News and Updates

UN Photo: A Woman Rediscovered

  • Signing the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in Geneva, 28 July 1951, with Margaret Kitchen sitting on the left. Credit: UN Photo/ES

Last year, as the world commemorated the 70th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Archives and Records Management Section (ARMS) was presented with a mystery.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noticed that a photograph caption from the 1951 Convention identified three men who were present but failed to name the only woman seated at the table.

In a quest to find an answer, archives teams from UNHCR, the UN Office in Geneva, and ARMS joined forces to identify this woman.

The first clue came from Knud Larsen, President of the Conference, seated in the middle of the photograph.

In his convention speech, he thanked a “Miss Kitchen”, Deputy Executive Secretary – located on his right – for keeping the conference on track. Additional research disclosed that her first name was Margaret.

We then discovered that shortly after the 1951 Convention, she married and changed her name to Margaret Bruce. This discovery opened her life story to us.

Margaret (Kitchen) Bruce was born in the United Kingdom, joining the Secretariat at the first UN General Assembly in London in 1946.

Moving with the Organization to New York, she later married a fellow staffer, William James Bruce.

Initially joining the Human Rights Division, Margaret worked directly with Eleanor Roosevelt during the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

She served in many key roles throughout her 32-year tenure – including the Deputy Director of the Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs. She retired from the UN in 1977.

Too often, women’s names have been erased from history, but this is no longer the case for Margaret (Kitchen) Bruce.

Through ARMS’ careful review of the documentary evidence, her identity was rediscovered and thus her contributions were finally revealed to the world!

Following the discovery, the caption of the photograph was amended and now includes Margaret’s name.