Beate Gordon, a translator who helped draft Japan’s constitution in 1946, including article 24 which calls for the equality of the sexes, died on Monday at her home in New York. She was 89.
Born in Vienna in 1923, she first went to Japan in 1929, when her father, acclaimed pianist Leo Sirota, was invited to come teach at what is now called the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. Her family stayed in Japan for about 10 years, and she became quite fluent in the language. In 1939 Gordon moved to California to attend Mills College, and obtained US citizenship. After she graduated, she spent a brief period working at Time magazine in New York, before going back to Japan in 1945 to work as an interpreter and translator for the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces that occupied the country after the war. She was only 22 at the time.
It was through her work at the General Headquarters that she became involved in drafting Japan’s constitution, and she worked on the human rights clauses, in particular Article 24, which regards the equal treatment of the sexes. She was also influential in bringing about the war-renouncing Article 9. She also worked on the negotiations between the Japanese government and the Allied forces over the wording of the document.
By November of 1946, she had already moved back to the States and married a fellow interpreter, but she returned to Japan many times in her lifetime since, and was staunchly against amendments to the constitution, particularly in regards to women’s rights.
I had not heard of her until today, and that’s a shame, because her story is an amazing one. We at Paper Droids offer her family our deepest condolences.
[Via Japan Times]