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Beate Gordon

Posted on January 3rd, 2013 in Culture,History,War by Robert Miller

Beate Gordon, 1947

If there is ever such a thing as an upbeat obituary, then check out the NYT, which had an extended obituary yesterday for Beate Gordon, a woman who, at the age of 22, put women’s rights into the Japanese Constitution that Gen. Douglas MacArthur fashioned for postwar Japan. At the close of the war, Ms Gordon joined MacArthur’s team to try and find her parents who had been caught at the outbreak of the war in Tokyo. She found them malnourished outside of Tokyo and helped bring them back to health, while working for MacArthur. Her fluency in many languages, including Japanese, landed her an assignment to help rewrite Japan’s new Constitution and formulate language for women’s rights which were non-existent in Japan’s feudal society. She had seven days to complete the assignment, but managed to provide wording that guaranteed women a set of legal rights related to marriage, divorce, property and inheritance that been denied them in Japan (you don’t find women’s rights written into our Constitution either). Japan’s Constitution remains in effect today and Japanese women have a special place for Beate Gordon, the last survivor of the American team that wrote Japan’s postwar Constitution. She was silent about her role in the reshaping the Constitution for decades, before she became a feminist idol among Japanese women. Beate Gordon died January 1, 2013 at the age of 89. It’s a charming story, worth a read.

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