World Youth Forum
In the aftermath of World War II much attention focused on youth as the answer to world peace. There were mass youth forums organised by both sides of the Cold War divide but there were also two programs focusing on a select group of handpicked teenagers. One, sponsored by the Daily Mail in the UK, lasted only three years, from 1949 to 1951. The other, funded and organised by the New York Herald Tribune in the US for much of its existence, ran between 1947 and 1972. The delegates to the both forums comprise a fascinating network of individuals stretching across the globe, and include academics, diplomats, international business figures and religious leaders, as well as high school teachers, housewives and lawyers.
This project will investigate the forums as examples of post-war idealism (or imperialism?), but, more importantly, will construct a history of the forums and of their influence on the later lives of the delegates.
World Youth Forum
'I knew I would love London!' So wrote 16-year-old Susan Maclean from a small town in New Zealand in 1949, when she landed in England to be part of the Daily Mail World Youth Forum. She flew, something of a novelty in 1949, from New Zealand to Australia and then on to England. Her diary records both her journey and the experiences that followed. Susan was one of the 26 teenagers from Europe (France, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden) and 'the Dominions' (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Jamaica and the US (!)). They gathered in England to discuss 'the World We Want' in a series of forums in front of large groups of British school children. They attended British schools and lived with British families. The forums were organised by the Council for Education in World Citizenship and sponsored by the Daily Mail.
Susan Maclean was my aunt and I discovered her diary, along with two albums of photographs and copies of her letters home from England, after her death in December 2011. She had not spoken about her experiences. I have traced several other delegates from the 1949 UK forum over subsequent years - discovering that, while my aunt became a well-respected high school teacher and wrote a history book, her fellow delegates included an archbishop, a deputy prime minister, a high-ranking civil servant, a renowned lawyer and several academics.
The diary written by Susan Maclean is a rich source for analysing the way in which antipodean teenagers responded to the 'Mother Country' in the immediate post-war era. The forums and their delegates provide a case-study to investigate how idealistic notions of peace and world citizenship were promoted in the late 1940s. But the Daily Mail forums were inspired by a much longer-lasting Forum across the Atlantic.
And so my project exploded ...
World Youth Forum
In a scenario reminiscent of an Agatha Christie novel, in the summer of 1994 a group of people gathered in a house in Corfu. They ranged in age from about 45 to 65, they came from different countries from all parts of the world and they had not met each other before. Neither had they met their host, who had sent them all personal invitations to his house. When they arrived they found an unkempt garden, a house with barely any furniture and no sign of their host.
Nevertheless, this group did have one thing in common, and it was more than enough to unite them and make the week in Corfu a success. All were former delegates of the World Youth Forum, initially run by the New York Herald Tribune, although all (apart from two) had been at the Forum in different years and were strangers to each other.
'Corfu 1', as it became known, was the first of many formal reunions of Forum delegates, who also meet in smaller more informal groups at other times, in disparate parts of the globe. They have formed an Alumni Association, recreating and continuing the international networks that began in 1947, with journalist Helen Hiett Waller and the New York Herald Tribune.
The World Youth Forum involved around 30 teenagers from a wide range of countries. They gathered in New York, attended local high schools, lived with American families and, each week, recorded a television program for CBS 'The World We Want', in which they debated various issues. They visited Washington, met important political figures, and travelled to Virginia, where some of them confronted segregation for the first time. The Forum delegates were treated as honoured celebrities, their opinions taken seriously and for many the Forum had a profund effect on their lives. As in the British case, the delegates went on to have a variety of careers, many engaging in high-flying academic, business and political or diplomatic careers.