Ruth Hinerfeld Interviewed by James Wurst, March 16, 2015
JAMES WURST: How did you get involved? You said you were an official in the Women’s League of Voters and that was your entrée into UNA.
RUTH HINERFELD: Yes, correct. I became involved with the UNA aside from being a member for many years independently by virtue of my role with the League of Women Voters. I was the League’s representative to the UN through the office of public information. I was the League observer at the UN. There had been a league observer at the UN since its founding days.
JAMES WURST: So this was in California?
RUTH HINERFELD: No this was after I moved to New York. I moved to NY in 67 and at that time in 67 I was asked to help out at the alternate observer. So I became the second alternate, learned the ropes a little bit. Then I became the first alt and ultimately the league observer at the UN.
JAMES WURST: Your involvement with UNA parallel that or came after that?
RUTH HINERFELD: I followed along as the league observer through the council of organizations I began to work closely with people in UNA. Particularly Peggy Carlin, the VP in charge of working with other NGOs.
JAMES WURST: So tell me about the council of organizations. How did that work?
RUTH HINERFELD: It was a vehicle whereby all these NGO’s from different US orgs were linked together for a couple of purposes. To bring back information about the UN and the NGO role there to their respective organizations. To form links for their organizations between and among them where there was joint interest, especially in the possibility of advocacy. It was a way of learning what the other groups were doing and helping spread the message among the American people. It worked primarily through an executive committee. It would hold meeting on various topics inviting speakers. It might have been the principal vehicle where by the US mission to the UN contacted US NGOs. At that time the US mission had very frequent briefings for the NGOs. Every week you would go over to the US mission and you get a briefing on what are the current issues at the UN, particularly vis a vis the US.
JAMES WURST: The individuals in that organization rotated?
RUTH HINERFELD: I can’t remember if they were elected or what. They did change. I don’t remember how I got on. I remember that one of the things they did was conduct an annual conference of members of the Council of Organizations. They’d issue a report at the end. I remember because one year I was the rapporteur and spent a lot of time listening to tapes in the little basement of the UN. So that was another one of their functions.
JAMES WURST: At that point did you have a position with UNA at all?
RUTH HINERFELD: At that time the year that I was the Rapporteur was 1970. I was asked to be on the Board of UNA in 73. I was asked to serve as Secretary.
JAMES WURST: Can you tell me how that came about. Asking to be on the board.
RUTH HINERFELD: I had worked with UNA. It would have been appropriate for me to be asked much sooner because I had been functioning as second alternate and first alternate LWV representative. It was in 72 that I became the observer and simultaneously went on the LWV national board. At that point I was in a position where I had reached what they considered the proper stature to be asked on the UNA Board.
JAMES WURST: Those were rather intense years. Did you know Elmore Jackson?
RUTH HINERFELD: I may have had some contact with him but nothing lasting.
JAMES WURST: So you had no real involvement with the policy studies program?
RUTH HINERFELD: No.
JAMES WURST: There’s a few gaps I was looking to fill but we can do that some other way. What were your main concerns/issues?
RUTH HINERFELD: I’m thinking of the League’s UN position. The League develops and adheres somewhat closely to them. We were concerned with public support to the UN. We were concerned with US funding for the UN. The issues of funding are ongoing and everlasting. We were probably doing something about that then.
JAMES WURST: The president at that point was Robert Ratner. Can you tell me something about him?
RUTH HINERFELD: Robert Ratner was the kind of person that you don’t think is doing a lot but managed to get everything done. He was a manager who hired a team of people to keep the org running. Raising money, holding events maintaining the staff. He even concerned himself in little details which you wouldn’t recognize unless you were directly involved. His fingers spread across more things than just the financial and administrative aspects of UNA.
JAMES WURST: So financial, administrative, but not policy.
RUTH HINERFELD: Not policy.
JAMES WURST: So who was doing policy at that time?
