Arab nationalism.
The year 1940 was crucial to the internationalist evolution of Virginia Gildersleeve. First she joined journalist William Allen White's Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies. But it was a second voluntary association which the Dean joined in 1940 which provided the foreign policy training, personal contacts and wide-ranging respect which very likely led to Secretary of State Stettinius's nominating and President roosevelt's naming Virginia Gildersleeve as the only woman to be an American Delegate at San Francisco. In her own words about the year 1940:
This new group was the Commission to Study the Organization of Peace -- the research affiliate of the American Association for the United Nations and largely supported by the Carnegie endowment for International Peace -- of which my chief, President Butler, was long the head. The Chairman of this new Research Commission was my old friend Professor James T. Shotwell, who had been my fellow student in the course of Professor Robinson's on medieval insitutions so long ago. ... Clark Eichelberger, Director of the American Association for the United Nations, was our very effective executive officer. ...In 1942, early in World War II, Professor Gildersleeve was instrumental in founding the WAVES ("Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service"). As Chairman of the WAVES Advisory Council, she influenced 80,000 women serving in the U.S. Navy. A grateful Navy was proud to loan her a staff of WAVES to help her at the San Francisco Conference where she found 20,000 letters from concerned Americans awaiting her on arrival in April 1945.
The Dean felt wll prepared for her 1945 Delegate role in San Francisco, especially by her five years of informal adult education with Eichelberger, Shotwell, John Foster Dulles and others in the Commission to Study the Organization of Peace. In her descriptions of the American Delegation during its preparatory work in Wsington and its negotiations in San Francisco, Virginia Gildersleeve takes tangible form as an American who felt very strongly that she represented women, especially university women. Being the sole woman on the Delegation was widely regarded as "the highest political appointment ever given in this country to a woman" (n. 34).
More especially she was identified with by Columbia University, Barnard College, their alumni and alumnae, their faculties and staffs. On the occasion of her retirement in 1947, the employees of Barnard College's Buildings and Grounds Department gave her a farewell party. To her pleased surprise it was the
cooks, waitresses, chambermaids, cleaning women, office attendants, porters, gardeners, watchmen and engineers,Everyone, it seemed, felt personally honored that "their" Dean Gildersleeve had gone for them to San Francisco. The U.S. Navy felt the same way. Moreover, announcemen of her appointment promptly stimulated the Chinese government to appoint a distinguished woman delegate. At San Francisco there were not many non-clerical women delegation members from any nation. But the Dean knew some of them from her earlier work in international associations.
Dean Gildersleeve observed inadequate attention at San Francisco by official American hosts to foreign guests representing "lesser" powers. To her this reflected our government's lack of interest in the often distinguished delegates from smaller, poorer nations, especially Arabs and Near Easterners. There were 29 of these: from Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere. At San Francisco members of the recently formed Arab League looked to the United States and the Pan American union for advice on how to organize themselves. In the Dean's view they did not get that advice: a non-event which had subsequent negative impact on American-Arab relations.
With two successive leaders of the Chinese Delegation, Mr T.V. Soong and Dr Wellington Koo, the Dean of Barnard College got along swimmingly. For they were both Columbia University graduates. In her work on Committee II/3 (International Economic and Social Cooperation), Dr Gildersleeve put to good use her prominent role in the American college for Girls in Istanbul. For one Turkish colleague was married to a graduate and a second was sending his daughter to that school.
At San Francisco the Dean made time for frequent meetings with the 42 American Consultant Organizations. She gave them full credit for generating the pressure in Congress and in the Delegation which overcame resistance of Senator Vandenberg and others to inserting the word "education" into the Charter. She understated her own role in the precedent-setting battle waged by the Consultants to make the U.S. Delegation champion the call in the Charter for a Human Rights Commission (n. 36).
