Rotary's Role in the Formation of the United Nations 1943-1959


Photo: June 12, 1959 - Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, addressed the closing session of the 50th Rotary International Convention in Madison Square Garden in New York City. He thanked Rotary for helpinf the "less fortunate" countries.
The Rotary Club of New York, as many other Rotary clubs, played an essential role in building support during the formative years of The United Nations, and in selecting New York City for the Permanent Headquarters of the United Nations. As such, more than 60 years later, Rotary International still maintains the highest consultative status with the United Nations of any non-governmental organization. In this capacity, Rotary International and the United Nations has built a strong and productive partnership in achieving the Millennium Development Goals of 2000, including the global eradication of Polio, cultural exchanges, literacy, education, water/sanitation projects, and promotion of peace conferences around the world.

By the late 1940's, Rotary International was one of the largest "international" organizations in the world. There were more that 6,800 clubs in more than 81 countries. More importantly, Rotary was already working on projects around the world to diminish the causes of war and aggression. In fact, during a 1943 Rotary conference, held in London, an outline of the development of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was established in 1946 and Rotarians helped write its constitution. Additionally, many of the delegates at the San Fransisco Conference that were representing their respective governments, were also members of their own Rotary clubs and utilized their clubs to develop support for the soon to be established United Nations Organization (UN).

Formation of the United Nations:
August 1941 - It was during the Atlantic Conference, off the coast of Newfoundland, where President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued a joint pronouncement that an effective international organization would be needed to replace the struggling League of Nations that was unable to prevent the outbreak of the Second World War. There, too, the Four Freedoms were promulgated as fundamental freedoms humans "everywhere in the world" ought to enjoy:
Freedom of speech and expression, Freedom of religion, Freedom from want, Freedom from fear.

January 1, 1942 - The term "The United Nations" was first announced by Franklyn D. Roosevelt, several weeks after the attack at Pearl Harbor. It was the name given to the coalition of countries lead by the United States, Great Britain, and Soviet Union to defeat the Japanese and German aggression. By February 15, 1943 more than forty countries had joined the United Nations and had severed diplomatic relations and signed a declaration of war on the Axis powers.

In October 1943, at the Moscow Conference, the "Big-Three" and China (referred now as the "Big Four") formed a Four Power Alliance pledged to commence the creation of a post-victory, international, military force and organization to maintain peace, and to quickly curtail any future aggression. The Moscow Declaration stated " the necessity of establishing at the earliest practicable date a general international organization, based on the principle of sovereign equality of all peace-loving states... for the maintenance of international peace and security."

August 21-October 7, 1944 - At Dumbarton Oaks, an estate in Washington DC (photo), the "Big Four" met with the main objective to create an organization that "would maintain international peace and security, by peaceful means, if possible, and economic sanctions and force if necessary; and to promote security by encouraging economic and social cooperation among nations." While the foundations were laid out, some details on voting procedure had to be decide at a later time.

February 1945 - At the Yalta (Crimea) Conference, the provisional government of France was also invited to take a leadership role at the San Francisco Conference along with the "Big Four". In addition, forty-six other countries that waged war against the Axis Nations were also invited to participate at the conference at San Francisco, that was formally known as the United Nations Conference on International Organization. Their mission was to create the charter for the United Nations basically along the guidelines of those proposed at the informal conversations at Dumbarton Oaks.

April 12, 1945 - Two weeks before the San Francisco Conference was to meet, President Roosevelt died. Exhausted and ill, he was resting at Warm Springs, Georgia, when he suddenly complained of a terrible headache. Two hours later, he was pronounced dead of a stroke. Roosevelt was succeeded by Vice President Harry S. Truman, who vowed to continue with the formation of the United Nations Organization.

April 25 to June 6, 1945 - At the San Fransisco Conference
, 49 of the 800 delegates and advisers were active Rotarians. Some of the notable Rotarians that attended the conference were:

  • Thomas J. Davis, past president of Rotary International (1941-42) and unsuccessful Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate;
  • Luther Hodges, past president of the Rotary Club of New York (1945-46). Luther also went on to become governor of North Carolina, Commerce Secretary for President Kennedy(1960-63), and President of Rotary International in 1968.
  • Gabriel L. Dennis, the Secretary of State of Liberia was a signer of the Charter for Liberia

  • Jan Christan Smuts, the Prime Minister of South Africa from 1919 until 1924 and from 1939 until 1948.

