Beate Gordon, rights champion, dies

Jan. 2, 2013 at 6:22 AM
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NEW YORK, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Beate Sirota Gordon, credited with drafting women's rights into post-war Japanese Constitution, died at her New York home at age 89, her daughter said.

Gordon, born to Russian Jewish parents, died Sunday of pancreatic cancer at her home, her daughter Nicole said.

The New York Times said Gordon, who went to Japan with her family in 1929, was responsible for including women's rights in the Japanese Constitution but the fact had remained unknown for years as the writing had been done in secrecy. It wasn't until she emerged as a feminist heroine in recent years that her contribution became known.

"Her last public statements had to do with preserving the peace clause and the women's rights sections of the Japanese Constitution," Nicole Gordon told Kyodo News. "She was opposed to amendment of the Constitution in general but those are the parts that (were) of the most concern for her."

Gordon was born in 1923 in Vienna as the only child of noted pianist Leo Sirota and Augustine Horenstein, and went to Japan when her father was invited to teach in Tokyo, Kyodo reported.

In 1939, Gordon went to California where she became a U.S. national. After graduation, Gordon worked with Time magazine in New York.

Fluent in English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish and Russian, Gordon returned to Japan in 1945 to work as interpreter and translator.

It was there that Gordon, then 22, worked on drafting the human rights clauses of the Constitution, including Article 24 stipulating the equality of the sexes. Kyodo said she was involved in negotiations between the Japanese government and Allied Forces over the wording of the Constitution, which was promulgated in 1946.

Gordon returned to the United States and married fellow interpreter Joseph Gordon. The couple became parents of a boy and a girl.

Gordon worked at the Japan Society in New York and often visited Japan to speak about the Constitution and its Article 9 under which Japan renounced war.

The New York Times said Gordon was the last living person from among those who wrote the Japanese Constitution. Her work on women's rights in the document included rights pertaining to marriage, divorce, property and inheritance, which weren't available to Japanese women before.

In 1970, Gordon became director of performing arts at the Asia Society in New York and in that role, traveled extensively in search of talents.

The Times said Gordon's husband died last August.

Gordon was the winner of the Order of the Sacred Treasure, a high honor given by the Japanese government.

Besides her daughter and son, Gordon is survived by three grandchildren.

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