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Woman of the World

Woman of the World: Mary McGeachy and International Cooperation

Mary Kinnear
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 335
  • Book Info
    Woman of the World
    Book Description:

    Mary McGeachy (1901-91) navigated the gender conventions of the twentieth century. Born a gospel preacher's daughter in small-town Ontario, she served in the League of Nations Secretariat in the 1930s and was employed by the British Ministry of Economic Warfare during World War II. In October 1942, she became the first woman to be given British diplomatic rank, and in 1944 was made Director of Welfare for the newly established United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, the only woman in an executive position. Later she served as president of the International Council of Women, an organization promoting women's rights and welfare.

    InWoman of the World, Mary Kinnear interprets McGreachy's international experiences through the lens of gender. As a Canadian with a commitment to international cooperation, her story is an important one. Building on archives from three continents, Kinnear's acute character study illuminates - at the individual level - important aspects of twentieth-century politics and society. Kinnear's biography also serves as an important contribution to political history, international relations, gender studies, and women's history. It retrieves from obscurity a woman who enjoyed contemporary celebrity because of her achievements in a man's world.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8353-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Prologue: 1940
    (pp. 3-11)

    In 1940 thousands of people in Europe were on the move. Britain and France were at war with Germany. In May, Hitler defeated the British Army. At the end of the month, over three hundred thousand British and French troops were evacuated from Dunkirk. On 12 June, Italy joined the war on the German side. On 14 June, the Germans occupied Paris. On 22 June the French Third Republic signed an armistice with the Germans. On 10 July, Marshal Petain was installed as head of state, centred on Vichy. The Germans occupied directly the northern half of the country, and...

  5. 1 Sarnia
    (pp. 12-26)

    Mary Agnes McGeachy was Ontario-Scottish on both sides of her family. ‘Her sense of her Scottish heritage was very strong indeed,’ said Iverach McDonald, managing editor of the LondonTimes. ‘We spoke a lot about Highland history. She was proud to be part of the clan Ranald Macdonald – we had that as a common background.’¹ Both McGeachy’s parents were part of the Scottish-Canadian community which populated the southwestern part of Ontario.

    Inhabitants of the region were oriented as much to the United States as to Canada, and actually lived nearer to the big American cities of Detroit and Buffalo...

  6. 2 Student Days
    (pp. 27-49)

    Mary McGeachy came to the University of Toronto as a young woman of nineteen. She was a member of the post-war generation for whom the end of the Great War conferred a legacy of promise to do better.¹ She believed that with the League of Nations as part of the peace settlement there was an opportunity for the world to live in peace. Education for international cooperation was critical.

    Canada was still part of the British Empire, although largely independent. Within the empire, new political and constitutional ideas had been under debate since the beginning of the century. In many...

  7. 3 Geneva
    (pp. 50-77)

    In the summer of 1928, Mary McGeachy received a handwritten note from a member of the League of Nations Secretariat. ‘Dear Miss McGeachy,’ he wrote. ‘There is the possibility of offering you a post in the Information Section, but before proceeding with the matter I should like to know if you are still available and if so whether you would be good enough to call to see me at your earliest convenience.’¹

    McGeachy had actively gone out to find a place at the League.Vox Studentiumhad no more funds. In March she had applied for a position advertised by...

  8. 4 Visitor from Geneva
    (pp. 78-100)

    Throughout the 1930s, McGeachy undertook several missions on behalf of the League. Missions were speaking tours, bringing information about the League to people outside Geneva. A mission could also be when a League official attended a meeting of another organization as the League’s official representative.

    Despite personal disappointment by a lack of official recognition, McGeachy’s commitment to international cooperation remained unshaken. She considered it her vocation to persuade others, especially in Canada, of the benefits the League could confer.

    Who better than an insider, on the staff of the League, to speak about greater Canadian involvement in international affairs generally...

  9. 5 Economic Warfare
    (pp. 101-125)

    In the summer of 1940, McGeachy was busy driving groups of women and children from the families of League staff through newly occupied France towards safety in neutral Portugal. At the end of one of her trips, she received a telegram in Lisbon. She was invited to London to help in the war effort. There was a job in a new ministry equipped with new tools to disable and defeat the enemy. As a teenager, she had written in her school yearbook about the economic implications surrounding mobilization.¹ Twenty-three years later, she became immersed in real economic warfare.

    Economic warfare...

  10. 6 Erwin Schuller
    (pp. 126-146)

    In the summer of 1942, Erwin Schuller became smitten with Mary McGeachy. McGeachy was in London, where she convened a meeting of British voluntary organizations concerned with the planning of general post-war relief work. Erwin Schuller attended on behalf of the National Council of Social Service. He was included in an invitation to her home one evening, and afterwards he wrote her a letter:

    Dear Miss MacGeachy,

    I feel we owe you an apology for having stayed so late yesterday evening in spite of our knowledge that you were not feeling well and should have gone to bed early. I...

  11. 7 UNRRA
    (pp. 147-177)

    In January 1944, Mary Craig McGeachy was appointed director of welfare for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Her responsibility was the well-being of millions of persons displaced by war.

    The main purpose of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was to relieve victims of war. As this war had mobilized whole nations, and had affected entire civilian populations as well as armies, there were millions of victims. They were from all walks of life, of different nationalities, and of all age groups, and many were hugely traumatized by battle and brutality. The dimensions of the problem were...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. 8 Family Affairs
    (pp. 178-208)

    Mary McGeachy began her life as a ‘normal’ married woman at the end of 1947, an energetic hostess partner for her financier husband. Soon the Schullers rounded out their family by the addition of two young adopted children. Concealed from public view, however, was a dark side to McGeachy, and her family life eventually erupted in disarray and tragedy.

    But in 1947 the future seemed bright. The Schullers set out for a new life in South Africa, where McGeachy knew of Prime Minister Smuts and no one else. General Smuts had helped set up the League of Nations in 1919...

  14. 9 The International Council of Women
    (pp. 209-233)

    The International Council of Women provided Mary McGeachy with an ideal vehicle for her energy and interests. Joining in South Africa, she rose in the organization and in 1963 was elected president. When Erwin died, she was halfway through her second term. A terse notice was sent to members of the Council:

    All the friends of our President will be deeply grieved to learn of the sudden loss of her husband, Mr Erwin SCHULLER, in New York on 7thJuly 1967.

    The President will be attending the meeting of the Executive Committee in London in September, but does not plan...

  15. 10 Religion and Recognition
    (pp. 234-250)

    ‘I was aware she was a deep Christian believer,’ said McGeachy’s old friend Iverach McDonald. ‘She always needed a larger vision of humankind. That’s what interested her. One can’t understand her unless you realize that ... She was always seeking a wider view and a meaning in life.’¹

    After McGeachy retired from the presidency of the International Council of Women and moved to Princeton, she had more time for herself. She kept responsibility for ICW liaison with the United Nations and continued to attend meetings in New York. At the same time, she turned her attention to her local parish...

  16. Epilogue
    (pp. 251-260)

    Most biographies are about people who are already famous, and for centuries the standard style was, ‘Let us now praise famous men.’ Eighty years ago, Lytton Strachey and Freud changed all that. Strachey’sEminent Victoriansset the fashion for debunking the people set on a pedestal.¹ More recently, biography has benefited from a more measured treatment of a person’s whole life, into which the biographer brings a private life of emotion, family, friends, and lovers to understand more about public achievements.

    The founder of the modern genre of biography, Dr Samuel Johnson, was at pains to insist that a biographer’s...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 261-304)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 305-316)
  19. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 317-318)
  20. Index
    (pp. 319-327)