  • Carlos Romulo of the Philippines was also a signer for the Philippines. He served as Resident Commissioner of the Philippines to the United States Congress from 1944 to 1946, President of the Forth Session of the General Assembly ( 1949-50), and was the Philippines' Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 1950 to 1984.

  • Jan Masaryk, Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia from 1940 to 1948.

As a result, many have argued, it was decided at the conference that the causes of aggression and war, such as poverty, ignorance, and lack of human rights, would have to be ameliorated as well. As a consequence, the UN Charter was designed to help achieve these goals much more than originally planed at the Dumbarton Oaks conference. Rotarians contributed to the drafting the charter , its Preamble, and the articles on ECOSOC and the NGO's.

October 24, 1945, the Charter was ratified and the United Nations came into existence.

Rotary Helps Overcoming United States Isolationist Sentiment:

The UN leaders knew that the American public, and the American political leaders had to fully support the newly created organization. Without full United States support, the soon to be created United Nations Organization would be powerless - as had been Woodrow Wilson's discredited League of Nations. With this in mind, the U.S. Department of State commenced a public relations campaign to build support for the proposed organization, and partnered with a number of civic and religious organizations including Rotary Clubs to build up this support.

The following pages will outline some of these activities.

On October 9, 1942, the Rotary Club of New York hosted the "United Nations" luncheon and Sir Gerald Campbell the well known special assistant to the British Ambassador, addressed 600 members and guests at the Hotel Commodore. He informed the Rotarians that unity and organization were gradually being achieved by the United Nations. Twenty-one trade and consular officials of the United Nations also attended the luncheon.

April 16, 1943 - Ray O. Wyland president of the Rotary Club of New York simulcast its annual "Pan-American Day" Luncheon with the key note speaker Under-Secretary of State Sumner Welles. The Secretary traced the development of the United States relations with the other Central and South American republics. Attacking the tariffs of 1921, 1922 and 1930 said that this slow strangulation of international trade was one of the chief causes of the "world crisis". He asserted that other Western Hemisphere republics “will never forget the dislocations caused in the economic life of many of them by the successive tariff increases in the United States."

June 27, 1944- Col. C. V. Jenkins, a past president of the Rotary Club of New York, heads campaign to change the name of Sixth Avenue in New York City to "The Avenue of the Americas" - The Gateway to the Americas. The purpose of the name change was to "help make real the dream of a unified Western Hemisphere Community of Nations". Plans where submitted to install flags of the Latin Consulates and countries along the avenue.

On August 18, 1944, on his way to London, the President of Rotary International, Richard H. Wells addresses the Rotary Club of New York and vowed to re-establish Rotary clubs in the Axis countries within 5 years after the war. At a meeting, he stated that the Nazis had "Run Rotary out of Paris" but President Richard vowed to re-establish nearly 500 European Rotary clubs disbanded by the war.
April 13, 1945 - Nelson Rockefeller, The Assistant Secretary of State, was the keynote speaker at the annual "Pan-American Day" luncheon of the Rotary Club of New York. His speech, in front of more than 500 Rotarians, was also simulcast by radio to the Western Hemisphere. Rockefeller stated that "No nation, large or small can solve all its problems alone. Yet united, we face the possibility of great productivity, prosperity and peace if we work together. That is the purpose of civilization." His speech was broadcast through out the Western Hemisphere including translations in Spanish and Portuguese. Rockefeller reaffirmed that the world's nations affirm their recognition of responsibilities to the world effort, and should be pulling for a new workable "international security organization".

In May 1945, Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius Jr., invited Rotary International to send one representative and one alternate to the San Francisco Conference to act as consultants to the American delegation. 41 other non-government organizations (NGO's) were also invited to send a delegate and alternate (Photo of the San Fransisco Opera House site of the conference.)

September 1945 -NBC Radio Network Schedules Seven Hours of Programs to Celebrate UN Week. Secretary of State George C. Marshall launched the week of broadcasts. Rotary International President, Leo E. Golden, gave a half hour presentation asking all civic minded businessmen and professionals to support the United Nations. Other speakers included, poet and author of the UN Preamble Archibald MacLeish, and Secretary John Foster Dulles.