RUTH HINERFELD: Let’s see. Eventually it was Ed [Luck]. I became most conscious of UNA policy studies when Ed Luck was hired, because Ed– and I always think of Toby [Gati–] because they were like a policy team. Their forte was doing top notch studies and getting funding for them. It was a project based operation that they ran. Kind of like a think tank. They were very good.
JAMES WURST: Both of them have been interviewed so that’s good. I want to go back to Ratner for a little more. I can’t find much on him.
RUTH HINERFELD: He was a fundraiser. He was a professional fundraiser. He came from a large organization. I don’t know what his entre to UNA was. Whether they had a search committee or whatever, I don’t know how they found him. He was there when I arrived.
JAMES WURST: You know which organization?
RUTH HINERFELD: No I don’t.
JAMES WURST: Was it the United Jewish Appeal?
RUTH HINERFELD: It might have been but I don’t know. I can’t say for sure. I just remember it vaguely as a large Jewish organization.
JAMES WURST: That’s good because sometimes I just need one little detail to find out. I can start with UJA so that might get it. Working through this chronologically, you were on the board throughout Ed Luck’s term?
RUTH HINERFELD: Yeah. I was there when he left.
JAMES WURST: So how many years were you on the board?
RUTH HINERFELD: Oh god let’s see. From1973 and I left…
JAMES WURST: Did you say 2005?
RUTH HINERFELD: Yes, but according to their records 2007. That is many, many years. At that point when I left I was the longest serving member of the board other than Leo Nevas. We used to kid about that. At one point Bill Luers said Arthur Ross has been around here longer than anyone else has. Longer than anyone else except for two of us.
JAMES WURST: During those years, not all of those years let’s take it in chunks. You said that one of your main issues was funding for the UN. So walk me through a little more about what you were doing in those years.
RUTH HINERFELD: During my time on the board I became president of the League of Women Voters, I went from being the UN observer to the foreign policy Chair. I was president from 78-82. After that, I stayed on the UNA board because during my presidency, I was limited in what I did for UNA. I had other obligations. One of my favorite things I did for UNA, and this was before the Business Council, was the Economic Policy Council. That was a really well run show during its high point. It operated for about ten years. The chair was Robert O Anderson, the head of Atlantic Richfield. It had a sterling list of business and labor people at one point, including Henry Kaufman and Sol Chaikin, President if the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. They were concerned primarily with international economic policy, trying to forge coalition or common stance, even if it was the LCD on international issues of concern, in the economic sphere. We had great annual meetings, policy panels, one of them was on NAFTA. We had one meeting out at Aspen.
JAMES WURST: At the Aspen institute?
RUTH HINERFELD: Yes. For a while it (the EPC) was rolling along very well then it sort of petered out among the leadership. It went along the wayside after having covered a lot of topics. It was sort of like – we did that already last year. It continued from 76-86 something like that. The people involved were really leaders of the corporate world.
JAMES WURST: You said National Ladies Garment Workers Union. So was there a large union presence?
RUTH HINERFELD: Well Leonard Woodcock of the United Auto Workers was on the EPC. Another from the electrical workers.
JAMES WURST: Was it Reuther?
RUTH HINERFELD: No it wasn’t Reuther. I have got the list. I throw away a lot of substantive stuff but something told me to keep names because you will not be able to remember them later, which is for sure.
JAMES WURST: You said one of your favorite things was the economic council. What were some of the others?
RUTH HINERFELD: I liked working with Peggy [Carlin] and we wrote a joint little publication for public distribution. It wasn’t a real professional looking thing. In those days we didn’t have a way to make things look professional, as now out of your computer. We wrote the publication on the anniversary and both organizations (UNA and League of Women Voters) distributed copies among their organizations and the Public.
JAMES WURST: 25th anniversary of the UN?
RUTH HINERFELD: Yeah I think so. I’m not sure though.
JAMES WURST: Do you remember the name?
