The 1945 San Francisco UNCIO Conference
The San Francisco Conference, formally called the United Nations Conference on International Organization (UNCIO), was the international meeting (April 25–June 26, 1945) that formally established the United Nations. The basic principles of a worldwide organization that would embrace the political objectives of the Allies had been proposed at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference in 1944 and reaffirmed at the Yalta Conference in early 1945.
The conference was attended by delegations from 46 nations—26 of which had signed the 1942 Declaration of the United Nations, which set forth the Allied aims in World War II—but the leading roles were taken by the foreign ministers of the so-called Big Four nations: U.S. Secretary of State Edward Reilly Stettinius, Jr., Anthony Eden of Great Britain, Vyacheslav Mikhaylovich Molotov of the U.S.S.R., and T.V. Soong of China. Five more members were proposed. The Ukrainian and Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republics were accepted—despite some Western objections that they were not independent countries—as were Argentina and Denmark. The Soviet-backed Lublin government in Poland was rejected because its legitimacy was not recognized by the other Allies. (Later, Poland was admitted and allowed to be considered an original member, bringing the total to 51.)
Substantive work in drawing up the United Nations’ charter was carried out by four commissions with representatives from all participating states, each assisted by two or more technical committees. The conference was dominated by discussions of the extent of the Big Four’s powers as permanent members of the United Nations’ Security Council. All of the Security Council’s decisions in non-procedural matters (such as enforcing measures against breaches of the peace, admitting new members, and so on) could be vetoed by any of the council’s four permanent members. The smaller or less powerful nations at the conference accordingly sought to whittle down the Big Four’s powers on the council. They sought to restrict the veto powers of the council; to increase the powers of the General Assembly; and to give the General Assembly the power to interpret the United Nations’ charter. The smaller nations were generally unsuccessful in all these aims, and the Big Four (subsequently the Big Five, with France’s inclusion on the Security Council) retained their supremacy in the United Nations.
On 25 June 1945, delegates met for the last time in plenary at the San Francisco Opera. The session was chaired by Lord Halifax, the head of the British delegation. As he submitted the final text of the Charter to the assembly, he said:
“The question we are about to solve with our vote is the most important thing that can happen in our lives.”
Therefore, he proposed to vote not by show of hands, but rather by having those in favor stand. Each of the delegations then stood and remained standing, as did the crowd gathered there. There was then a standing ovation when Lord Halifax announced that the Charter had been adopted unanimously.
On 26 June 1945, in the auditorium of the Veterans Memorial Hall (Herbst Theatre), the delegates signed the Charter. China signed first, as it had been the first victim of an Axis power. U.S. President Harry S. Truman in his closing remarks said:
“If we fail to use it, we shall betray all those who have died so that we might meet here in freedom and safety to create it. If we seek to use it selfishly – for the advantage of any one nation or any small group of nations – we shall be equally guilty of that betrayal.”
On 24 October 1945 the governments of China, France, Britain, the Soviet Union, notified the the United States Department of State of their ratifications of the UN Charter after their corresponding parliamentary approval. On this date the UN Charter and the constitution of this important international organization came into effect.
Video Overview of UNCIO
Warning Graphic Content
United News Newsreel. Part 1, President Truman speaks to the U.N. delegates from Washington, D.C. Personages at San Francisco: Sec of State Stettinius, Jan Christian Smuts, T.V. Soong, Anthony Eden, Molotov, Lord Halifax, Andrei Gromyko, Jan Masaryk.
Moments of Pride
The insignia of the conference became the prototype of the current logo of the United Nations. Learn more>>
Download the McLaughlinMonograph on the origins of the UNCIO emblem
Forty-six nations, including the four sponsors, were originally invited to the San Francisco Conference: nations which had declared war on Germany and Japan and had subscribed to the United Nations Declaration. Argentina (added at the end after long debate) was added to the list and Poland was not present as the representatives were debated between the Soviet Union and US. The other countries that had their delegates representatives were, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Republic, Turkey, Soviet Union, Byelorussian SSR, Ukrainian SSR, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Nicaragua, New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela and Yugoslavia. Explore the 193 United Nations member states Learn More >>
Women Leadership and Influence
Only four of the 160 delegates to UNCIO were women: Virginia Gildersleeve (USA), Bertha Lutz (Brazil), Minerva Bernardino (Dominican Republic) and Wu Yi-Fang (China). Bertha and Minerva appeared to be most influential to include “women” in the Preamble and in Article 8 and they included “sex” in addition to race, language and religious discrimination (Art. 1, 13, 55, 76). Bertha Lutz was a Brazilian scientist and Minerva Bernardino was a diplomat from the Dominican Republic not from an elite family. Virginia Gildersleeve was the long-time Dean of Barnard College, co-founder of the International Federation of University Women, and the sole female United States delegate to UNCIO. Wu Yi-Fang opposed the creation of a commission dedicated to investigating women’s rights issues because she believed that it inherently separate women and men and should instead focus on human rights over all. Her delegation was the first to sign with UN Charter representing China, the first nation to be attacked during WWII. Miss Minerva Bernardino hearing the person presiding a General Assembly session addressed the women delegates as ‘Dear Ladies’, instead of ‘Distinguished Delegates’ and before he could finish what he was saying, she asked for the floor on a procedural motion and said:
‘You can call us ladies when you offer us a cup of coffee or tea, or ask us out to lunch; here, in this room, we are not ladies, we are delegates, and should be addressed accordingly.’
