Arriving for work on or before March 1, 1961, there were a few women, early volunteer staffers, at the Maiatico Building. They, too, would become famous in the first years of the agency. The majority of these women were connected by family or friends to the Peace Corps and they were eager to work at the new agency.
The Peace Corps was ‘hot’ and everyone, of course, wanted to be connected in some way to the new administration. If they couldn’t be in the White House, then they wanted to be with his brother-in-law and the shiny new idea, the Peace Corps.
In the world-of-work at the time, women were mostly ‘second class’ citizens. They were not, for example, sitting at the ‘big conference table” in Senior Staff meetings. Looking at old black-and-white photos of Peace Corps HQ meetings, you might see, however, that Elizabeth (Betty) Forsling Harris had wedged herself into the group, but that was Betty at her best.
Nevertheless, in these old photos, most of the women are in chairs shoved up against the walls, sitting behind the men and waiting to be called upon for some piece of information the men had forgotten. There, against the walls and watching the boys at play, they would amuse themselves by observing all the Super Egos trying to impress each other and Shriver.
Jane Campbell Beaven, while still in her mid-twenties at the Peace Corps had her masters from Columbia in Africans Studies and already published a book on Zamabara. She worked in the Division of Volunteer Support. She would tell of observing the Senior Staff scribbling notes on yellow legal pads and frantically slipping them back and forth across the wide waxed conference tables. “They reminded me,” she recalls, “of little third grade boys passing notes behind the teacher’s back.”
The Women Up Against the Wall, however, were powerful in their own right. Some of the noted female staffers were: Maryann Orlando, Sally Bowles, Nancy Gore, Nan McEvoy, Diana MacArthur, Patricia Sullivan, Alice Gilbert, Betty Harris, Ruth Olson, Dorothy Mead Jacobsen, and Mitzi Molina. Mitzi was the first employee hired at the agency as a newly graduated college student.
Several women, particularly Betty Harris and Sally Bowles, heavily influenced early agency decisions, especially decisions about the role of women in the Peace Corps. Sally Bowles, for example, would play a silent, and very important role, in advising Sarge. At the time, she was only twenty-three. Betty Harris would play a large role over the issue of what the agency should do with PCVs who became pregnant in the Peace Corps.
Shriver only brought one person with him from Chicago, and that was Maryann Orlando. She was born and raised in Chicago and went to work in 1946 at the vast Merchandise Mart in that city. When Shriver arrived in 1948 to take charge of the Mart, owned by his father-in-law, Mary Ann became his secretary and at the start of the Peace Corps, she had already worked for Sarge for 13 years. Her title at the Peace Corps was Confidential Assistant to the Director. Mary Ann would go with Shriver to OEO, and later with him to his private practice. No one–and I mean no one–could get to Shriver in his office unless they could talk their way by Mary Ann Orlando.
Al Gore has said on a few occasions that his older sister, Nancy Gore, was a Peace Corps Volunteer. While Nancy Gore did have a Peace Corps history, she was never a Volunteer. Nancy had graduated from Vanderbilt with a degree in history and had also studied in Monterrey, Mexico, Caen, France, and the Sorbonne. She was a guide at the Brussels World Fair in ’58 and had traveled in Europe and Asia. As a senator’s daughter, she had worked for the Democratic National Committee, and in the early days of the Peace Corps, she had the title of assistant to the Associate Director for Planning and Evaluation, Bill Haddad, who would go on to run for Congress in New York State. [Nancy would later become Bill Moyers’ assistant.]
At the time Nancy was “dating” [as we said at the time] David Halberstam, who was then writing for The New York Times and wrote a number of articles about the beginnings of the agency. In the building at 806 Connecticut Avenue, she was known as the “resident Scarlett O’Hara.” Beautiful Nancy was one of the first twelve people working at HQ in March 1961.
Working with Nancy, sharing an office, was another ‘famous daughter,” Sally Bowles. Sally was the daughter of Ambassador Chester Bowles. She was an honor graduate in history from Smith College where she was editor of the college newspaper and president of the student body. She has traveled and lived in Southeast Asia, India, Mexico, Morocco, France and Spain. She served as legislative assistant to Congressman John Brademas, and as administrative assistant to Solicitor General Archibald Cox. She arrived for work at the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961, and went to work as a Volunteer Liaison Officer in the Division of Volunteer Field Services. Beyond this title, Sarge often called on Sally to make special trips overseas for him, to advise him on the performance of overseas Rep.
Other women in those early years would also work around official channels to get their views to Sarge. I remember in Ethiopia how Jane Campbell wrote a personal letter to Sarge in 1965 and asked Sarge to ‘overrule’ a Peace Corps Directive on behalf of an Ethiopian PCV. Sarge did.