Drafting a Declaration: The Marjorie Whiteman Story

The Marjorie Whiteman exhibit opens at The Museum of Fulton County on Saturday, January 11, 2020.  I sense that you are asking yourself who is Marjorie Whiteman. Marjorie gained prominence in international law becoming a legal advisor to Eleanor Roosevelt and  publishing 15 Volumes now known as the Whiteman Digest that are still in use today.
The new exhibit runs through December and kicks of the Museum's year of "Her Hidden History" in celebration of the Centennial of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which guaranteed a woman's right to vote.

Marjorie was born Nov. 30, 1898 in Henry County, OH.  She graduated from Wauseon high School in 1915 and put herself through Ohio Wesleyan College, receiving her bachelors degree in 1920.  After graduation she taught history and public speaking at Napoleon High School for five years. 

In a 1977 interview with the Swanton Enterprise, Miss Whiteman said that her "decision to study law was strange."  No one influenced her on what law school to attend or what type of law to study.  She chose Yale law school and it was only after she was there that she realized how lucky she was to be  studying there.  She was one of two women in her class.  On her experience at Yale she stated, "I just did my own thing and competed against myself."  She also served as the editor of the Yale Law Journal.   She received her LLD degree in 1927 and in 1928 received a doctorate in International Law from Yale. 

"No one can make life interesting for you...do it yourself"

- Marjorie Whiteman


Returning home to Ohio that summer after passing the Ohio Bar exam, she spent time figuring out what she was going to do.  In the fall she went East to look for a job.   While on her way to Wall Street she stepped off the elevator on the wrong floor.  That wrong step put her on track to her career.   She ended up in the law office of Root, Clark, Buckner, Howland and Vallantine.  Even though that firm was not hiring, she spoke with Mr Howland.  Mr Howland sent letters to members of the America Society of International Law about the thesis that Miss Whiteman had written and suggested contacting her if they had any work for her.
Letter from Marjorie Whiteman to theState Department inquiring about a job.
From the Collection of the Museum of Fulton County

Not long after, she received a letter from Phillip Jessup, Professor of International Law at Columbia University.   He invited her to do research in a Washington,  D. C. basement in 1928.  She soon moved up to the second floor office of the Assistant Office of Legal Advisor, Department of State.   Marjorie worked long hours on all of the heavy assignments that she was given.   When Eleanor Roosevelt was named to be the U.S. Representative to the International Human Rights Commission, she requested Marjorie to come work for her.   From 1945 to 1951 she was an adviser to  Mrs Roosevelt.   Marjorie eventually served seven presidents from Herbert Hoover to Richard Nixon.

She had a vast background on International Law.  She wrote a 15 volume digest on International Law and a 3 volume set on Damages in International Law.  Both series were written while away from her job.  She would normally get up at three in the morning to work on the books.   She did not want the writing of the books to take away from her responsibilities  at the State Department."  Her only reason for writing the books was to share what she had learned through her years at the State Department.
July 17, 1963-Miss Whiteman presenting the initial copy of Volume I of her Digest of International Law to Secretary of State Dean Rusk.  Inscription below photo:  "With professional and personal esteem to my friend and colleague Marjorie Whiteman" signed Dean Rusk.  Secretary Rusk ordered that the 1st Volume be presented by all U.S. Ambassadors to their respective countries' Foreign Minister as a gift from the US. 
From the Collection of the Museum of Fulton County

She retired in 1970 and returned home to the farmhouse that she grew up in to live with her sister, Helen.   She enjoyed being home, and spent her time quilting,  gardening and visiting with the neighbors that she had grown up with.  She also spent a lot of time as an editor of the American Journal of International Law.

She was a woman ahead of her time, choosing college, a career in international law and being an adviser to Eleanor Roosevelt when women were not in the workplace.   Miss Whiteman passed away July 6, 1986 and is buried in Youngs Cemetery Liberty Center OH.

To learn more about Marjorie Whiteman, visit the  Museum of Fulton County and view the exhibit about her.

Source:  October 12th, 1977 article in The Swanton Enterprise



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