RUTH HINERFELD: You know it was one of these little things like you fit into a business envelope. That was fun to do and I worked on a publication with Peggy later on the environment. That was something else I liked. In the years leading up to the environment conference, there was an NGO committee which I chaired for one meeting because all of the environment organizations were competing for leadership and they needed a neutral chair for the meeting. I met Margaret Mead that meeting. She was an active participant.
JAMES WURST: So that was Stockholm.
RUTH HINERFELD: Yeah, that was Stockholm. The League by the way has an environmental position and it sent an NGO delegate. There were all these different paths and linkages, substantive, organizational, between the League and UNA, that were mutually beneficial.
JAMES WURST: So let’s see. You were on the Board when Ed Luck left. Can you tell me how that came about?
RUTH HINERFELD: I was not really privy to all the stuff. All I remember is that the top volunteer leadership became sort of an old boys club. They knew one another well. A lot of decisions were being made within a relatively small group, not being shared with the board. It was at that point where there was great dissatisfaction with the finances. After Ratner left, people started worrying about finances. You did not really have to worry about them when he was the head of financial management. It became more worrisome. I don’t know at what point, and it wasn’t because of Ed, but there was this big disaster. A fundraising disaster. They had put a lot of money into their annual dinner. They had contributed. This one was supposed to bring out a lot of money from organizations and people who have contributed. The dinner was in honor of Leah Rabin. Have you heard of this?
JAMES WURST: Yes that one I remember because if I recall it was supposed to be….
RUTH HINERFELD: Whoever set it up on the staff did not check with John Whitehead when it came to making leadership commitments. Perhaps when it came to financial…I don’t know. I was on the other side of the mountain getting slight sound waves. It took place but there was no cooperation in terms of getting the tables filled and stuff like that. That was a downer among others I guess.
JAMES WURST: That was under Ed Luck’s presidency?
RUTH HINERFELD: The Date April 23, 1996. All of this to do must have happened after because he left in 94.
JAMES WURST: Ed luck had already left at this point. So Rabin had nothing to do with…
RUTH HINERFELD: Well the plans had started falling apart. Those things get planned way in advance. You have to book these ballrooms in New York like three years in advance because they get filled up. I think that they may have had.
JAMES WURST: You talked about an old boy’s club?
RUTH HINERFELD: Right so at this point, we had close cooperation between John and Arthur Ross. Arthur had his favorites. Bill van den Heuvel was an Arthur favorite. He became secretary and he was fine. Then he chaired the executive committee and then he chaired the board.
JAMES WURST: Where is Michael Sonnenfeldt in this?
RUTH HINERFELD: He came along. He was going to bring in the young money. They came in with promises with lots of young money. Lots of colleagues and friends that were going to change the organization and discovered they couldn’t capture, but they got positions. Mike became Chair of the executive committee and his friend was made vice chair. So you had the old guard and the young guard and they were both sort of vying. Who gets left out when these guys are competing a little bit? It’s the members. The chapters. There was always tension between the national level and the grassroots. It was always in play. There were always things going on to make it better, or make it worse. It was constant.
JAMES WURST: So what you’re saying in this period, the chapters were being left out?
RUTH HINERFELD: Well it was sort of like the way the chapters felt: Here are the members who really care and do the work of advocacy and educating the public. All you guys up there care about is money and fundraising and bringing in board members who have big bucks. At the national level people think that they (the chapters) don’t know what we do for them. We run the organization. Without the office and international staff and financial backing there is no organization. I guess there was this, I wouldn’t call it mutual respect, but understanding.
JAMES WURST: This was a chronic thing or something that was more permanent under different presidents?
RUTH HINERFELD: It was a constant. When I first went on the board people told me about this. Someone who I admired and knew, Jean Picker, she had worked with Eleanor Roosevelt. They had written a book together. I don’t know her official position, but she was very active in the original UNA. She had an office at the UNA office. When I joined the Board she was Secretary. She was acting president at a time when someone left and she kind of did what I did. Alvin Adams was president..
