The 1954 Statute for the Dutch West Indies

                                     Queen Juliana signing the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands

On December 15, 1954, Queen Juliana signed a statute changing the relationship between the Netherlands and its remaining overseas territories in the Dutch West Indies. From a colonial perspective, Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles gained greater independence within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  

Among the journalists who covered the signing ceremony was Esther Van Wagoner Tufty. The recording in the Radio Netherlands’ archives is labelled ‘transcription’, which seems to indicate that it was made at the request of someone who didn’t work for Radio Netherlands or for use elsewhere, most likely in the United States. 

Tufty (1896-1986) was a major figure in American journalism at the time. In 1935, she founded the Tufty News Service in Washington, served as a war correspondent from World War Two till the Vietnam War and covered every U.S. president from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan. She was called ‘the Duchess’, recalls a veteran Washington journalist, because “she was tall and statuesque and had beautiful, long braids”. In 1948, when she delivered a speech at the America House in Munich, she almost caused a small riot because people mistook her for the wife of the powerful Nazi figure Hermann Göring.

In this report, Tufty explains the historic importance of the 1954 Dutch West Indies statute and why the signing ceremony involved such pomp and ceremony. She also briefly mentioned the disputed territory of West New Guinea (now Papua New Guinea). A few days earlier, the Netherlands had successfully argued at the United Nations that it was not yet ready for greater self control. Her two-minute report was viewed as a p.r. coup for the Netherlands, which ultimately had to relinquish control over the territory in 1962.