United Nations Committee Votes that The New International Organization Should Be Located In the United States and New York City is Interim Site:

December 15, 1946 - At the London Conference, after heated discussion and debate, the United Nations committee selects Westchester County of New York and Fairfield County of Connecticut, as the general area for the Permanent Site of World Headquarters. New York City was chosen as the location for the "Interim Headquarters" until the exact Permanent Site could be located and constructed. The Chairman of the UNO Headquarters Committee, Dr. Eduardo Zuleta Angel of Columbia states that "New York is a city where every race and every nation of the world is represented, where the different peoples of the world are molded in a common society".

The reasons that the United States was chosen by the U. N. Preparatory Commission were:

  • Europe was no longer the world's political or economic center.

  • Unlike the League of Nations, if the new UNO is located in the United States, it would insure United States participation.
  • Europe could break-out in war again.

  • United States government maintained neutrality and abstained from voting on location.

  • Russians strongly in favor of the United States as the location.

  • Geneva (site of recently completed League of Nations compound) was not an option because "Swiss neutrality" would demand that any Security Council decision to use military force had to be held outside of Swiss borders.

A 1946 map from the New York Times outlines the recommended site for the "Permanent Headquarters for the United Nations" as decided at the London Conference. At the time, it was originally discussed to create somewhere from a two square-miles to forty square miles self-contained campus.

A 2008 Photo of the Queens Museum that was the early home of the Security Council after it Hunter College.

March 26, 1946 - The UN Security Council opened its first session at the "Interim Location" at Hunter College's Gymnasium in the Bronx. A few weeks later, Secretary General Trygve Lie also selected the New York City building from the 1938 World’s Fair site at Flushing Meadows for the temporary meeting hall of the General Assembly, the Secretariat, and the Security Council. The other bodies and commission will meet at the Sperry Gyroscope plant at Lake Success in Nassau County. The New York City building at Flushing Meadows was rent free and reduced rent for the Sperry plant was paid to the War Assets Corporation. New York Officials hoped that the Flushing Meadows location would be considered as a possible site for the Permanent Site of the UN Headquarters. Robert Moses, a New York Rotarian was authorized to spend $1.2 million to improve the Flushing Meadow site and Secretary General Lie signed a three year lease for the Sperry plant for the General Assembly. New York Rotarian, Robert Moses, made available 1,612 apartments in Parkway Village in Queens, and Peter Cooper Village, at the average cost of $25 per room.


December 1946 - Rotary Clubs organize to host 250 employees and delegates of the United Nations to spend a 3 day Christmas Holiday in private homes in Binghamton, Endicotte, and Johnson City in Upstate, New York. A special train took the guests to their destination.

175 New York Rotarians visited the Temporary General Assembly Building at Flushing Meadows, Queens. (This is the current site of the U.S. Tennis Open and the building is now a public ice rink). A few weeks later sixty members of the Philadelphia Rotary Club were also welcomed at the Lake Success Building.

This is the only reminder at the Flushing-Site in 2008. This plaque is located in the front lawn of the former Security Council Buiding that is now the Queens Museum of Art.

December 10 1946 - Westchester and Fairfield Eventually Rejected and UNO Seeks a New Location:

  • Protest from increasing number of Westchester and Fairfield County citizens caused the Selection Committee to reconsider locating in Westchester and Fairfield counties.

  • The Lake Success and Flushing temporary sites offered by New York City were too far from city and unattractive.
  • President Truman offered the San Fransisco Presidio - the beautiful military base with park-like grounds overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge -rent free! However, the Europeans thought this was too far from Europe.

  • Philadelphia offered the attractive Belmont-Roxborough site. It was on the eastern coast of the United States and was considered attractive to most members of the site location commitee.

However, on Friday night, December 6 ,1946, at the midnight hour, before Philadelphia was to be voted on as the Permanent Site, Secretary-General Lie, Robert Moses, and Mayor O'Dwyer called Nelson Rockefeller Assistant Secretary of State to arrange for his father to finance the purchase of a six block area of slaughter houses and run-down buildings on the East-side of Manhattan known as Turtle Bay for $8.5 million. They thought it was "worth a try" since the Rockefeller family had generously donated the library to the League of Nations and the family was very supportive of the new international organization.

December 15, 1945 - New York City Voted to be Site For Permanent World Headquarters

The site offered by John D. Rockefeller Jr.

