Virginia Gildersleeve - Politics and Foreign Affairs

Politics and Foreign Affairs

Gildersleeve encouraged faculty and students to engage in all the political movements of the day even though the Barnard College Board of Trustees believed that "marching in a parade would be a shocking and shameful thing" for female students to do, and some school administrators considered political activism "unladylike" and "too sordid for a refined woman,".

During World War I, Gildersleeve contributed vigorously to wartime civil defense activities in New York City. She was an early and strong supporter of the formation of the League of Nations. On February 22, 1918 Gildersleeve called for "some ordered system of international government, backed by power enough to give authority to its decrees" (Gildersleeve, MANY A GOOD CRUSADE, 124).

When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Gildersleeve, was a strong interventionist.

In 1942, early in World War II, Gildersleeve was instrumental in founding the WAVES ("Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service"). Its second in command was Gildersleeve's companion, English Professor Elizabeth Reynard; and all of its members - 90,000 in all-were college graduates.

In 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt named Gildersleeve – the only woman named – to the U.S. delegation to write the United Nations Charter. They were instructed to address two issues: 1) the need to prevent future wars through the creation of a Security Council; and 2) the need to enhance human welfare, which they accomplished through the establishment of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Gildersleeve sought and received drafting responsibility for the work of this second Council—the one, as she put it, in charge of "doing things rather than preventing things from being done." She was able to insert into the Charter the following goals for people around the world: "higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development." She also persuaded the delegates to adopt the following aim for the United Nations: "universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion." She insisted that the Charter require the appointment of the Commission on Human Rights, which under the direction of Eleanor Roosevelt, wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights three years later.

In March 1946, having been invited by General McArthur, Gildersleeve served as a member of the U.S. Educational Mission to Japan. She was respected in Japan for having been the only American woman delegate at the San Francisco founding conference.

Some historians consider Gildersleeve to have been "the most influential leader" of the Christian "anti-Zionist lobby" of her era. Gildersleeve wrote that "after (her) retirement from the Deanship at Barnard, (she) devoted (her)self mainly to the Middle East," describing herself as "struggling ardently against" the creation and, later, the continued existence of the Jewish State. She blamed her failure to prevent the creation of the State of Israel on "the Zionist control of the media of communication."

Gildersleeve repeatedly testified before congressional committees and lobbied members of Congress and President Harry Truman to deny American political, military, and financial support to Israel.

Gildersleeve was a trustee of the American University of Beirut and a leading figure in the Christian opposition to Israel's statehood in 1948. She helped found and chaired the Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land, which merged into the American Friends of the Middle East. According to historian Robert Moats Miller, of the University of North Carolina, the group was funded by the Central Intelligence Agency and ARAMCO. Miller states that Gildersleeve's "sympathies were indeed overwhelmingly with the Arabs."

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