John Gilbert Winant – the third Director of the ILO 1939-1941 / Carol Riegelman Lubin

John Gilbert Winant – the third Director of the ILO 1939-1941 / Carol Riegelman Lubin

Mrs. Carol Riegelman LubinI, ILO Official 1935 to 1952, has written a personal account of the late John G. Winant. Considering the short period he was Director and the many years, which since have passes since then, it is not surprising that he is little known today. In this personal account, Mrs. Riegelman Lubin gives a vivid description of the events which led to Winant joining the ILO, the dramatic years as Director and his further career after having resigned in 1941.

 I have been asked to write an account of John Gilbert Winant1 (known as Gil by his friends and Governor by his political supporters) because neither his personality nor his achievements are

remembered today by most of the staff or former staff of the ILO. I first met him during the summer of 1934, when, immediately after the US joined the ILO, Harold B. Butler, the Director, offered Winant the post of Assistant Director and asked me to tell him about the ILO and convince him to accept the appointment.

Why did Butler select me – a twenty-five year old research assistant at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – to take on this responsibility? The answer is that I was one of a very small number of US citizens who knew anything about the ILO and whom Butler knew well. I had spent the summer of 1929-30, at the end of my junior year at Smith College, doing research at the ILO for my senior “dissertation”. After several weeks of asking advice from ILO officials such as Urwick and Spates of the International Management Institute, Richardson and Ellison of ILO staff and various others whose suggestions varied from the history of the Convention on Maternity Leave to a comparison of the economic work of the League and ILO, Pône, Clottu and De Maday took me in hand and decided I should study the evolution of the Standing Orders of the ILO. The result was a very busy summer with time at the ILO shared with lectures at the Zimmern International Summer School. (The details are in a daily diary that I kept that summer.)

I returned to Smith College in September 1929, and when I looked at my notes I realized I lacked details about the origins of the ILO. So in spring vacation I went to the office of James T. Shotwell, Professor of History at Columbia University and Director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who, I knew, had been a member of the US delegation to the Peace Conference, served on the Commission that had written the Constitution of the International Labour Organization and had been the US member of the Organizing Committee of the ILO. He opened his papers to me – I was the first person who had ever asked to see them – and then got amused and interested by my questions (first time I had ever seen original documents). He told me to send him my paper when it was finished – and then to come and see him when I graduated. This I did and he told me that he had decided to write the History of the Origins of the ILO and invited me to be his research assistant – thus beginning five years of happy education in which I met all the top level staff of the ILO and most of the participants in the founding of the ILO.

We used the book then in page proof, as a document in the Congressional discussion for the membership of the US in the ILO. It was in connection with the publishing of this two volume study that I met Albert Thomas and then worked closely with Butler. Shotwell was not only a close friend of Butler ever since they worked together at the Peace Conference but also Butler’s closest link in his dealings with ILO/US relationships.

So with this as background, it was natural for Butler to ask me to “inform” Winant about the ILO. (He also at this time suggested that if Winant accepted I should come to Geneva as his assistant. I never knew whether Winant was aware of this when he later asked me to come). Winant was then the out-going Governor of New Hampshire (the Constitution of New Hampshire prohibits more than two successive terms) and had told Butler that he would not be able to give him a definite answer for several months.

After one long interview (in his wife’s NY apartment), he told me to keep in touch while he analysed the situation. I found that the best opportunity to talk to him that summer was at Dog Shows – where he was showing bull terriers (his wife raised and showed West Highland Whites), and I was showing a Cairn terrier and an Old English Sheepdog. His decision-making took more than six months – to the great frustration of Harold Butler.

