Madame Nhu at East House


"My physical strength just doesn't equal my moral strength," murmured the tiny 'dragon lady' of South Vietnam, as she pulled her mink stole around her and slumped into an easy chair. It had been a long day of interviews and plane trips. Two hours before, she had finished her speech in the Cabot Hall living room. Now she was resting briefly before confronting the Law School Forum.

Mme. Nhu had hoped that her Radcliffe audience would question her about Vietnamese women. (She had been prepared to speak quite openly, she said, "despite the presence of men.") And she was disappointed that the audience seemed to take more of an interest in her views on political questions that had already been thoroughly covered by newspapers. Her most important political achievements, she emphasized, were the laws she had guided through the Vietnamese legislature to secure women's rights.

"Viennamese women have been terribly suppressed," she explained. "Throughout their lives they've had to submit to a succession of men--first father, then husband, then son. Before the family code of which I am the author, women were legally classified with minors and the insane. They wasted all their intelligence and energy in fighting each other, and to get what? A man, a protector. And once they got him, they had to fight each other to keep him."

"I passed a law against polygamy," Mme. Nhu continued, "but it wasn't enough to pass laws. I knew that the men would try, at their first opportunity, to get rid of these laws and that women had to find some way of protecting themselves. So the next step was to organize a paramilitary force of Vietnamese women. Now there are 200,000 women with military training and I have seen young men begging the girls to teach them how to use a gun."

Her four children have given her a great deal of pleasure. "My elder daughter Le Thuy," Mme. Nhu gestured at the lovely seventeen-year-old who sat, poised and relaxed, across the room, "is not only a good deal taller than me--surely a sign of progress [In three inch heels Mme. Nhu stood under five feet]--but she will soon enter medical school in Vietnam. My other daughter [five years old] I expect will also have a career. But all my children shall do as they wish. I would have preferred Le Thuy to have been a lawyer."


"Le Thuy complains," Mme Nhu glanced at her daughter, "that I have a smile for everyone and save only my exhaustion for her. And now she would make me rest, if not for the business we must still attend to." It was time for the Law School Forum.