Finding Inspiration in the Archives: Honoring Women at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

 

by Lindsay Closterman and Nicola Mantzaris, Metadata Catalogers, White House Photographs

As National Women’s History Month comes to a close, we want to pay tribute to the women represented in the collections of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library who were instrumental in shaping the landscape of American politics and human rights.

In the research we do as metadata catalogers for the White House Photographs collection, we are constantly discovering inspiring women throughout the Library’s collections. In their professional capacities, these contemporaries of John F. Kennedy met and worked with the President throughout his years in the White House. They held key roles in the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, served in high-ranking positions in the administration, were respected members of Congress, and held key roles as ambassadors, journalists, interpreters, doctors, scientists, military officials, and everyday leaders in the struggle for women’s rights.

The materials listed below highlight some of the women and organizations that contribute to making our collections so valuable and our jobs so rewarding. These documents, photographs, and oral histories reflect the diligent efforts on the part of women from all spheres of government and civilian life to enact legislation to improve the lives of American women in real and lasting ways.

 

FEDERAL LEGISLATION AND RECOGNITION

From its establishment on December 14, 1961, the President’s Commission on the Status of Women examined discrimination against women in the United States and proposed ways to eliminate it. Chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, this bipartisan commission worked with the Civil Service Commission as well as the Departments of Labor, Agriculture, Commerce, and Health, Education, and Welfare, to gather its findings and submit a final report to President Kennedy.

 

JFKWHP-AR7035-A. Meeting with President’s Commission on the Status of Women, 12 February 1962. View entire folder here

 

View more materials here:

Records of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women: http://archive1.jfklibrary.org/USPCSW/USPCSW-FA.xml

Audio interview with Eleanor Roosevelt on the Status of Women: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKWHA-085-005.aspx

Papers relating to the Commission from the President’s Office Files: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKPOF-093-004.aspx

 

The Federal Woman’s Awards recognized government employees for outstanding contributions to their fields. The recipients from 1962 and 1963 represented agencies such as the Department of Justice, National Cancer Institute, Department of Labor, Civil Service Commission, Department of the Army, Federal Aviation Agency, and NASA.

 

JFKWHP-AR7069-A. Visit of recipients of 2nd annual Federal Woman’s Awards, 27 February 1962. View entire folder here.

JFKWHP-ST-C139-1-63. Visit of recipients of 3rd annual Federal Woman’s Awards, 2 May 1963. View entire folder here

 

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 promoted economic equality for women in the workplace. The leaders of women’s, civil rights, labor, business, and religious organizations who were present at the signing acted as the organizing forces behind the Equal Pay Act. Women in attendance included: Assistant Secretary of Labor for Labor Standards, Esther Peterson; President of the National Council of Negro Women, Dorothy Height; Senator Maurine Neuberger (D-OR); Representative Edith Green (D-OR); Director of the United Automobile Workers Women’s Department, Caroline Davis; President of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Dr. Minnie Miles; Executive Director of the National Council of Catholic Women, Margaret Mealey; and President of the National Council of Jewish Women, Pearl Larner Willen.

 

JFKWHP-AR7965-B. Signing of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, 10 June 1963. View entire folder here.

 

THE WOMEN

Esther Peterson was Assistant Secretary of Labor for Labor Standards from 1961 to 1969, as well as Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission on the Status of Women.

 

JFKWHP-ST-M6-1-61. Esther Peterson with President John F. Kennedy, 14 December 1961. View photograph record here.

 

View Peterson’s Oral History and Personal Papers here:

http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKOH-EEP-04.aspx

http://archive1.jfklibrary.org/EEPPP/EEPPP-FA.xml

 

Elizabeth (Rudel Smith) Gatov was Treasurer of the United States from 1961 to 1962; she also served as a representative from California to the Democratic National Committee.

 

Elizabeth (Rudel Smith) Gatov was Treasurer of the United States from 1961 to 1962; she also served as a representative from California to the Democratic National Committee. View her Oral History and Personal Papers.  