Once Winant had decided to go to the ILO, there were long negotiations as to the timing and as to what his responsibilities would be. It was finally agreed that he should come to Geneva in time to attend the 1935 International Labour Conference, and the preceding session of the Governing Body. He asked me to go along as his assistant. He also invited the daughter of a very close New Hampshire colleague, Abbie Rollins2, a PhD student at Yale, to come for the summer as part of his staff. His personal secretary, Mary Healy3, who had worked for him ever since he was an administrator and teacher at St. Paul’s School, was to join him later in the summer. So Mr. and Mrs. Winant, their son John, Abbie and I proceeded to Geneva on the same ship as the first official US delegation to the International Labour Conference4.

The voyage was an eye-opener for all of us! First, in personal terms, Abbie and I (both 26 and 25 years old) decided we needed to know how Winant expected us to work, and agreed that since I knew the ILO and she knew a lot about his personal relations, we should divide the work accordingly. We then went to him with our ideas – which he promptly reversed! Then I, haring been well trained by Shotwell, asked if we should keep minutes – or a diary – of meetings, interviews etc. or whether he would dictate a summary. His answer – “Christ, child, don’t you know that no politician puts anything on paper”. In fact, as I soon learned, he put everything on scraps of paper, kept them in his pocket and ultimately turned them over to Mary. Winant was always a complicated boss as he never separated personal and official relations. He was concerned with the personal life of those around him and expected the same absorption in the job as in personal life.

Once many years later I was asked by Averill Harriman, when he was Governor of New York State, what Winant was like to work for and without thinking I answered “rather like working for you”- and then bit my tongue as I almost continued that “you both struggled over every word for hours when writing a speech to make it perfect and neither of you could read it properly”. However I answered – the chief difference is that you call us at 6 am to talk policy and Winant did not hesitate to keep us working till after midnight!

More seriously, to return to 1935, the delegation held daily meetings, to which we were invited, to prepare their positions for Geneva based on full documentation. The ILO had not given Winant any papers of this kind and so for the first time he learned from the US delegation what the discussions of the Conference would be about and the significance to the US of the adoption of the proposed Convention on the 40 hour week. In the course of the voyage, Charles Wyzanski, the Solicitor of the Department of Labor, received a cable informing him that the Supreme Court had declared the NRA’s5 National Industrial Recovery Act unconstitutional and therefore invalidated the wage and hour legislation that had been put into effect in the US. Adoption of a 40 Hour Work week by the ILO might be used as a tool in the US battle for reduced working hours.

It was only on the train trip from the boat to Paris that Winant was shown the Governing Body paper6 indicating that he was expected to take an oath of office before the Governing Body in which he would agree to be responsible to the Director of the ILO7, alone, on letter-head paper which had the League of Nations parallel to the ILO. He exploded and Charles Wyzanski, the Solicitor of the Department of Labor agreed with him that he could not take such an oath. On arrival in Paris, I took Winant to the office of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to obtain the advice of Malcolm Davis, a good friend and long supporter of international institutions – and from there we telephoned to Butler. After long debate – including Winant’s threat to return to the US – it was agreed that we would stay in Paris until after the Governing Body had completed its session and only arrive in Geneva after the Conference had started! In fact Winant never took the oath before the Governing Body until he was elected Director, by which time the reference to the League had been removed8. But even then he was unhappy about the whole concept of the loyalty oath which stated that he “would not seek or accept instructions from any government or other authority.” In his view, as a US citizen his first loyalty was to the Government of the US and as a former elected Governor, he would always be loyal to those who had elected him.

The 1935 Conference was a benchmark in ILO history – with the participation of both the US and the USSR9 in the adoption of the Convention No 47 on the Forty-Hour week. For Winant it was a learning experience, both with respect to the ILO internal bureaucracy and to the degree to which compromises were difficult tools to use internationally and multi-lingually.

Immediately after the Conference all the top senior staff went on leave and Winant suddenly found himself in charge of an office which he didn’t really know. His informal approach and open-door operations were unfamiliar to most of the staff- and his lack of any French language skills did not help. Still in a very short time he learned whom he could count upon as effective colleagues. But after only about a month he was asked by the President to return to the US to become a top member  of the Administration – the question put to him was whether he would rather be head of the National Labor Relations Board or the Social Security Board.