JAMES WURST: Yes. I’m trying to interview him. I haven’t managed yet.
RUTH HINERFELD: He was not a happy president.
JAMES WURST: That would be the problem. So what would have been…?
RUTH HINERFELD: It was briefly. You need a program to tell the players.
JAMES WURST: Yes that is what I’m trying to create. So in this period between ED Luck and Bill Luers. Who do we have in what order?
RUTH HINERFELD: Tom Morgan was first. He was a very nice guy who came from NPR. Arthur brought him on. We had a committee but when Arthur wanted someone on the board, he would come to the Board meeting and say I want so and so. It happened. That was a kind of thing that annoyed members and chapters. He (Tom) was a nice guy but didn’t know a damn about the UN, but thought he should talk about it. So he was playing a role he wasn’t prepared to play so he was retired. It was after Ed and we really didn’t have policy people. It’s an organization that can’t be credible without knowing the UN.
JAMES WURST: So what year is this?
RUTH HINERFELD: I would need to do what you need to do in terms of looking through minutes and seeing who was there and when. This was when [James] Leonard came back. I remember I was sitting in the office and signed the contract agreement with Jim Leonard after polling all members of the board.
JAMES WURST: It was your idea to bring him back?
RUTH HINERFELD: It was, but it was not uniquely my idea. Once Before we brought Jim Leonard in to help during a hiatus when we had no leadership. I implemented it; I wouldn’t say I conceived it. I had known Jim Leonard over the years too. The next person to come along was George Langdon I guess. Then Adams. Langdon came along and he had been president at the Museum of Natural History. He too was Arthur Ross’ boy. I remember going to the Plaza one morning for breakfast in the Oak Room and there were the old boys club sitting around saying we should hire George. Saying he’s a wonderful person, and he knows him through the museum. Arthur was widely connected and exceedingly generous. So along came George Langdon who would go in his office and close the door. None of the staff could speak to him. He was a non-functioning president to a large extent.
JAMES WURST: How long was he president for?
RUTH HINERFELD: It was not even a year. Then came Al Adams. He was another former Foreign Service officer. He was an amiable guy. Then we went back to the Foreign Service with Bill [Luers]. Arthur knew him very well. Arthur is known to all these intuitions and knows all these people who he brings to UNA after they lost their jobs at the Museum of Natural History or the Met or whatever. Bill comes in with demands. He’s a very talented guy. He can charm the shoes off your feet, and he’s very bright. He wanted to be both chairman of the board and chief executive officer. He had both titles for a while and then enough people fussed and he relinquished one of his titles. He listens terrifically. He’s very responsive, but he never does what you tell him to do. The board was driven crazy. Wasting all this time on strategic plans that he would place in the round file essentially. He would have these great ideas and would come to you and say we have this idea called global classrooms that sounds terrific. And the merger of BCUN was what he came along with. That was supposed to open up a lot of board seats for member of the business council. So the thing was that the leadership as a corporate structure of people who could give money is where it reached its apex at that point. Whatever year that was.
JAMES WURST: I should know this. I just interviewed an official from BCUN.
RUTH HINERFELD: Was it Sam Brookfield?
JAMES WURST: Yes.
RUTH HINERFELD: He was another one who according to UNA was someone who came in and read the newspaper. Nice guy, lovely but didn’t do what was expected. So the troops were unhappy.
JAMES WURST: Now when you say the troops, are you referring to the entire office or just some of the top members? Because there does seems to be a lot of complaints from membership about Luers tenure.
RUTH HINERFELD: “He destroyed the organization.” I mean people have said that to me and I felt angry with myself because I should have told him; it was terrible, but instead I just quit.
JAMES WURST: How did he destroy the organization?
RUTH HINERFELD: That is a very rash statement. Because the organization’s uniqueness was that it was a combination of policy institute and grassroots membership. He didn’t listen to the grassroots membership. Considering he didn’t listen to the board, you can tell how responsive he was to members in the field. One of the things that board members complained about in sync with the field was that he wasn’t interested in advocacy. Advocacy doesn’t raise big bucks. Advocacy makes enemies right? The amount of advocacy we did at one point was greatly reduced when he came along. By advocacy I mean action, administrative action.
