In the Beginning
On September 2nd Japan officially signed the documents of surrender with the Allied Powers and General MacArthur assumed the position of Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, or more realistically the American Occupation. Soon after Katō Shidzue and her husband, the labor leader and left-wing politician, Katō Kanjū were invited to Occupation headquarters to discuss political issues. The Americans were interested in Katō Shidzue's ideas for implementing MacArthur's determination to "liberate" the women of Japan. Shidzue stunned her questioners with her understanding of democratic ideals and the practical work she and other women had performed before the war in their own efforts to gain women their human rights. She also gave a list of names of women who would be helpful in the days ahead as Japanese women claimed their role in the new democracy.
Katō and her activist associates proved to be well versed in the significance of enfranchisement and political equality. They surprised both the Occupation authorities and Japanese men, however, in their assertion that political equality would fall short of the mark they had set for liberation. These women saw the importance of combining political rights with economic and social liberation based on specific laws which promoted women's and children's welfare, thereby providing the foundation for real equality between men and women.
The MacArthur Constitution and Women's Rights
After much pushing and pulling Occupation authorities got the sitting (wartime) government to pass an election law in late December of 1945 which enfranchised women and set the rules for new elections. Next this same wartime group was asked by SCAP to revise the prewar Meiji Constitution. At the same time several groups and individuals on the left and the right took it upon themselves to either revise or write a new constitution. MacArthur and others at the Government Section determined by early February that these men were not up to the task. MacArthur appointed a group of 19 men and 4 women to write a "democratic" constitution. The group was given one week in order to outflank the international oversight committee known as the Far Eastern Commission or FEC. MacArthur gave minimal but important guidance in terms of three principles. The first two were: retain the emperor; abolish war and the instruments of war. The third stated that "the feudal system of Japan will cease." The work was begun on February 4th and was presented to Japanese government officials on February 13th.
The committee assigned to draft the Human Rights Provisions was composed of Dr. Pieter K. Roest, 47; Harry Emerson Wildes, 55; and Beate Sirota (Gordon), a 22yr. old Mills College graduate. They were responsible for researching and writing about one third of the Constitution. (31 articles in the final draft). None of these three had legal training but two had experience in Japan (Wiles and Gordon).
Gordon was assigned to the areas of women and education. She began by gathering constitutions of European governments and augmented appropriate clauses with her childhood observations of the subordinate role of Japanese women. She was influenced by the constitutions from the Weimar Republic, USSR, France, and The Scandinavian countries, all of which spelled out promotion of welfare, often specifically mentioning women and children.
Two articles written by Gordon made it into the American Draft.