With cables flying between Winant and Secretary Perkins, he sought to reach his ILO boss – Harold Butler – to learn his attitude but he was vacationing somewhere on the French coast. Finally reached, he regretfully agreed that John Winant should return to the US to explore the situation – and then determine what should be done.

In the short time that Winant, initially, was in Geneva he had been made responsible for not only US relations but also for the preparation of the upcoming first Labour Conference of the American States Members which are Members of the ILO to be held in Santiago, Chile (2-14 January 1936), and the planning for the Textile Conference to be held in Washington (2-17 April 1937).

This was of particular concern to him because he had been a key arbitrator in the textile industry in the US while he was Governor. As one of his first acts he reorganized the Washington Office and put a close colleague from his earlier days (Ethel Johnsonr10, known as the Bluebird) in charge – which gave him an unofficial liaison office during the period that he was in the US as head of the Social Security Board. Throughout this period, Winant never lost touch with the ILO. At one time when Butler was in the US, he realized how closely Winant was following the work of the ILO, and then asked him specifically to keep an eye on the Washington Office! Technically he used the ILO to help him set up the US social security system. He brought Adrien Tixier, Chief of the ILO Social Security Section (later Assistant Director in 1937) and several members of his staff to Washington to advise the new Social Security Board. Winant returned to Geneva in 1936 as the head of the US delegation to the 20th Session of the International Labour Conference, of which he was elected Vice-President, and in 1937 he chaired the Textile Conference, held in Washington also as head of the US delegation.

I wrote him weekly letters throughout, although this was personal rather than official. Anyone who worked directly for Winant considered him the boss for the rest of his/her life! My letters, as I remember, were as much about staff, activities of the Office of the US Labor Commissioner and Consulate and political developments at the League as about ILO activities as such.

ln 1937 when Winant had left the Social Security Board (a US political decision outside the scope of this article) Butler convinced him to return to the ILO as Assistant Director11 – but with the private understanding that Butler intended to resign before the end of his term (i.e. 1942) and would make every effort to have Winant succeed him. During the period of his Assistant Directorship Winant’s major emphasis was on improving the ILO’s technical capacity in the economic field and strengthening it’s relationships in the America’s – especially with Latin-American and Caribbean countries, some of which were not members of the ILO. This meant that he was very frequently away from Geneva and therefore remained somewhat unknown to the staff at large.

Winant’s work hours were normally to start relatively late and to stay very late at night – so the staff he knew best were those likely to be found in their offices after seven or eight pm. Despite his personal shyness, Winant liked informal contact with his colleagues and would frequently call someone into discuss an issue and keep him talking for long periods – even when others were waiting or he was due some place else!

One of his major forms of relaxation at this time was to take long lunch hours to look at houses in the ring of villages that surround Geneva and consider where he wanted to live. He had rented a very large “mansion” in Vésenaz-Cologny (on the left side of the Lake) where his staff provided for his eleven year old son (then at the International School of Geneva) and a number of young US women who were working at the ILO in various short- term positions. His wife meantime was in and out of Geneva touring in a small Ford car, and building strong social connections. Winant’s other two children at this time were in boarding schools and only came to Geneva occasionally during vacations. Winant belonged to a large family – both on his side and his wife’s – and many turned up in Geneva from time to time to learn what was going on.

Winant was an instinctive politician with a deep concern for human rights; his lifelong idol was Abraham Lincoln12. Winant often discussed his admiration for Lincoln based on his freeing of the slaves and would get very angry when any of us insisted that the role of Lincoln as slave freer was secondary to the economic situation that brought the civil war. Winant began his career as a history teacher at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, which he had himself attended. When he decided to go into politics he campaigned house to house as a liberal Republican seeking office in an almost entirely conservative Republican state. He served under Roosevelt as the Republican Member of the Social Security Board. Although to all the world he seemed to have become a Democrat, he never changed his party membership even while adopting the principles of the New Deal.