March 26, 1947 - Trygve Lie, the first Secretary-General (Center, Front Row) receiving the $8,500,000 gift from John D. Rockefeller 3rd. (right- front row) to purchase the land at the Turtle Bay Section of New York City where the UN headquarters is now located. New York Rotarian Robert Moses (back row, left) was instrumental in helping to locate the UN World Headquarters in New York.

Rotary Starts the Ambassadorial Scholarship Program:

September 1946 - President Truman at the National Commission of Education, Scientific and Cultural Cooperation in Washington, asks the attendees to assist the United Nations. In his speech the President stated: "it is understating that gives us the ability to have peace. When we understand the other fellow's view point, and he understands ours, we can sit down, and if there are differences , we can work them out." As a consequence, at the June 1947 International Convention in New York, Rotary International expanded its one-year- old program and awarded an additional fifty-five "Ambasadorial Scholarships" to college graduates, from fifteen countries, to study for a full year in another country of their choosing.

June 9 1948 - Rotary International and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace partner to donate $12,000 to bring forty students from Member States to intern at United Nations Headquarters. The interns stayed at Adelphi College that is located near Lake Success, and had lunch at the United Nations Cafeteria. While up to this time, the UN had several interns from the United States , this grant gave students from foreign countries an opportunity to work at the UN.

June 1949 - Rotary Club of New York Hosts 40th Rotary International Convention
at Madison Square Garden.

Largest Rotary International Convention with more than 15,000 Attendees with Theme to Support the United Nations and UNICEF

In June 1949, Trygve Lie, the first Secretary-General of the United Nations, addressed the 40th Rotary International convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
(Photo: RI president Angus S.Mitchell - left- welcomed Trygve Lie to the Rotary Convention)
More than 16,000 Rotarians attended and was the largest Rotary Convention ever. NYC's Mayor O'Dwyer welcomed the delegates of fifty countries. He stated that that is was fitting that the United Nations was in New York because the city is an example of how people of all nations and races can live together peacefully.

Also at the convention, Madeleine Carroll, the British actress, also challenged Rotarians to take up the cause where the the United Nations has up to now failed to realize its goal. The rehabilitation of the hungry and sick children of the war-torn areas still needs to be solved. She went on to say that the United Nations International Children’s Emergency (UNICEF) fund is "only a drop of water in the bucket." Miss Carroll asked that even with the limited help of UNICEF, it was vital for individuals and community groups to help, where governments have failed. “If, as it seems, UNICEF is to fold up, something must take its place, and immediately or millions of children will die and suffer."
She went on to say that "the world’s Rotarians being powerful, could really help the children of the world". The actress suggested that Rotary undertake “a new children’s crusade".
Miss Carroll, who was the only women speaker at the convention, received a standing ovation in tribute.

In the convention's Keynote address, Secretary General Trygve Lie said that "the one thing he was sure is that no war of importance will ever be started while the General Assembly is in session, because an aggressor could not get away with it". He went on to say, "there is only one way, however, by which to prevent a third world war in the long run. The only way is to bring into the United Nations, and to keep within the United Nations, all the nations of the world, and to make the United Nations work on a universal basis."

A letter by President Harry Truman was also read by the Secretary of the Navy. The President stated: "I believe it is equally important, that to the world's orderly progress, that business leaders of all nations also have much closer ties that in the past. Certainly one of the greatest influences for bringing that about should be Rotary International. I am sure that it will be, for Rotary has always been at the forefront of any great movement for improving the welfare of people everywhere."

Ambassadorial Scholars Program Started:
At this convention, Rotary voted to spend $750,000 during the next three years to promote better understanding and friendlier relations among the peoples of several nations. Additionally fifty-six college graduates were awarded scholarships to spend the next academic year in countries other than their own. Additionally, part of the funding was to be used to send speakers to various countries to explain the workings of the United Nations and otherwise promote international unity.

June 1959 - Rotary Club of New York Hosts the 50th Annual Rotary Convention - Once Again, Promoting Support for the United Nations.


June 12, 1959 - Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, addressed the closing session of the 50th Rotary International Convention in Madison Square Garden in New York City. He called for government and business to help for the less fortunate countries. He warned that the economic gap, already wide, between prosperous countries, and those less fortunate, is steadily becoming wider. And he asked the wealthier nations to help.

He also said that no one should forget the special value of the United Nations as an instrument of negotiation between the Atlantic Alliance and the Geneva Alliance, or between the traditional Western countries and the new countries of Asia and Africa.