JAMES WURST: He was also behind the Iran dialogue.
RUTH HINERFELD: That tier two thing? I don’t know. We didn’t hear about it. The board wasn’t involved. They weren’t off budget but they were off sight. He would come in and say I’ve hired somebody who terrific and going to be in charge of this new project in Africa. Oh right that was the other one. Education in African orphans. That was another one. And of course the landmines thing. Who needed the UNA? I think a lot of the member liked the landmine thing. It’s sexy. The landmines campaign was doing well without UNA. The members liked it but he thought it would bring in money which it didn’t.
JAMES WURST: But it was a program that membership did like?
RUTH HINERFELD: It was.
JAMES WURST: And Global Classrooms?
RUTH HINERFELD: Yes, because it was done through Model UN. There were some others too that would appear on the horizon and disappear.
JAMES WURST: So back to the statement about destroying the organization. Was it done by alienating membership or by being too business-oriented?
RUTH HINERFELD: It made it seem like that on the national board level, if you weren’t capable of giving big bucks. In wide organizations this is all that counts, but a membership organization does not do this. The only people who were important to Bill had a lot of money to give to the organization and he didn’t get it. He wasn’t successful at that.
JAMES WURST: You left when Luers was still president?
RUTH HINERFELD: Yes. I wrote to him a letter of resignation which he did not accept. He said well miss you. But it was not a formal acceptance. That’s why they kept me on the books.
JAMES WURST: Let’s go back to a few of the conceptual points. We talked about the membership office and national relations. One of the things talked about is the influencing the US government. Trying to get them to pay dues or just take the UN more seriously. What impact do you think that had during your years on influencing US policy?
RUTH HINERFELD: That is a very interesting policy, because opinion polls about the UN which you might think would be indicative of UNA’s success. The opinion polls are always pretty favorable. There is not great depth towards people’s attitudes towards the UN. People think it’s doing good things. There’s peace, prosperity, good will among nations. People tend to have favorable views. It goes up and down a little bit, but people tend to have favorable views. The impact of UNA is something I’m not sure how to measure. Those things are very hard to measure. If you do a poll before some big event or campaign and then after, there’s some kind of data that’s derived. UNA would hire people pollsters to access public attitudes toward the UN, but I don’t know if UNA particularly influenced them. When UNA had meetings in Washington, and people up there, it reminds the congressman, or the staff that there are people out there who watch and keep up with this stuff. That is the grassroots again. Of course individual leaders can be important. When John Whitehead went in there, that was very influential.
JAMES WURST: Did you ever work with Elliot Richardson?
RUTH HINERFELD: I loved Elliot. What a class act. There were a lot of class acts. Orville Freeman, Max Kampelman was a class act. He was chairman of the board of governors for a while. He was a good chairman. He might have been the last person to not care about his own issues. His own mark. Good guy.
JAMES WURST: So Richardson’s impact on the organization… Steve Dimoff’s praise was through the roof.
RUTH HINERFELD: See Elliot had the reputation of having every job in Washington. You know what wonderful about these class acts? They had integrity. That’s the kind of person Elliot was and many others functioned that way.
JAMES WURST: Back to the Council of Organizations in terms of effectiveness. Did it help improve the relationships between the government, NGOs and UN? Did the NGOs have greater access to the US government and the UN?
RUTH HINERFELD: Let me say that after my time, the impact of NGOs grew tremendously. You know the world of NGOs bloomed in a relatively short time. The policy impact did too. It became a major player in international organization decisions. In my time it was limited. I tried to create organizational connection when Bill was president. He wasn’t a coalition person. See coming from the League when we wanted to get anything done, we say who can we work with? And can we overcome disagreements about other issues and overcome this? That was the way the League worked. I brought to him the then current president of the League of Women Voters. At that time the League was doing a review of its UN position. So I though what a nice opportunity. To bring the two together so maybe there’s a possibility of joint programs, community stuff. How nice to meet you kind of thing. Advocacy and coalitions weren’t his favorite.
