IOWA CITY — After more than 50 years of addressing issues such as gender equality, nuclear proliferation and climate change, Dorothy Paul remains committed to and involved in the work.
Paul, of Iowa City, served as executive director of Iowa’s division of the United Nations Association of the United States for more than 20 years. Now in her 90s, she still volunteers with the association’s Johnson County chapter.
The U.N. Association of the United States, which consists of more than 20,000 members in more than 200 chapters across the country, aims to support the work of the United Nations.
Paul said she keeps volunteering because she thinks the U.N.’s work on global issues — such as weapons proliferation and the environment — affect the local community.
In addition, Paul said she questions the idea that the United States should be put first above other nations or people.
“Why are we first? Why are we special? I’ve met too many people that are living on a dollar a day to accept that,” Paul said.
Jim Olson worked at the association’s national headquarters in New York City during Paul’s tenure as executive director. He said Paul was noted for bringing strong leadership to the Iowa division.
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“Everyone recognizes her as both sort of the living history of the association but also for her very keen insights now,” said Olson, now president of the association’s Johnson County chapter. “She works hard at fundraising and writing and programming. Some people might just retire, but not Dorothy. She’s still going strong, and she’s sort of an inspiration to the rest of us.”
Paul moved to Iowa City from New York after marrying her husband, David Paul, in 1953. He had gotten a job on the medical faculty at the University of Iowa, according to Paul’s papers at the Iowa Women’s Archive.
In 1965, Paul began volunteering with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, or UNICEF. After selling cards at Christmas to raise money for the U.N. children’s program, she was asked to do publicity for the local U.N. Association chapter. In 1979, she became executive director of the Iowa division.
Around that same time, Paul returned to school. She graduated from the University of Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in general studies in 1981, when she was in her 50s. She then earned a master’s degree in American studies from the UI in 1984. According to her papers, her graduate work focused on women from developing countries who were living in the United States.
While serving as executive director, Paul traveled around the world attending U.N. conferences, with an emphasis on women’s issues.
Paul is “of a generation that was very hopeful and very idealistic about the U.N.,” Olson said. “They understood it’s important to have effective international organizations, and it’s important for the United States to take a constructive lead in those organizations. They also understood that although the U.N. works at a global level, it’s really the actions we take here in our own communities that matter.”
On the local level, Paul started Iowa City’s annual Night of 1000 Dinners to celebrate International Women’s Day. This year’s event will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center and will focus on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which include reaching gender equality by 2030, according to a news release from the city.
These days, Paul said, the environment is her top concern.
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“The topic I’m most interested in is of course climate change because I feel if we don’t solve that problem, there’s no sense in working on anything,” Paul said, adding that nuclear proliferation and women’s issues remain passions as well.
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