1894-1976, Vice President of the Inter-American Commission of Women
Born on August 2, 1894 in São Paulo and died on September 16, 1976 in Rio de Janeiro, Bertha (Maria Julia) Lutz was the daughter of Amy Fowler, an English nurse, and Adolfo Lutz, a Brazilian and Swiss physicist. Bertha Lutz was an herpetologist, a Brazilian politician, a diplomat and an activist for women's right to suffrage. It is notably thanks to her that the Charter of the United Nations specifically mentions gender equality.
Bertha Lutz studied natural sciences at the Sorbonne University in Paris. After having graduated in 1918, she worked as a scientist at the National Museum of São Paulo. Specialized in frogs, she published many scientific articles during her life. Upon her return to Brazil, she also campaigned for women's right to vote. In 1919, she founded the League for the Intellectual Emancipation of Women. In 1922, she represented Brazil at the Pan American Women's Conference in Baltimore, United States, and the League she had created became the Brazilian Federation for the Advancement of Women, of which she was president between 1922 and 1942. According to some sources, it was during this period that Bertha Lutz passed through Geneva, notably to participate in conferences of the International Labour Organization.
In 1932, Brazilian women obtained the right to vote and Bertha Lutz took part in drafting the new constitution. After that, she campaigned for the Brazilian Congress. Elected in 1936, she returned to the Chamber of Deputies while the feminist press from all over the world, all the way to Switzerland, relayed the information. But in 1937, the election of a dictatorial regime in Brazil cut short her political projects. Nevertheless, she remains committed to women's rights at the national and international levels. In 1945, she was one of four women to sign the Charter of the United Nations and was part of the Brazilian delegation to the San Francisco Conference. During the negotiations, Bertha Lutz and Minerva Bernardino of the Dominican Republic fought to have the terms "gender equality" and "women" mentioned in the new UN Charter. But very few women were present during the discussions and their European colleagues saw the reference to "woman" in the text as a diminutive addition. Through negotiations, however, the terms were finally added, notably in the preamble of the Charter.
Throughout her life, Bertha Lutz was both a renowned scientist and a diplomat, activist for women's rights. In 1973, Bertha Lutz, the herpetologist, published a major study on a frog species unique to Brazil. In 1975, Bertha Lutz, the diplomat, attended the UN World Conference on Women in Mexico City. She died the following year, at the age of eighty-four.
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- Hahner, June E., « Lutz, Bertha Maria Julia », in Tenenbaum, Barbara A., (ed.) Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, (Vol. 3), New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1996, pp. 474-475.
- Skard, Torild, « Getting our History Right: How were the Equal Rights of Women and Men included in the Charter of the United Nations? », in Forum for Development Studies, Vol. 35, N° 1, pp. 37-60.