Edward Stettinius (1900-1949)

[picture: Edward Stettinius leaving the White House, 1945]  Born in Chicago on October 22, 1900, Edward Stettinius divided his time as a youth between Chicago and New York City. He attended the Pomfret School until 1920, and the University of Virginia until 1924, but left college without a degree after having spent most of his time engaging in social work and neglecting his studies.

By 1926, Stettinius had succeeded in becoming the assistant to John Lee Pratt, the vice-president of General Motors and a friend of the Stettinius family. Seeking to improve the lives of GM's workers, Stettinius developed a program of employee benefits that was so successful he was named a vice-president in 1931.

Although a corporate businessman, Stettinius continued to do work for unemployment relief projects and as a result he became acquainted with Franklin Roosevelt. When FDR was elected president, he earmarked Stettinius for a position with the National Recovery Administration, but his government service during the early New Deal would be short lived. In 1934, Stettinius accepted a position with United States Steel as a senior administrator and left the New Deal; however, his strong sense of social responsibility coupled with his successful business career insured that FDR would continue to seek out Stettinius for government service so long as he was president. In 1940, FDR succeeded in enticing Stettinius back to his administration, this time as a director in the Office of Production Management. Two years later the president asked Stettinius to oversee the administration of Lend-Lease Aid to the allies, a position he held until he replaced Sumner Welles as undersecretary of state in 1943.

As undersecretary, Stettinius headed the U.S. Delegation to the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, where he succeeded in brokering agreement on the structure of the proposed United Nations Organization. A few months later, Secretary of State Cordell Hull became too ill to remain at the State Department, and in November 1944 the Senate confirmed Stettinius as his replacement.

Stettinius was a popular secretary of state, and he busily occupied himself with laying the groundwork for the conference in San Francisco that would officially create the United Nations. He developed provisional rules of procedure for the Security Council, achieved agreement on those rules at the Yalta Conference, lined up Latin American support for the UN, and was named to lead the U.S. delegation in San Francisco. Stettinius was present at the UN's official founding, on June 26, 1945, and resigned his office the following day. President Truman had made clear to Stettinius that he wanted his own candidate, James Byrnes, to head the State Department, and offered him the position of U.S. representative to the UN. Stettinius accepted, and led a distinguished American delegation to the first UN General Assembly that included Senator Arthur Vandenburg, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Adlai Stevenson.

Although Eleanor Roosevelt had been acquainted with Stettinius for some time, it was not until January 1946 that she had the opportunity to work with him closely. Having admired his record of government service and committed social awareness from afar, ER was touched by Stettinius' sincere devotion to FDR's legacy. Both soon found that they also shared a deep commitment to the success of the United Nations, and their relationship was characterized by a warm professional respect for one another. Disgruntled to learn of Stettinius' resignation as secretary of state, ER was heartened to know that he would be able to devote his full attention to the UN. To her disappointment, however, Stettinius' tenure as UN ambassador would be almost as brief as his term as secretary of state had been. Frustrated with Truman's failure to use the UN as a means of resolving tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Stettinius resigned his position in June 1946.

In retirement, he remained an active alumnus of the University of Virginia, wrote a book defending FDR's conduct at the Yalta Conference, and founded a company to encourage American commercial activity in Liberia. He died in October 1949, at the age of 49.


American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, 687-689.

The Dictionary of American Biography. Supplement 4. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1974, 776-778.