 The coming of the War

With the approach of the Second World War, the international situation deteriorated and with Fascism and Nazism rampant, the role of the Organization in case of war became the major issue under discussion in the Office with a sharp division between the “universalists” or “neutralists” and those who wanted the ILO to be an active supporter of the future united allies and plan for the future of international bodies.

As the world crisis came to a head, Butler faced an internal crisis in the ILO. The Director of the Paris Office had died in 1937 and the French Government insisted that Butler name Marius Viple as his successor. Butler refused to do this as he considered Viple inappropriate for the post. When his own Government did not fully support his position, Butler decided to resign and accept the post of Warden of Nuffield College, Oxford. On 28 April 1938, he officially announced to the Governing Body his desire to relinquish his post as Director and the campaign for his successor began.

Winant’s campaign reflected his own inherent position. He immediately went to Washington to find out how fully Roosevelt would support him if he were elected – both with respect to finances and politics – and how far he could count on both US labor leaders and employers to push for his election. Receiving warm support – and agreement that the US Government would exert pressure on his behalf- he announced that he would be a candidate and returned to Geneva to electioneer. This procedure almost cost him the election – because under staff regulations he had no right to seek government support, and because it demonstrated that he would seek to have US approval for his role as Director. The only other candidate was another Assistant Director, E.J. Phelan, a well-liked Irishman, who had played a leading role in the ILO from the outset – and who really deserved the position. But recognition of the importance of having a US citizen supported by President Roosevelt and not an Irish national to head the ILO under the circumstances of 1938 won the day. Phelan withdrew his candidacy14 and Winant was elected by the Governing Body at its 84th Session on 4 June 1938 – by 28 votes in his favour and 2 blank ballots. Phelan would probably have been elected under normal peace-time conditions but, in the critical political situation, could probably not have saved the ILO as Winant then did.

The 1938 Conference was another benchmark. It was the last Conference for Butler15, as Director and the first for Winant, as Director-Elect. The major issues turned on the procedures for ILO continuation in case of war, the role it should take, the establishment of emergency machinery (the Emergency Committee of the Governing Body16) and the election of a new Governing Body. Throughout, the US dominated the Conference. Frances Perkins, the US Secretary of Labor, fulfilled her earlier promise to Butler to chair the US delegation to the Conference. She had visited the ILO in 1936 but never before attended a Conference. She used the session to emphasize the President’s support as well as her own for the work of the ILO in case of war.

By the time of the June 1939 Conference, war was imminent. Psychologically the war had begun and all concerns were on what to do next. This was the only session of the ILC Cat which Winant served as Secretary-General. The first sentence in the Foreword of his Report, dated 10 May 1939, and entitled The World of Industry and Labour – reads as follows: At this time in presenting to you the Director’s Report, the opportunity of pointing to clear skies ahead is not given to me – and the enumeration of the accompIishments of the Organization during the closing year seems by itself inadequate. The Foreword concludes: In commending this Report to you, may I leave you with a single thought. Across from the International Labour Office is a statue symbolizing the workers of the world. It was erected in grateful memory to Albert Thomas. Cut in the stone is this sentence: “They did not take my life. I gave it. “Let us see to it that we do no less.

During this period, Winant asked a number of the senior staff to work out not only what the ILO could do in war-time17 but which of the staff should be used in what locations. From this request the future staff deployment plan was developed. First there was the A list – the indispensable key staff who would be maintained and moved to whatever location was to be the temporary headquarters. Then the B list – the nationally mobilizeable persons who would be put on leave and sent to their own countries if they wished. The C list would be given the choice of retirement or unpaid leave, and told to be ready to return when feasible. The staff on the small D list would be kept in Geneva for maintenance. These lists (General Instruction Nr 8 of 16 May 1940, with changes from time to time) were in fact used for the deployment that took place in July 1940. During the interim period, it was decided that if necessary the A list would go to Vichy, France, and all of us on the A list sent a large suitcase of clothes and any “essential documentation” to the Hôtel de Sévigny, in Vichy. Ultimately after the fall of France, the personal suitcases etc. were returned but the documentation remained until after the war when it was recovered unopened.

