United Nations Turns 70

vintage illustrations UN Birthday Record 70

On Oct 24, 1945 nearly 2 months after WWII ended the United Nations was born. Fifty One nations pledge themselves “to keep international peace and security; to develop friendly relations with all nations; to cooperate in solving all nations problems and respect human rights and freedoms.” Has its record kept up with its glorious beginnings?

The United Nations just turned 70 and the once revered institution has not aged well.

This post war promise of peace has been plagued by paralysis, morphing into a dyspeptic dowager suffering from an interminable succession of stalemates.

It all points to its irrelevance.

UN Stamp first issue

First Issue of US Stamp United Nations 1951

That the UN should seem irrelevant now at a time of trouble when indeed it should be very relevant, is sad indeed.

The current jaundiced view of the United Nations stands in such contrasts with the utopian notion of the United Nations of my childhood.

A Marvel of Mankind’s Achievement

vintage illustration UN Mans great Achievements

Along with the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the UN was considered as one of mans most remarkable achievements. Vintage illustrations from “A Child’s Book of Mankind Through the Ages” by E.Joseph Dreany 1955

Growing up, the UN was presented to schoolchildren as a shining beacon of hope, a visionary example mankind’s great achievements.

UN Stamp

United Nations Stamp

Conceived during the horrors of WWII in a “never again” spirit it took its first steps during the deep freeze of the cold war where it teetered and tottered never quite developing its firm footing as world’s peacekeeper.

But it was faithfully cheered on, optimistically held up to the high goals of its conception.

vintage illustration children UN World peace

The UN was formed in a glorious Kumbaya moment and it wasn’t hard to imagine multicultural members of the UN joining hands around a campfire singing the righteous folk song led by Pete Seeger.

Great Expectations

vintage childrensbook illustration UN Meeting

During the war the freedom loving nations of the world decided that as soon as WWII was over they would form an organization which would try to settle disputes between countries in a peaceful way. Membership in the UN is open to all peace-loving nations that agree to live up to the UN charter The General Assembly make recommendations on cooperation between countries, on keeping peace and security on disarmament. Vintage illustration “Children’s Guide to Knowledge- Marvel of Science and Man” 1962

The UN was mythologized in schoolbooks at the time.

The great  expectations fairly leaped off the pages of the textbooks, boasting that this new institution “composed of freedom loving nations would act to prevent conflicts between nations and make future wars impossible.”

It was, it turns out, an impossible task.


UN Peace They Shall Beat Their Swords vintage childrens book illustrations

Vintage illustration “Children’s Guide to Knowledge- Marvel of Science and Man” 1962

“The UN was trying to help the world keep peace. The idea that through talking to each other we can settle problems instead of using force is such a new one that we have to grow accustomed to it.”

It would seem it is a concept we have never grown accustomed to.

 Plays Well With Others

The United Nations was popularized and mythologized to children not only in schoolbooks, but in popular culture from activity books, comics and coloring books .

UN Coloring Book page

Make sure to use all the colors in your crayola box when coloring the Unites Nations, Page from a vintage coloring book 1957


UN Jack and Jill Magazine 1952 New UN Headquarters

Vintage children’s magazine celebrating the birthday of the new UN building October 1952. The United Nations was originally located in Lake Success, N.Y. until Mrs. John D. Rockefeller donated some land along the East River in NYC to serve as permanent headquarters. By 1952 the UN settled into its permanent home.s.

Even Betsy McCall got to the visit the UN in 1959.

Betsy McCall, the popular paper doll featured in  Mcalls Magazine since 1951,  regularly went to birthday parties , visited relatives, and played at the beach.  But by  1959 , Betsy’s activities took a more patriotic tone as we followed her on her visits to the White House, West Point and in September the United Nations


Betsy McCall visits the UN

Vintage Betsy McCall Paper Doll September 1959 McCalls Magazine

For her special visit to N.Y.C. and the UN,  little girls could dress Betsy  in a black velvet topped  cotton plaid dress clutching a Hi Neighbor book and  a beautiful red coat that was “belted just like a movie stars.”

Driving into NYC with her parents from her all American “little white house with a porch and a backyard to play in” Betsy was understandably all keyed up to be at the United Nations..

“Isn’t it just like a holiday?” Betsy cried,

And it was, the reader is assured, “with the enormous flags of all nations fluttering from a long row of flagpoles and a zillion windows sparkling in the sun.”

UN Flags Member Nations

Vintage Illustration from “Childrens Guide to Knowledge Marvels of Science and Man” ” Parents Institute 1962

Inside, Betsy and her joined other visitors on a guided tour who we learn  “was an Indian lady…She wore a beautiful long scarf called a sari, wrapped around her..she showed them great meeting rooms where delegates would come from 82 countries to settle their problems without war.”

In one room  Betsy visited  there was a lovely statue of a little girl reaching for a huge bird. “That child is like a young nation reaching for independence,” said the guide. The UN protects young nations until they can care for themselves.”

“The way my parents look after me?” Betsy asks.

“Exactly!” said the guide.

One can only hope poor Betsy parents weren’t as dysfunctional as the UN would eventually become.

 Post Script:

Vintage childrens schoolbook illustration 1962 UN doctors treating children

Vintage childrens schoolbook illustration 1962

Though the UNs brand has often been tarnished, it  undermines the heroic and remarkable humanitarian work it has achieved. It would be unfair not to cite examples of the UN’s remarkable achievements over the past 70 years – the defeat of small pox, the millions saved by vaccines , refugees workers and food aid  and of course the great efforts of UNICEF.

Next: Trick or Treat For UNICEF

© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



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