 

View Gatov’s Oral History and Personal Papers here:

http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKOH-ERG-01.aspx

http://archive1.jfklibrary.org/ERGPP/ERGPP-FA.xml

 

Representative Edith Green of Oregon served on the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. An advocate of women’s rights and higher education, Green was instrumental in the passage of Title IX, the 1972 legislation that prohibited discrimination against women in federally-funded educational programs. She served 10 terms in the House of Representatives from 1955 to 1974.

 

JFKWHP-KN-17561. Representative Edith Green attends a Congressional Coffee Hour, 14 April 1961. View entire folder here.

 

View Green’s Oral History here:

http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKOH-ESG-01.aspx

 

Veteran reporter May Craig, whose career spanned nearly four decades, served as the Washington correspondent for the Guy Gannett Publishing Company of Maine. Craig also had the distinction of being one of the few American female war correspondents during World War II.

 

JFKWHP-AR7039-B. May Craig with Presidents John F. Kennedy and Harry S. Truman, 13 February 1962. View entire folder here.

 

View Craig’s Oral History here:

http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKOH-EMC-01.aspx

 

Dr. Janet G. Travell was Physician to the President from 1961 to 1965. A specialist in the relief of musculoskeletal pain, Dr. Travell began treating then-Senator John F. Kennedy for back pain in 1955.

 

JFKWHP-AR6661-E. Dr. Janet G. Travell briefs the press, 22 June 1961. View entire folder here.

 

View Travell’s Staff Files here:

http://archive1.jfklibrary.org/JFKWHSFJGT/JFKWHSFJGT-FA.xml

 

Interpreter Nora Lejins was Assistant Chief of Language Services at the Department of State during the Kennedy Administration. She later became Chief of Language Services and retired in 1984 after 36 years of service in the State Department.

 

JFKWHP-KN-C17522. Nora Lejins with President John F. Kennedy and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer of West Germany, 12 April 1961. View entire folder here.

 

View more photographs of Lejins here:

http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKWHP-1962-01-08-B.aspx

http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKWHP-1962-05-03-C.aspx

http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKWHP-1962-09-14-C.aspx

 

Eugenie M. Anderson became the first female United States ambassador in 1949 and served during the Kennedy Administration as U.S. Minister to Bulgaria. A former delegate to the Democratic National Convention, Anderson later acted as United States Representative on the United Nations Trusteeship Council and the United Nations Committee for Decolonization.

 

JFKWHP-AR7272-A. Eugenie M. Anderson with President John F. Kennedy, 28 May 1962. View photograph record here.

 

View Anderson’s Oral History here:

http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKOH-EMA-01.aspx

 

NOTABLE ORGANIZATIONS

Founded in 1896, the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs merged multiple organizations, large and small, into one association whose common goals were to support racial and gender equality. The NACWC grew primarily out of the union of the Colored Women’s League of Washington, D.C. and the National Federation of Afro-American Women.

 

JFKWHP-ST-336-2-62. Visit of members of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, 2 August 1962. View entire folder here.

 

The Women’s Army Corps was the all-women branch of the United States Army, created first as an auxiliary unit in 1942 and then established as a formal branch of the U.S. Army in 1945. It was disbanded in 1978 when women were integrated into the other branches of the Army, serving alongside men in all but combat roles.

 

JFKWHP-KN-C21765. Visit of representatives of the Women’s Army Corps regarding 20th Anniversary, 15 May 1962. View entire folder here.

 

The Association of Women Helicopter Pilots (also known as “Whirly-Girls“) was founded in 1955 by aviator Jean Ross Howard, with members from the United States, France, and Germany.

 

JFKWHP-KN-C17738. Visit of members of the Association of Women Helicopter Pilots, 4 May 1961. View entire folder here.

 

The Ninety-Nines, Inc. (International Organization of Women Pilots) was established in 1929 by 99 female pilots. Amelia Earhart served as the organization’s first president.

 

Postcard with commemorative Amelia Earhart stamp. View entire folder here.

 

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