Meanwhile Winant went to the US (as well as to London etc.) to explore the various groups suggestions for war-time activities, and to prepare for the Second Conference of American States Members to be held in Havana, Cuba, 21 November to 2 December 1939. In spite of the war, the Havana the Havana Conference was very successful, and served as an enlightening experience for many of us unaccustomed to Latin-American courtesy. This was still during the dictatorship of General Batista, who thoroughly enjoyed the occasion. Although Winant was aware of Batista’s activities in Cuba, he found him personally charming and enjoyed the time spent with him18. A few months later the whole situation changed with the invasion of the Scandinavian countries, the fall of Belgium and France. Families of staff were sent home and many panicked that Geneva would be over-run. I remember being in Winant’s office one morning when Ernest Francis Penrose, a distinguished US economist whom Winant had hired, rushed into the office, saying we all must leave Geneva immediately – it wasn’t safe. He and several other Americans did go to the US at that time. By contrast several of us held regular picnics in the fields leading up to the Jura where we watched the Germans ambling around just across the frontier.

Shortly after, Switzerland, now surrounded by Axis-controlled territories, informed the ILO that it feared for its own neutrality if the League and the ILO carried out international meetings or negotiations in Geneva and suggested we find operating headquarters elsewhere. Winant then began negotiations for a move to the US initially assuming that this would be welcome. In spite of strong support from Secretary Perkins, from the AFL (American Federation of Labor) and the Employers representatives, Secretary of State Cordell Hull turned the ILO down. He feared that agreement to give the ILO temporary headquarters (with diplomatic standing) might endanger pending negotiations with respect to sending ships to Britain (a programme that later became “lend-lease”) and be used by those speaking for the group known as the America First against the War in Europe, a prominent group then headed by Charles Lindberg19?

Accepting the political situation in the US, Winant then consulted with some of the members of the Emergency Committee, and considered alternative locations, varying from the Azores to Brazil. In the course of these discussions Winant met Hume Wrong, the Canadian Government member of the Governing Body, who suggested that the ILO should go to Canada and undertook preliminary inquiries20. Winant went to Ottawa, on July 25 where Mackenzie King, the Prime Minister, quickly gave approval to the plans to host the ILO in Montreal21. Winant selected this city as the location because his close college friend, Dr. Wilder Penfield, head of the Neurological Institute of McGill University was ready to convince Dr. F. Cyril James, to provide adequate space on the McGill campus to house an ILO Working Centre. On 16 August, Winant sent a telegram to Cyril James22 accepting the offer. The ILO’s future was secured!

The next question was to obtain the approval of the Officers of the Governing Body and as many members of the Emergency Committee as could be reached. Negotiation of these issues while keeping them secret even from the staff concerned was necessary because Canada was an ally at war and some ILO members, as well as staff, were either neutral or enemy.

One element in the negotiations which preceded the determination of Canada as the wartime Centre was the procurement of transit visas first for the US and then for occupied France, Spain and Portugal – the only route out of Geneva. Winant got the State Department to agree to blind transit visas, which made possible the passage through to Lisbon without indication of ultimate destination. I made almost daily drives to Berne for about a week taking staff passports to get the agreed upon visas.

July 4th of 1940 was a dramatic day. Early in the morning Winant, with T. T. Scott, then his Chef de Cabinet, Kitty Natzio, a UK member of the staff and Betsey Mayer (Johnstone) US and one of his closest colleagues secretly drove out of Geneva, using his wife’s small Ford car.