While Sol Bloom and Harold Stassen among other American Delegates shared her great concern to draft a pithy, memorable Preamble, it fell to the lot solely of Dean Gildersleeve to recast the official Jan Christian Smuts text. She also carried the day in committee for President Roosevelt's phrase "United Nations" as the official name of the new International Organization.
All the big decisions of the Conference were made evenings in Secretary Stettinius's penthouse suite at the Fairmont Hotel. Here the "Big Five" met: USA, USSR, UK, France and China to present a solid front to the "Little Forty-Six." No other woman besides Virginia Gildersleeve was ever present at the Big Five talks. Yet it was not Miss Gildersleeve but the undersung Sol Bloom whom Delegation leader Stettinius on a dozen occasions would phone to come up to his suite "at one, two or three in the morning ... to discuss a new problem that had to be solved before the next session" (n. 37).
Looking back 13 years later, Virginia Crocheron Gildersleeve recalled the singular effectiveness with the American people of the advance publicity campaign for the UN Charter Conference. Much of that publicity was generated by her friends James Shotwell and Clark Eichelberger and with the State Department by Archibald MacLeish, John S. Dickey and their staffs.
In March 1946, having been invited by General MacArthur, Virginia Gildersleeve flew off on her last major assignment for the United States. She was a member of the U.S. Educational Mission to Japan. In Japan she found great attention given to the new United Nations Organization. The 68 year old Dean of Barnard College was respected in Japan for having been the only American woman Delegate at the San Francisco founding conference. She met in a cold office building with some 30 members of the United Nations Study Committee of Tokyo. Her own words about that meeting lead smoothly to our consideration of the third New Yorker who made the Charter, Professor James T. Shotwell. Of her Japanese interlocutors that day Virginia Gildersleeve wrote:
They were men who in the past had represented Japan at the League of Nations, and on other international bodies. They knew all about the kind of problems which we had faced at San Francisco. After I finished telling of the Conference and the process of adopting the Charter, they were full of questions. Why had we put in such-and-such a provision instead of the one on this subject which was in the Covenant of the League of Nations? Why had we not continued this and that provision of the Covenant? And finally -- How is Professor Shotwell? (n. 38)
(30) My principal source for these remarks on Dean Gildersleeve is her 1954 autobiography MANY A GOOD CRUSADE.
To Robert Divine
Miss Gildersleeve was also a wise choice. She satisfied a growing clamor that American women take part in the making of peace. An intelligent and resourceful lady, she was one of the charter members of the Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, and her presence on the delegation was pleasing to internationalist leaders.(31) Gildersleeve, MANY A GOOD CRUSADE, 124.
(32) ibid., 126.
(33) ibid., 253 - 255. It was anachronistic for the Dean to speak as if the American Association for the United Nations (AAUN) existed as early as 1940. It was February 1945 before the American League of Nations Association renamed itself the AAUN. In 1964 via a merger it became and remains today the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA). For more detail see note 50 below in the section on James T. Shotwell.
(34) Gildersleeve, op cit., 85. In the State Department Leo Pasvolsky's lieutenant, Durward V. Sandifer, had drawn up a short list of twelve women qualified to be Delegates to the San Francisco Conference (Robert C. Hilderbrand, DUMBARTON OAKS, 81). From that list Secretary Stettinius during the Yalta Summit Conference nominated and President Roosevelt approved Miss Gildersleeve. See also Edward Stettinius, ROOSEVELT AND THE RUSSIANS, 186).
(35) Gildersleeve, op. cit., 402f.
(36) ibid., 342. See also 1981 Chiang Pei-heng, NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS AT THE UNITED NATIONS, 5f. Also Dorothy B. Robins (1971), EXPERIMENT IN DEMOCRACY: THE STORY OF U.S. CITIZEN ORGANIZATIONS IN FORGING THE CHARTER OF THE UNITED NATIONS, 118, 130.
(37) Sol Bloom (1948) THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SOL BLOOM, 277.
(38) Gildersleeve, op. cit., 378.
Black Mountain, NC
lightly edited 03-21-2004