As WWII ended in 1945, the United Nations was established by 51 countries with a mission to maintain international peace and security. Two years later, in 1947, the Cold War began with Trumans announcement of the Truman Doctrine, a policy of containment of Communism and adoption of the Marshall Plan. UN and U.S. soldiers intervened when Soviet soldiers invaded the Korean peninsula in 1950 and remained until partitioning in 1953.
When FDR died in 1945, President Truman appointed Eleanor Roosevelt to serve as the U.S. delegate to the United Nations General Assembly and Chairperson of the UN Commission on Human Rights, where she remained until 1952. Throughout the 1950s, Roosevelt embarked on countless national and international speaking engagements. She averaged 150 lectures a year throughout the 1950s, many devoted to her activism on behalf of the United Nations.
Eliot Berkley loved to tell friends that as a teenager he met Eleanor Roosevelt, who graciously told him to stop by and visit her if he came to Washington. He did! and then continued to be inspired by and remain in touch with Mrs. Roosevelt.
Eliot served in the Army from 1943-46, and then studied at Harvard and Princeton before returning to Kansas City in 1952 as a professor of History and Government at UMKC. In 1954, Eliot received a telegram from Mrs. Roosevelts office advising that she would visit Kansas City in January 1955. Jean Green, a founding (and continuing) IRC member, vividly recalls Eliot’s excitement on receiving the telegram and then organizing a small group of enthusiastic friends around Jean’s dining table to address invitations to a meeting with Mrs. Roosevelt.
Eliot had been keen to organize a local organization to educate and engage the public in international affairs, and in December 1954, in advance of the Roosevelt visit, Eliot founded the Young Adults International Relations Council and became its first executive director (retiring nearly 40 years later).
The American Associations for the United Nations (AAUN) was founded in 1943 as a movement with local chapters across the country dedicated to supporting the United Nations. The AAUN played an instrumental role in creation of the UN Charter and its ratification by the US Congress in 1945. In 1953, Eleanor Roosevelt volunteered to build national membership for the AAUN and she crisscrossed the country speaking about the importance of the UN and leaving behind a network of chapters.
On January 5, 1955, Clark Eichelberger, the Executive Director of the AAUN in New York, held a meeting at UMKC’s Haag Hall with members of the Young Adult International Relations Council and a few similar groups. About 200 persons attended the meeting, and Mr. Eichelberger urged the attendees to establish a chapter of the AAUN in Kansas City. Mrs. Roosevelt had planned to attend the meeting, but her plane was delayed.
Later that evening, Eleanor Roosevelt addressed more than 500 people at the University of Kansas City Playhouse, sponsored by the Young Adult International Relations Council and the AAUN. She spoke about the importance of the UN as a forum for resolving international disputes to avoid future wars and protect human rights. (Image: A photo of Eleanor Roosevelt featured in the January 6, 1955 edition of The Kansas City Times. The photo was taking prior to her speaking engagement at the Hotel Muehlbach.)
Local newspapers reported that Mrs. Roosevelt was accompanied to the Playhouse by President and Mrs. Truman. In her January 6, 1955 My Day column, Mrs. Roosevelt said that: I had looked forward for some time to the Kansas City meeting and a visit with Mr. and Mrs. Truman. They were kind enough to ask me to go back with them to Independence to spend the night, but, unfortunately, I had to journey on to [Little Rock, Arkansas].
Eleanor Roosevelt served as an informal trusted advisor to President Truman from his inauguration in 1945 until their deaths. The Truman-Roosevelt correspondence, which continued until 1960, chronicles the end of World War II, the beginning of the Cold War, and U.S. politics.
Ultimately, the IRC did not become a local chapter of AAUN. Soon after 1955, the name was shortened from Young Adults to simply International Relations Council. And IRC became affiliated instead with the World Affairs Council of America (WACA), which also had ties to Mrs. Roosevelt. In 1923, Eleanor Roosevelt was among the incorporators of the Foreign Policy Association (FPA), the predecessor of WACA, to promote and nurture public awareness of critical international issues affecting the U.S. Citizen discussion groups and FPA branches began to form during the 1920s, 30s, and after World War II with a mission to engage the public and leaders to better understand global affairs and America’s role in the world. In 1954, the Great Decisions program was launched, and, based on an annual briefing book prepared by FPA’s editors, Great Decisions became the largest nonpartisan public education program on international affairs in the world. FPA became the first member organization of the World Affairs Councils of America, and today WACA serves more than 90 World Affairs Councils in 40 states nationwide.
As we mark the 65th anniversary year of the IRC, please enjoy this series of retrospectives on the the organization’s founding, mission, and legacy. We welcome your sustaining support of the IRC as a member or through a tax-deductible donation, as your circumstances allow.