Hoping that no-one would know of his departure, he found at the frontier Madame G. Laverrière (the former chief of the Typing, Multigraph and Roneo Branch), who had accepted national service, stamped their passports and of course immediately notified her colleagues at the Office! Their trip to Lisbon is a story by itself. At the Spanish frontier they encountered so many problems that they simply abandoned the car and took a bus on to Lisbon23.

That afternoon I met Carter Goodrich (Chairman of the Governing Body), Noel Field (then on the League staff who ultimately disappeared in Czechoslovakia) and Bill Schirer, a US journalist just in from Germany and sure that Germany would soon win and that Geneva would be over-run. After swimming we went to the usual US party and denied that Winant had left Geneva!

 Shortly after, in mid July 194024 I was ordered by Winant to go to Lisbon and I then drove out of Geneva with Carter Goodrich. As a young American with no passport problems and no desire to go to the non-belligerent US I was the ideal candidate for transfer agent in Lisbon.

When I arrived in Lisbon I found that Winant had finally got a plane home and that Kitty and Scott had gone on to London. Betsey Mayer, Ainsworth Johnstone and a few others were still waiting for transport, and for instructions as to what to do next. I was told to meet the first busload of Geneva staff and find them accommodation and passages. This busload was led by Adrien Tixier who, in the middle of the night, asked me where we could meet in the morning. My only thought was the night club where we had been meeting each evening – and so for the next two months the ILO staff met there every morning at 11. Before that I would have coffee at the Pan American Air lines, the Greek Lines and the American Export lines to learn what passages were available. After what were somewhat bitter staff meetings, I would go to the Aviz hotel where Phelan was staying. He had driven out by backroads with his wife and Ronald Mortished, another Irishman, who was urgently needed in Montreal at the new Centre.

For many days Phelan cabled – and telephoned – to Winant insisting that he must come to Lisbon and explain to the staff what he expected them to do and try to answer their questions and raise their moral. Finally Winant agreed to come for a one or two day visit. After meeting in September with ILO staff, the US Ambassador (an old friend) and Portuguese authorities, he was delayed in getting a return plane! When he finally got off, the plane was held up by weather in the Azores for several days – to Winant’s enormous frustration. He walked all over the islands – and bought three chess sets. The whole trip had taken 17 days!

Winant had agreed that Phelan should stay in Lisbon for a meeting of the League Supervisory Committee which was going to determine both the League and ILO budgets for the next two years. Phelan asked me to stay and serve as his secretary throughout the meetings where he would represent both the ILO and the League. Sean Lester, also an Irishman, who was then Acting Secretary General of the League (Avenol having resigned and returned to France), had been turned back at the Spanish frontier. Once the Committee meeting ended, Winant ordered me to come to Montreal – though I had hoped to go back to Geneva. I got Phelan and his wife and myself on the last American Export line ship The Excambion sailing – where we found ex-King Carol of Romania – and we had an uneventful return to New York3. We drove with the Phelans to Montreal after only one or two days in New York.

Arriving in Montreal we found the ILO Working Centre26 ensconced in the small chapel of which there are many pictures! The only separation between desks was the piled up pews. The only two private offices were the dressing rooms off the stage, one of which was occupied by Winant and the other reserved for Phelan However this situation was temporary, and adequate space was found in a few weeks.

The staff gradually found appropriate living quarters, many in boarding houses, others in small rental apartments and got down to their normal work. Winant initially stayed at the Ritz Hotel but then took an apartment where his family joined him for the Christmas holidays. – Although the Office by now had settled in Montreal Winant was never there for any long stretch of time.

Once the negotiations with the Canadian authorities were completed, and a work programme for the staff put in place, the future of the ILO seemed assured. It was at that time, shortly after the first Christmas in Montreal, that Winant received a telephone call asking him to go to Washington to meet with the President the following day.

His own description of the interview is given in his book Letter from Grosvenor Square in which Winant indicates that the President never directly asked him if he would serve as his Ambassador to the Court of St. James28. Several days later, after he had returned to Montreal, he learned, from the press, that “the President had sent his name to the Senate” for approval of his nomination. He knew by then that he wanted to be part of the direct war-time actions and that he could in fact do as much for the ILO in that position as its Director in Montreal.

