Press Releases

Women’s Rights Pioneer Beate Sirota Gordon to Deliver Commencement Address at Mills College on Saturday, May 14, 2011

Oakland, CA–March 21, 2011 Mills College will celebrate its 123rd Commencement on Saturday, May 14, 2011, with an address given by Beate Sirota Gordon '43. The ceremony will begin at 9:45 am on Toyon Meadow with a graduating class that includes 270 undergraduate women and 237 graduate women and men, as well as students receiving certificates and credentials in a variety of fields. The event is open to the public.

At this year's Commencement, the Mills community will also celebrate President Janet L. Holmgren's 20-year legacy of successful college leadership. President Holmgren, who will be receiving a special honorary degree, is retiring as College President on June 30, 2011.

A proud alumna of Mills College, Gordon is best known for her contributions in helping draft Articles 14 and 24 of the Japanese constitution which guarantee full and equal rights to Japanese women. At just 22 years of age, Gordon was recruited by General Douglas MacArthur to create the Japanese constitution along with a team of 24 other Americans. Working in secret after the conclusion of World War II, the group drafted the document in just nine days, from February 4-12, 1946.

Arriving in Japan at the age of five with her family as Jewish émigrés from Russia, Gordon immersed herself in Japanese culture, becoming fluent in Japanese. In 1939 at the age of 15, she left Tokyo just as World War II was getting underway to attend Mills College. During the war, Gordon's contact with her parents was cut off, and she began working for the Office of War Information and the Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service. After the war ended, Gordon returned to Japan as translator for the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers, and it was then that she was enlisted to work on the Japanese constitution. Never forgetting childhood images of subservient Japanese wives and women, Gordon set out to draft provisions which proclaimed "the essential equality of the sexes."

Gordon did not publicly speak about her contributions to the Japanese constitution until 50 years later. In 2005, she found herself in Japan defending Articles 14 and 24 after members of the Liberal Democratic Party denounced the articles as "egoism in postwar Japan leading to the collapse of family and community." Gordon's work has inspired several biographies and a documentary film, The Gift from Beate (2004). Gordon wrote a memoir about her experiences entitled The Only Woman in the Room. She is also the former performing arts director for the Japan Society and Asia Society. Gordon, who currently lives in New York City with her husband, lectures frequently at schools, universities, and other institutions.

About Mills College
Nestled in the foothills of Oakland, California, Mills College is a nationally renowned, independent liberal arts college offering a dynamic progressive education that fosters leadership, social responsibility, and creativity to over 950 undergraduate women and more than 600 graduate women and men. The College ranks as one of the Best 373 Colleges in the country and one of the greenest colleges in the nation by The Princeton Review. U.S. News & World Report ranked Mills one of the top-tier regional universities in the country and second among colleges and universities in the West in its “Great Schools, Great Prices” category. For more information, visit www.mills.edu.

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Last Updated: 8/30/11