40 Years Ago: RN’s Memorandum About Women in Government

    From the earliest days as President, RN was determined to bring women into high level positions in his administration.

    On Tuesday we noted the forty-second anniversary of his appointment of Virginia Knauer as Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs.  Several months later, in October 1969, he appointed a Task Force on Women’s Rights and Responsibilities. Chaired by Virginia Allan, a Michigan-based educator, businesswomen, and civil leader, the Task Force submitted a Report to the President —titled A Matter of Simple Justice— in April 1970.

    Barbara Franklin —who later served as Secretary of Commerce in the administration of George H. W. Bush— led RN’s drive to recruit more women for high level administration positions, and under her leadership, from 1971 through 1973, the numbers tripled.

    In 1971, President Nixon placed Barbara Hackman Franklin in charge of recruiting women for high level positions in his administration.  Under her leadership, the numbers tripled between 1971 and 1973.

    Forty years ago today, on 21 April 1971, the President alerted the federal government to the fact that he meant business in this regard by issuing  a brief but eloquent and direct  “Memorandum About Women in Government”:

    Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies:

    As you know, it has been my desire to attract the ablest and most talented people in the country to join this Administration and assist in the achievement of our far-reaching goals. The Nation’s many highly qualified women represent an important reservoir of ability and talent that we must draw on to a greater degree. In this Administration we have firmly espoused the rights of women, and we must now clearly demonstrate our recognition of the equality of women by making greater use of their skills in high level positions.

    Our efforts to date in appointing women have offered some encouragement. I have appointed a number of women to top posts and have named more than 200 to Presidential Advisory Boards and Commissions. However, I am convinced that we can and must do better.

    To this end, I am now directing that you take the following actions:
    –Develop and put into action a plan for attracting more qualified women to top appointive positions (GS-16 and up through Presidential appointees) in your Department or Agency by the end of this calendar year. This plan should be submitted to me by May 15.
    –Develop and put into action by May 15 a plan for significantly increasing the number of women, career and appointive, in mid-level positions (GS-13 to 15). This plan should directly involve your top personnel official.
    –Ensure that substantial numbers of the vacancies on your Advisory Boards and Committees are filled with well-qualified women.
    –Designate an overall coordinator who will be held responsible for the success of this project. Please provide this name to me by May 15.

    I have asked my Special Assistant, Fred Malek, to meet with each of you individually to review further the requirements of this project and to offer his assistance in locating highly qualified women candidates for top positions.

    I intend to follow personally the results of this project; I look forward to your giving it the fullest degree of cooperation. It is important not only in terms of opening new opportunities for women, but also as a means of making the fullest possible use of talents that are needed in the Nation’s service.
    RICHARD NIXON

    The remarkable —and largely unheralded— story of the RN’s initiatives to recruit, hire, and train women for high level administration positions is recorded and documented in Barbara Franklin’s extensive archival collection at Penn State University. Among its resources are 45 oral histories.   Barbara Franklin will lead a Nixon Legacy Forum on this subject next spring — when Penn State Library Press will publish A Matter of Simple Justice: the Untold Story of Barbara Franklin and A Few Good Women by Lee Stout, former head Archivist of Penn State.


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