Shortly after he went to New York where he set up an office at the Roosevelt Hotel, and began the operation of officially resigning from the International Labour Office and preparing to go to London as US Ambassador. He asked me and some other members of the staff to come to New York and help with these procedures, especially in informing the members of the Governing Body of his intention to resign28. That began a difficult period of drafting letters, with the aid of the Chairman of the Governing Body – while at the same time Winant was dealing with the elopement of his daughter. The family gathered in Concord for a formal wedding between his daughter Constance and a young Peruvian, Carlos Valando, that she had met after a Conference in Lima29 where she accompanied her father who represented the ILO together with Oswald Stein. Then, negotiations with the ILO Emergency Committee representatives completed, Winant said farewell and departed in February 1941 for London as the US Ambassador, replacing Joseph Kennedy.

The story of Winant’s extraordinary success as war-time Ambassador is outside the scope of this article-but in concluding the story of Winant’s ILO activities mention should be made of his continuing concern not only with its programme but also with its staff. He recruited several to work with him at the London embassy for various periods. He also assisted others of us in carrying out ILO missions in England, Scotland and Wales, and facilitated the participation of the delegations from the Governments in Exile to both the 194I Extraordinary Conference in New York and the 26th Session of the International Labour Conference, 1944, in Philadelphia. Finally, after he returned to the US and served on the Economic and Social Council of the UN, he was the US Government Delegate who voted for the acceptance of the International Labour Organization as a Specialized Agency.

Winant’s period of service on the Economic and Social Council was a tiresome and frustrating experience. He frequently found himself making statements from instructions by the State Department that he personally disagreed with. He did not have the same relationship with Truman that he had had with Roosevelt and could not therefore override the State Department. Rather than undertaking an open fight, Winant resigned and thus ended his foreign service on 19 December 1946.

John Winant with his family

Winant at the time was under contract with Houghton Mifflin Company to write a two volume book on his service as Ambassador. This was the first time he had ever written a book and he had great difficulty making himself complete the writing. Immediately after he left the Embassy he rented a small house in London and started work on the book – along with making a large number of farewell speeches around the country.

By the time he resigned from ECOSOC he had completed a substantial part of the first volume but was being pressed by the publisher to finish. In 1947 he was working alone in Concord, at his home, and from time to time inviting some of us to visit him on the weekends. He was also sounding out his former New Hampshire Republican colleagues on the political possibilities available to him – and getting negative responses. The Republican Party in New Hampshire was not interested in liberals or in people who had worked for Roosevelt. Winant’s urge to serve was as strong as ever – but he did not see any immediate openings in either the national or international scene.

On the 3 November in the afternoon when the first printed copy of his book was to be delivered, tired physically and mentally and in a very depressed and lonely mood, he took his own life. At almost that same moment Andrew Cordier and other leaders of the UN were considering his name as a possible candidate for Governor of Jerusalem. Had he known this he might have taken a different path – but we will never know.



1 He was born 23 February 1889; died 3 November 1947.

2 Abbie A. Rollins born 8 May 1909) joined the ILO 15 May to 15 August 1935. (IE)

3 Mary C. Healy (born 28 April 1914) joined the ILO from 20 August to 30 September 1935 and reappointed 1 July 1937 to 30 Novenrber 1940. (IE)

4 The delegation left New York on board “SS Manhattan” on 22 May 1935. (IE)

5 The National Recovery Administration was created in 1933 to establish and enforce rules for business practice. The laws enforced minimum wage and maximum hours of work. In May 1935, the Supreme Court invalidated the NRA and the legislation that created it. (IE)

6 GB. 71/6/1097. The GB papers were received by the US delegation on their arrival in Le Havre on 29 May, following the request to the ILO of 23 May 1935 of William G. Rice Jr., Representative of the Department of Labor in Geneva [file D 771/200]. (IE)

