By Kelley Brenneman
Andrew Cordier did many great things in his life, but not many people recognize his name. An article about Cordier that was published in the year 1995 in the Church of the Brethren magazine Messenger said this about Cordier. “He wasn’t one of the eight Brethren ‘saints’ portrayed as call claimers at the recent Charlotte Annual Conference. He has never been romanticized like Dan West, M. R. Zigler, or Anna Mow. Many Brethren today don’t even recognize his name. But Andrew W. Cordier deserves a place in the Brethren pantheon.”1 Cordier did many things for the world; the major one was his role in the founding of the United Nations, an organization that continues to have effects on the world today. Sadly, his name has slipped into obscurity. It is time that the name Andrew Cordier came back into the history books, and the world should thank this great man from Canton, Ohio.
Andrew Cordier was born March 3, 1901 in Canton, Ohio. He was raised on the family farm, and he was a graduate of Hartville High School. After graduation he attended Manchester College. While he was a student there, he met Dorothy Butterbaugh, and they married in 1924.2 They had two children Lowell and Louise. Cordier had a varied career as a professor at Manchester College, a member of the State Department, the Executive Secretary to the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Dean of the School of International Affairs at Columbia University, and finally the 15th President of Columbia University. While Cordier was both a student and professor at Manchester, he became very good friends with Vernon Schwalm a professor of history and would later be President of Manchester College. Andrew Cordier died in 1975 and was laid to rest in Oaklawn Cemetery in North Manchester next to his wife.3
A major influence that was in Cordier’s life from an early age was his faith. Cordier was raised in the Church of the Brethren, which is a historic peace church and well known for its pacifist beliefs. The church that Cordier would be a member of (and a minister in) was founded in the United States during the year 1719 under the leadership of Peter Becker. The church continued growing and expanding, and by the time Andrew Cordier was born, was well established in the United States. Growing up in Canton, Ohio the Cordier family were members of the East Nimishillen church in Canton, Ohio.4The Brethren had always been interested in peace both at the local and global level. The influence of this love of peace can be seen in a letter that Cordier sent to Schwalm in 1929:
Our people [the Brethren] must make rapid adjustments- not compromises – if we hope to survive. We must restate our half-lost objectives. We must develop clear conception of our raison d”etre; we must justify our existence as Dunkards. It is not sufficient that we should simply prove our peculiarities. I am certain that we have a place to fill in this world, but I am not sure that we are going to fill it. A war-worn world needs our philosophy and examples of peace, a luxury-mad world, with yawning chasms between rich and poor, needs our examples of the simple life. We have not yet breathed into the words- peace, faith, love, simple life, etc. – the implications which they must bear in the new world of ours.5
Cordier had been raised in a peace church, his beliefs as expressed in the quote above show that he felt that the Brethren view of peace could have implications for the world. As it was stated, “Many Brethren today don’t even recognize his name,” but the church still managed to influence Cordier’s beliefs on peace.
In 1944, Cordier received the opportunity to work more directly for peace and left Manchester College behind in order to work for the federal government. “Always a keen student of the League of Nations and a strong supporter of the concept of an international organization to serve the cause of peace, it was his knowledgeability in international affairs that had brought him to the attention of the state department [sic].”6 He served in the United States State Department for two years, and Cordier was there at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference to help write up the proposal for the United Nations.7After serving at Dumbarton Oaks, Cordier would be sent by the government to London as a member of the US delegation to the United Nations Preparatory Commission. After this he would officially join the United Nations as the Executive Secretary to the President of the General Assembly He was very well respected at the United Nations and put in long hours to do the work. Cordier was also willing to take the work to his home. He hosted diplomatic meetings within his home in an effort to work for peace in the world. He writes about one of these meetings in a letter that he sends to Schwalm:
A year ago it became apparent to the Secretary-General and myself that there were no diplomatic contacts between the United States and the Soviet Union and that relations between the two countries were seriously deteriorating. As a result we decided to hold meetings between Ambassador Malik (USSR) and Ambassadors Austin, Gross and Rust (US) to talk over all issues, both major and minor causing difficulties between the two countries. Some of these private meetings were held at Mr. Lie’s home, and some at my home.8
Cordier’s opinions and insights were valuable to the first two Secretary-Generals of the United Nations, Lie and Hammarskjold. “In their time Trygve Lie and Dag Hammarskjold used to ‘drift’ in and out of his office…sometimes during the day, sometimes at the end…The very fact that his door was always ‘open’ and his colleagues felt free to come and go meant that he had very little time to himself to work at the papers on his desk.”9
When the United Nations was in session and the General Assembly was meeting, Andrew Cordier sat to the left of the President of the Assembly.10 This allowed him to have a clear view of what was happening during the United Nations meetings, but it also put him in clear view of the cameras. “He was a familiar figure to the press and public, to the delegations and the television audiences, his resonant voice calling out the votes.”11 Since there were no computers to count the votes, that job fell to Cordier who did it all by hand and memory. Schwalm mentions in a letter to Cordier about this. “We have noticed from the papers that you have had quite a stormy time at the United Nations meetings…We have noticed your picture in Time Magazine this week and in Life a few weeks ago, and others have seen it in movie films. We are glad for the good work you are doing.”12
Despite all the national and global attention that he must have received, Cordier was still very warm when it came to relationships with his family, friends and co-workers at the United Nations. In Death of a Stalwart, Geary gives a couple of examples about the warm personality of Andrew Cordier. One example in her book refers to Cordier, herself, and chocolate bars:
With his colleagues and subordinates on the staff, Andy Cordier was always easy in manner, very human in his approach and very companionable. He was informal, comfortable person by temperament… For example…he liked chocolate bars, and so did I. If he were passing by my desk and there was a chocolate bar visible he was apt to casually grab the bar and go away happily munching it. I would offer no protest as I usually had another close at hand, which he probably knew full well.13
Despite all the pressures and responsibility that Andrew Cordier had in working for the United Nations, he still managed to keep his warm, likeable personality which probably assisted him greatly in his work.
