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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.
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.
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.
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.
View Peterson’s Oral History and Personal Papers here:
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 Gatov’s Oral History and Personal Papers here:
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.
View Green’s Oral History here:
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.
View Craig’s Oral History here:
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.
View Travell’s Staff Files here:
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.
View more photographs of Lejins here:
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.
View Anderson’s Oral History here:
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.
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.
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.
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.