7 The Declaration does not literally refer to the Director per se but reads: ” … not to seek or receive instructions from any Government or other authority external to the International Labour Office.” (IE)

8 The Office used two letterhead forms, one with the mention of the League of Nations, the other without, for use in communications with nations not members of the League, e.g. USA. (IE)

9 Both nations having joined the ILO in 1934. (IE)

10 Ethel M. Johnson (born 20 November 1882) joined the ILO Washington Branch Office on 19 August 1935; she retired on 5 October 1943. (IE)

11 Reappointed is from 11 August 1937. (IE)

12 When during the war, we devised a code for communication, Winant’s name was Abe. Looking at the code today, it is a clear reflection of the atmosphere of the ILO in 1940. Avenol, the Secretary General of the League of Nations, was Uncle, while the League itself was Hill; Laval was Andrew; Geneva was Home, while Montreal was Mountain etc. (author’s note)

14 However, he was appointed Deputy Director as of 1 June 1939, the same post as Butler had occupied under Albert Thomas. (IE)

15 His resignation took effect as of 31 December 1938. (IE)

16 1938-42. lt consisted of four Government representatives and two members each from the Employers’ and Workers’ Groups. (IE)

17 At its 86th Session, February 1939, the Governing Body had adopted a report confirming the intention to have the ILO function as normally as possible in case of crisis. (IE)

18 I was on home leave when the war began and my passport was removed since I was an American woman and not permitted to travel then. Winant then assigned me to the Washington Office to help prepare for the Havana Conference – and attend it as staff. At the end of the Conference my passport was returned and we all returned to Geneva. (Author’s note)

19 The Administration feared the disapproval of a still isolationist Congress, and furthermore 1940 was an election year. There are conflicting views on the ILO refusal. See also Antony Alcock: History of the International Labour Organisation, London 1971, page 159. (IE.)

20 During a conversation in London at the beginning of July, the Legal Adviser C.W. Jenks suggested that the ILO opt for Canada. See his article: The ILO in wartime. Offprint of the Labour Gazette, Ottawa 1969. (IE)

21 Details concerning these negotiations and an extract from Mackenzie King’s Diary are available in The International Labour Organization: A Canadian View by John Mainwaring, published by the Canadian Ministry of Labour, Ottawa 1986. Also in French. (Author’s note)

22 “Thank you for your kindness in extending the ILO generous hospitality of McGill University which we gratefully accept. I shall send you shortly as you suggest information as to our space needs and will meet you in Montreal the first week of September. With deep appreciation”. Original in the McGill University, copy at ILO file Z I/II/4/4.   (IE)

23 I had to deal with the TCS (the Swiss AA) for years over the fact that the Carnet de Passage was never turned in. (Author’s note)

24 I think that it was either 17 or 18 July. We drove by the way of Cannes since we had planned to pick up two Kerr children (little ones) whose mother was in Canada and father in UK and take them to Lisbon, but when we got there it had been decided that they were better off staying with their aunt. (Author’s note)

25 I would assume that the ship left close to 24 and must have arrived in New York about 28 October. (IE)

26 This was the official term for the Office. The Headquarters per se remained in Geneva for legal reasons. (I.E)

27 “The President asked me many questions about the men I had known in Europe during my long sojourn there, and about conditions as I had understood them in Europe and Great Britain. There was a good deal to tell him… There was no mention of the Court of St. James.” (Cited from Winant’s book Letter from Grosvenor Square, page 11)

28 John Winant’s resignation took effect as of 15 February 1941. For a vivid description of these hectic days, see the article by Edward Phelan The ILO sets up its wartime centre in Canada, in Studies, Dublin, Summer 1955. Reprinted in Edward Phelan and the ILO (ILO 2009).  (IE)

29 The Inter-American Committee on Social Security.

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