Research Guides

Women and Global Diplomacy: From Peace Movements to the United Nations

Notable Women and Women's Organizations

Women who joined the League of Nations and the early United Nations were often motivated to join out of a desire to promote peace. Having just gotten out of World War One and World War Two, respectively, many women and men alike believed that having more women in international organizations would exert a moderating and peaceful influence over the bodies.  But as their numbers grew in both the League of Nations and the United Nations, the women of both organizations did more than promote peace. They began to lay the groundwork for women arond the world to become more involved in politics on all levels.

"I myself had always believed that women might have a better chance to bring about the understanding necessary to prevent future wars if they could serve in sufficient numbers in these international bodies."--Eleanor Roosevelt

League of Nations Personalities

Portrait of Dame Rachel Crowdy

Dame Rachel Crowdy

Chief of the Department of Opium Traffic and Social Issues Section of the League of Nations, 1919-1931. She was the only woman to ever head a section, though she was never given the title of "Director" or a salary equal to that of male section heads.

Source: LON Photo Archive

Photo of Avril de Sainte Croix

Ghenia Avril de Sainte Croix

Secretary-General of French National Council of Women, 1903-1933. Member of the Commission on the Traffic of Women and Children. Spokeswoman of the International Union for Woman's Suffrage.

Source: LON Photo Archive

Photo of Kristine Bonnevie

Kristine Bonnevie

Kristine Bonnevie was a Norwegian biologist, and Norway's first female professor as well as the country's first female deputy representative to the Parliament. She was a member of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation from 1929 to 1936.

Source: LON Photo Archive

Portrait of Marie Curie

Marie Curie-Sklodowska

Professor of Physics at the University of Paris, Member of the Paris Académie de Médecin. Member of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation.

Source: LON Photo Archive

Gabriela Mistral, representative of Chile, meets with assistant secretary-general Benjamin Cohen, also of Chile

Gabriela Mistral

Gabriela Mistral was a Chilean poet, feminist, and pacifist who was appointed both to the League of Nations and later to the United Nations by her government. She is pictured here at the United Nations. UN Photo

Elena Văcărescu (Hélène Vacaresco)

Elena Văcărescu was a Romanian poet and novelist. She served periodically on the League of Nations as both a substitute delegate and a permanent delegate from 1922-1938. During this time, Elena was also the only woman to serve with the rank of ambassador to the League of Nations. Just before her death in 1947, Elena also served as a member of the Romanian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference at the end of World War Two.

Source: LON Photo Archive

United Nations Personalities

Bodil Begtrup

Bodil Begtrup (Denmark) was nominated as an advising member to the first Danish UN delegation to the UN General Assembly in London in 1946. Later that year, Begtrup was nominated first as a member and then as the Chair of the Sub-commission on the Status of Women. At this time, members were recruited to the sub-commission on the basis of their expertise on the status of women, and Begtrup was no exception. She was also vital in convincing Eleanor Roosevelt, among others, that the sub-commission should be granted full status as an independent commission under the Economic and Social Council. 

Source: UN Photo

Minerva Bernardino

Minerva Bernardino (left) of the Dominican Republic, was instrumental in the inclusion of women's rights in the United Nations Charter. As one of the few women representatives at the conference in San Francisco, Bernardino campaigned for the inclusion of Article 8, as well as the phrase "men and women," rather than using "men" as a general term.

Source: UN Photo

Photo of Marie-Helene Lefaucheux

Marie-Helene Lefaucheux

Marie-Helene Lefaucheux of France was a member of the original Sub-Commission on the Status of Women. During the first session of the United Nations General Assembly, Lefaucheux pointed out that lack of women present in the group and suggested that in the future more women delegates be included in the work of the United Nations.

Source: UN Photo

Bertha Lutz

Bertha Lutz was one of the most vocal supporters of women's rights both at the San Francisco conference where the UN Charter was written, and later as a member of the Commission on the Status of Women. She was a pivotal player in having the equality of men and women mentioned in the Charter, and was widely seen as a feminist leader in the United Nations.

Source: UN Photo

Hansa Mehta

Hansa Mehta was a member of the original Sub-Commission on the Status of Women in 1946. She then went on to represent India in the Human Rights Commission from 1946-1947. Mehta was also largely responsible for changing the phrase "all men are created equal" in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to "all human beings are created equal."

Source: UN Photo.

Dorothy Kenyon

Dorothy Kenyon served as Justice of the Municipal Court in New York City from 1939-1940. By the time of her appointment to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, she was already a well-established champion of women's rights in the United States. Before her appointment to the UN, Kenyon also worked on the League of Nations Committee in the US and traveled regularly between New York and Europe.

Source: UN Photo

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

In 1953, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit became the first woman elected to the position of President of the General Assmbly of the United Nations. Before her time at the United Nations, Pandit broke gender boundaries in India as both a paliamentarian and as a governor of Maharashtra.

Source: UNPhoto

Eleanor Roosevelt

In 1945, President Harry Truman appointed Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as representative of the United States of America to the UN General Assembly. She was one of only a few women present at the first session of the General Assembly in London, where she recognized the impact of her presence. She said, "I knew that as the only woman of the delegation I was not welcome. Moreover, if I failed to be a useful member, it would not be considered merely that I as an individual had failed, but that all women had failed." Roosevelt quickly earned the respect of her colleagues and was nominated the first Chairperson of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and played an instrumental role in writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Source: UN Photo

Photo of Jessie Street

Jessie Street

Jessie Street was a prominent Australian feminist and suffragette. At the San Francisco conference to write the Charter of the United Nations, she was one of only a few women who spoke out for the explicit equality of men and women. She was also appointed the first Vice-President of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Source: UN Photo

Women's Organizations

At the formation of the League of Nations, women's organizations were one of the major influencers of the League. Many women's groups were so invested in the League that the International Women's Suffrage Association wrote to the Secretary General to suggest a woman be appointed to the Secretariat to act as a liaison between the League and women's organizations around the world. The IWSA even recommended Anna Wicksell of Sweden be appointed to the position, whom the group noted was "a good feminist." However, in their correspondence, Secretary-General Eric Drummond and Dame Rachel Crowdy agreed that being a liaison to women's organizations would not occupy all of Wicksell's time, and therefore was not a practical position for her or anyone else to hold. Newspaper columnist Constance Drexel later suggested the liaison also take on a study of women in politics in each of the member countries. Although one was never appointed, this question of choosing someone to be a liaison to women's organizations illustrates the strong interest these groups had in the activities of the League of Nations.

Influential Women's Organizations Today

These organizations were active during the time of the League of Nations, and many even before that. They interacted with the League and many influenced decisions made at the League of Nations. These organizations outlasted the League and have continued to work on the advancement of the rights of women to today.

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