Cordier would leave the UN in 1962, and Geary talks about how when she would talk to people after he left they would often tell her that nobody did the job like Cordier; this belief that no one did the job like Andrew Cordier can be seen on the cover of the magazine Secreatriat News. Cordier is pictured cutting the cake at his going-away party, a very fancy cake at that. Cordier must have left an impression on many people, for one can see that there was a large crowd at this party. After leaving the UN, he became Dean of the School of International Affairs of Columbia University. There he would briefly become President of the university “presiding over the campus from 1968 to 1970 during two tumultuous years of student riots and general campus unrest.”14Grayson Kirk would resign as President of Columbia University in the summer of 1969 and Cordier would become acting President. As Cordier worked to put Columbia back together again, the influences from his days at the United Nations are shown. His dedication to work for peace came out again, along with his skills in working with others, building consensus among people, and he resumed his long work hours. He also decided to talk to all kinds of groups that were involved in the crisis.
I have been working at tremendous pace seven days and seven nights a week since I accepted the post of Acting President on August twenty- third…I have been consulting with the widest possible range of faculty and students that time permits during this whole period, and will continue to do so. It is important to listen sometimes at great length.15
He becomes the 15th President for one year and then goes back to being Dean. Cordier retires from Columbia in 1975.
In her unpublished biography of Andrew Cordier, Doreen Geary says “In the title I have referred to Cordier as a ‘stalwart,’ not in the partisan sense, but within the dictionary meaning of being a person marked by outstanding strength and vigor of the body, mind and spirit.”16 This is a very accurate statement to describe Andrew Cordier and the work that he did. He put forth the best effort that he was able. In 1957 Cordier gave a speech in honor of the 275th anniversary of William Penn’s landing in Pennsylvania and in honor of the 12th anniversary of the United Nations. In that speech he says the following: “We must continue to labor to build the temple of peace and thus reduce the force of those trends which, if left to themselves, would lead humanity down the pathway to certain destruction. We must not fail in our task.”17 Cordier did not want the world to fail in the task for creating peace, so he set about using the influences on his life to create the United Nations to help guide people to a more peaceful world.
Please note that this Hidden Gem is a condensed version of the undergrad thesis paper of the author and all pictures and letters, unless otherwise noted, can be found at the Manchester University Archives in North Manchester, IN.
1 Kerman Thomasson, “Andrew Cordier: Hope and Reality, Hand-in-Hand,” Messenger, September 1995, 14.
2 “College Loses—Cordier Gains,” Oak Leaves (North Manchester, IN), May 31, 1924.
4 “Andrew W. Cordier Materials,” Faculty/Staff Boxes Collection at Manchester University Archives, http://www.manchester.edu/oaa/library/archives/index.aspx?record=329.
5 This is also the church that would license Cordier as a minister. Francis U. Carpenter, “Andy Cordier, Midwest Farm Boy, Makes Good as Executive in UN,” n.d.
6 Andrew Cordier, Letter to Vernon Schwalm, June 2, 1929.
7 Doreen Geary, Death of a Stalwart, n.p., n.d. 3.
8 Dumbarton Oaks was a secluded mansion in the Gerogetown in northwest Washington which was loaned to the government from Ambassador Robert Woods Bliss and his wife. “An enormous horseshoe-shaped table was assembled to replace the pianos and antique furniture of the mansion’s ornate Music Rom, and the Dumbarton Oaks conference opened on August 21, 1944.” Stanley Meisler, United Nations: The First Fifty Years, New York City: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997, 5.
9 Andrew Cordier, Letter to Vernon Schwalm, August 31, 1950.
10 Geary, 25-26.
11 Geary, 19.
12 Geary, 19.
13 Vernon Schwalm, Letter to Andrew Cordier, October 24, 1947.
14 Geary, 48.
15 Geary, 3.
16 Andrew Cordier, Letter to Vernon Schwalm, October 3, 1968.
17 Geary, 8.
18 Andrew Cordier, “Address by Andrew W. Cordier, Executive Assistant to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, at the Luncheon Given by the City of Philadelphia in Commemoration of the 275th Anniversary of the Landing of William Penn and the Twelfth Anniversary of the United Nations” (speech, Warwick Hotel, Philadelphia, PA, October 24, 1957).