JAMES WURST: Your days predate Luers tremendously. So I’m looking at the earlier years as well. So I’m looking for the role of the COO in helping the UN and the US government.
RUTH HINERFELD: It had committees on nuclear proliferation, peacekeeping, development, on the environment. Through the COO, environmental organizations started looking for accreditation with the Department of Public Information with Stockholm, etc. The council had a meeting for all people who were interested in the environment. It was about how NGOs can be effective at Stockholm, which was a model for NGO forums for many NGO gatherings thereafter. It really functioned as an organizing device to institutionalize a role for NGOs. I even had a local League member from here who was focusing on affordable housing speak to a UN committee that was working on the subject. She met with the diplomats and was talking about all this concrete, real life stuff. They were blown away because you know how people at the UN normally talk, they’re diplomats, not practitioners. That was interesting. Those were the connections that were made.
JAMES WURST: So bringing in expertise that you would normally not have brought in or heard.
RUTH HINERFELD: Right. So here’s this attractive young lady coming to them and talking about the community that is bending over backwards to provide affordable housing for a demographic that exists in the community.
JAMES WURST: I think that’s about all I had. Was there anything else you wanted to discuss?
[At this point, Hinerfeld is looking through several file folders.]
RUTH HINERFELD: Here’s when Thomas Morgan stepped down. I have a date. A letter that we wrote to the chapter leaders telling them that Tom had stepped down. The letter came from the transition committee. Vanden Heuvel, Hinerfeld, and Sonnenfeldt. December 1995. That helps. This one is the board voted unanimously in a decision to appoint Jim Leonard as acting President, from January 15, 1996. So you’ve got those two dates now. That’s when he started. The president of the nominating committee resigned sometime in 96. Her name is in a letter here. Anne Bryant, Exec Director, AAUW. A very attractive and smart woman. She resigned because she told me she couldn’t stand the misogyny on the board. That was another thing. There was a terrible cartoon about “That was a very nice statement Miss so and so, perhaps one of the gentleman would like to make it.” That’s how the board was. Unbelievably bad. She resigned. Also somebody said she resigned because everybody was working around her to get people on board. I was asked to fill the chair of nominating and said yes. I get to the board meeting. We get to the nominations. I’m all prepared to do the resolution. Arthur Ross said to me something about “you won’t mind me stepping down as chair of the nominating committee, would you?” At that meeting, I had never heard a word before. I see myself on the agenda and I’m all prepared to talk and I get that. Then I get a note from John saying “Please don’t be offended by Arthur’s recent phone call. I believe we need a nominating chairman who has easy access to corporate CEOs. I hope you remain on the committee we need your input etc.” This is what they were looking for. It didn’t help them. That meeting was May 1996. Jim Leonard was CEO at that time. Let me see if there’s anything in there about a new person. No.
JAMES WURST: Leonard didn’t even mention Langdon.
RUTH HINERFELD: He came on and locked himself in the office. Never saw him. He was the president who wasn’t there. One of the things that Mike [Sonnenfeldt] did was that he had a foundation, and merged it with UNA and brought some money with it, and it did help financially. He could not lead the organization. I think he wanted to be chair but the chapter and the members didn’t go for it. He was not really interested in the chapters.
JAMES WURST: Arthur Ross at the end, how did he do in terms of membership?
RUTH HINERFELD: He did nothing. Arthur considered that as us against them. He could go to a group of members and be very persuasive. Arthur had a real commitment to the UN and what it stood for I think this is what brought Arthur into it. UNA and WFUNA. That feeling of support for the UN was very strong and genuine in Arthur. If he went to a group of member and talked about the UN, he could get to them.