Minerva Bernardino together with the other Latin American women Bertha Lutz of Brazil and Isabel de Vidal of Uruguay played a crucial role in advocating for the inclusion of women’s rights and nondiscrimination based on sex in the UN Charter (1945) which became the first international agreement to recognize the equal rights of men and women. Later in she was also instrumental with Eleanor Roosevelt and other female delegate to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (1947-48) in arguing for inclusion of “the equality of men and women” in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Muir Woods Memorial
Muir Woods National Monument (about 16 miles North from the Civic Center of San Francisco): May 19, 1945
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) who really was the designer of UNCIO and was supposed to host the conference, died on 12 April 1945 just a few days before this important event. The UNCIO delegates to give respect and honor his leadership held a commemorative ceremony on 19 May among the tall Redwood trees in Muir Woods National Monument – Cathedral Grove. Save the Redwood League, an observant organization at UNCIO and a very active civil society for the protection and preservations of these ancient forests organized the visit of the delegates and consultants with busses hoping through the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods. A plaque in the Cathedral grove commemorates this event to visitors today. Learn more>>
Conferences Preparing for UNCIO
1945: Yalta Conference
The Yalta Conference, also known as the Crimea Conference and code-named the Argonaut Conference, held February 4–11 1945, was the World War II meeting of the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union to discuss the postwar reorganization of Germany and Europe. The three states were represented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Premier Joseph Stalin. The conference was held near Yalta in Crimea within the Livadia, Yusupov, and Vorontsov Palaces. Learn more >>
1944: Dumbarton Oaks Conference
(August 21-October 7)
The Dumbarton Oaks Conference or, more formally, the Washington Conversations on International Peace and Security Organization was an international conference at which the United Nations was formulated and negotiated among international leaders. The conference was held at Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington, D.C., from August 21, 1944, to October 7, 1944. The Dumbarton Oaks Conference constituted the first important step taken to carry out paragraph 4 of the Moscow Declaration of 1943, which recognized the need for a postwar international organization to succeed the League of Nations. At the conference, delegations from Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom deliberated over proposals for the establishment of an organization to maintain peace and security in the world. Learn more >>
1943: Tehran and Moscow Conferences
(October 18-December 1)
The Tehran Conference (codenamed Eureka) was a strategy meeting of Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill from 28 November to 1 December 1943, after the Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Iran. It was held in the Soviet Union’s embassy in Tehran, Iran. It was the first of the World War II conferences of the “Big Three” Allied leaders (the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom). The Third Moscow Conference between the major Allies of World War II took place during October 18 to November 11, 1943, at the Moscow Kremlin and Spiridonovka Palace. It was composed of major diplomats, ministers and generals, who discussed cooperation in the war effort, and issued the Moscow Declaration. The Declaration of the Four Nations or the Four Power Declaration was signed on October 30, 1943, at the Moscow Conference by the Big Four: the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China. The declaration formally established the four power framework that would later influence the international order of the postwar world. It was one of four declarations signed at the conference; the other three were the Declaration on Italy, the Declaration on Austria, and the Declarations on Atrocities. Learn more >>
1942: United Nations Declaration
The Declaration by United Nations was the main treaty that formalized the Allies of World War II; the declaration was signed by 47 national governments between 1942 and 1945. On New Year’s Day 1942, the Allied “Big Four” (the US, the UK, the USSR, and China) signed a short document which later came to be known as the United Nations Declaration and the next day the representatives of twenty-two other nations added their signatures. This important document pledged the signatory governments to the maximum war effort and bound them against making a separate peace. The earliest concrete plan for a new world organization began under the aegis of the U.S. Department of State in 1939. The Declaration was drafted at the White House on December 29, 1941, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Roosevelt aide Harry Hopkins. Roosevelt first coined the term “United Nations” to describe the Allied countries. Roosevelt suggested “United Nations” as an alternative to the name “Associated Powers”. Learn more >>
The Atlantic Charter was a statement issued on 14 August 1941 that set out American and British goals for the period following the end of World War II. The joint statement, later dubbed the Atlantic Charter, outlined US and UK aims for the world as follows: no territorial aggrandizement; no territorial changes made against the wishes of the people (self-determination); restoration of self-government to those deprived of it; reduction of trade restrictions; global cooperation to secure better economic and social conditions for all; freedom from fear and want; freedom of the seas; and abandonment of the use of force, as well as disarmament of aggressor nations. Learn more >>
Historical Videos of UNCIO
San Francisco Conference Moves Ahead – Charter of the United Nations – San Francisco Conference. 26 Jun 1945 – “San Francisco Conference”, produced by US Information Agency.
Charter of the United Nations – 25 Apr 1945 – Documentary on the San Francisco Conference, 25 April to 26 June 1945.
Historical Photos of UNCIO
See the entire UN photo collection of the UNCIO conference >>
UN Anniversary Celebrations
Celebrating the UN’s 70th Anniversary in San Francisco https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5I-pjAiQ7Xk
Fanfare for all Peoples – 70th anniversary film for UN https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCOkMWv5TB0&app=desktop
History of the UN Charter – Celebrating 70 years https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rAR-TqaJD4&app=desktop
Behind the scenes of the UN General Assembly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XvKpnRPosek&app=desktop
Learn more about UNCIO
Learn more from the History of the United Nations https://www.un.org/en/sections/history-united-nations-charter/1945-san-francisco-conference/
In-depth and original documents of the conference in the UN Library: https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/1300969?ln=en
Department of State Office of the Historian reports on the UNCIO Conference https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1945v01/index