San Francisco Civic Center Historic District

UN symbol inlaid in red brick plaza flanked by concrete pillar light fixtures leading to city hall
United Nations Plaza at San Francisco Civic Center Historic District

Photo by Prayitno, CC BY 2.0

Quick Facts
Bounded by Van Ness Avenue, Market Street, Golden Gate Avenue, 7th Street
Location where the UN Charter was signed
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, 1978; Designated National Historic Landmark, 1987

Between April and June 1945, thousands of representatives from 50 countries met in various buildings in San Francisco Civic Center Historic District to organize the United Nations (UN) and draft its Charter.  


The United Nations Conference on International Organizing (UNCIO) was hosted in San Francisco between April and June 1945. Foreign affairs ministers from the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), Soviet Union, and Republic of China invited representatives from 50 nations to participate. 

The conference’s location on the West Coast of the United States symbolized a midway point between World War II’s European and Pacific theaters. Several monumental buildings in the San Francisco Civic Center, such as the Veterans Building, hosted organizational meetings, assemblies, and drafting sessions throughout the UNCIO. 

Before the UNCIO, powerful Allied nations made many major decisions about the UN’s purpose and structure. Representatives from the US, UK, Soviet Union, and China had met at conferences at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC in October 1944 and Yalta, a city on the Crimean Peninsula, in February 1945. These meetings produced the idea of a “world security organization” to guide the social, political, and economic future of the postwar world. Representatives from countries that weren’t economic powerhouses hoped to use the UNCIO to secure power and representation within the postwar world order. 

Women and the UN Charter 

Women also used the conference to pursue full participation and equal representation within the UN, shape its agenda, and advance their rights at home. Yet only 6 of the 850 full delegates were women. They were Dominican feminist and diplomat Minerva Bernardino; Canadian Member of Parliament Cora Casselman; American dean of Barnard College Virginia Gildersleeve; Brazilian scientist, suffragist, and parliamentarian Bertha Lutz; Uruguayan senator and feminist Isabel Pinto de Vidal; and Chinese president of Ginling College Wu Yi-Fang. 

Women who didn’t serve as delegates still influenced the UN Charter. Some shaped the document through their roles as national advisors, or even drafted sections of text. Others voiced their support through grassroots activism and represented non-governmental organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the League of United Latin American Citizens. Despite their shared commitment to women’s involvement, there were many disagreements over how their interests should be addressed in the Charter. 

A delegation of Latin American women offered some of the most vocal arguments for the inclusion of “equal rights of men and women.” This group consisted of Bernardino, Lutz, Pinto de Vidal, and five national advisors: Amalia de Castillo Ledón and Adela Formoso de Obregón Santacilia from Mexico, Isabel Sánchez de Urdaneta and Lucila Luciani de Pérez Diaz from Venezuela, and María Piedad Castillo de Leví from Ecuador. Australian advisor Jessie Street was another outspoken advocate for explicitly including women’s rights.  

During the UNCIO, these women devised ways to explicitly mention women’s rights in the Charter. They also introduced text that linked discrimination with human rights. On June 7, 1945, Bertha Lutz proposed “the Brazilian Declaration,” a resolution that called for a commission to study women’s political, civil, economic status and sex-based discrimination. 

Unlike their Latin American colleagues, some women from the United States and United Kingdom worried that efforts to include women’s rights were too controversial. American women were sharply divided on the issue. Some supported women’s involvement in peacemaking, but not equal rights. They worried that women’s equality could place women’s labor on equal footing with men. This might undermine gender-based labor protections that women activists had fought for for years. 

In her memoir, US delegate Virginia Gildersleeve commented that “British and the American men hated being lectured on the virtues and rights of women.” Lutz recalled that Gildersleeve urged her not “to ask for anything for women in the Charter since that would be a very vulgar thing to do.” Gildersleeve believed that women’s rights were already encompassed by language protecting the “dignity and worth of the human person” and by the UN’s new Commision on Human Rights. She claimed that it would be redundant and counterintuitive to create a separate commission that segregated women’s rights. Wu Yi-Fang of China was also reluctant to support Lutz. Wu instead favored a special committee on women, although it would lack the permanency and resources of a commission. 

According to Lutz, the Brazilian government recognized “the need to defend the rights of women” and sent her to the UNCIO for the express purpose of getting women’s rights into the Charter. She remained committed to her proposal and won the support of 33 national delegations, surpassing the necessary majority to create the commission. 


On June 26, 1945, delegates from 50 nations signed the UN Charter at Herbst Theatre in the Veterans Building. Only four were women: Bertha Lutz, Minerva Bernardino, Virginia Gildersleeve, and Wu Yi-Fang. Although women’s names did not appear in large numbers on the document, they significantly influenced the UNCIO and successfully advocated for the inclusion of women’s rights in the UN Charter. 

On October 24, 1945, the UN Charter was officially ratified, establishing the United Nations. The UN Commission on the Status of Women was established in June 1946. 

The Veterans Building is one of two buildings in the War Memorial Complex, a contributing property in the San Francisco Civic Center Historic District. In 1975, United Nations Plaza was constructed within San Francisco Civic Center Historic District to commemorate the founding of the UN. The district was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1987. 



Adami, Rebecca, and Dan Plesch, eds. Women and the UN: A New History of Women’s International Human Rights. Abingdon, OX; New York, NY: Routledge, 2022.  

Cobble, Dorothy Sue. “Intertwined Freedoms.” In For the Many: American Feminists and the Global Fight for Democratic Equality, 255–93. Princeton University Press, 2021.

Falcón, Sylvanna M. “Race, Gender, and Geopolitics in the Establishment of the UN.” In Power Interrupted: Antiracist and Feminist Activism inside the United Nations, 32–62. University of Washington Press, 2016.

Marino, Katherine M. Feminism for the Americas: The Making of an International Human Rights Movement. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019. 

Scheyer, Victoria, and Marina Kumskova. “Feminist Foreign Policy: A Fine Line Between ‘Adding Women’ and Pursuing a Feminist Agenda.” Journal of International Affairs 72, no. 2 (2019): 57–76.

Skard, Torild. “Getting Our History Right: How Were the Equal Rights of Women and Men Included in the Charter of the United Nations?” Forum for Development Studies 35, no. 1 (2008): 37-60.  

The content for this article was researched and written by Jade Ryerson, an intern with the Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education.

Last updated: August 3, 2022