#11 Mad Women at the Peace Corps (Washington, D.C.)

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.

Jane Campbell in Ethiopia

Jane Campbell in Ethiopia

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.

 

 

 

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  • Jane Campbell!
    She got a lion cub, and the photo shows her feeding him. But there’s a further story: On the flight back to the US, the pilot suddenly saw a lion coming up out of the hold: Jane’s lion cub had smashed its travel box and made its way up to the cockpit. I don’t know the end of the story.

    Also, Harris Wofford recently died. He’d been Director at Peace Corps Ethiopia when I was there. He and Jane worked very, very closely together. Nothing is mentioned of Jane in his obits, but there’s a Jane Campbell Wofford living now in Florida….

    • I spoke to Jane Campbell yesterday and told her about Harris’ death. She lives in Ghent, New York, full time. She came to Ethiopia as an APCD in 1964, after Harris had left Ethiopia as the CD. Jane did work with Harris when he was made president of Old Westbury College as the first Director of Admissions. This was in 1967-69, and then she went to work with the UNICEF.

      As for the lion cub getting loose in the plane. That happened on a flight in Europe. Jane had given the cub to an English lord who was turning his estate into a outdoor zoo in GB. It was not a flight to the U.S.

      I first met Jane at our Peace Corps Training at Georgetown University in the summer of 1962. I later worked with her at the Division of Volunteer Support in 1964, after my tour in Ethiopia. Then when I returned to Ethiopia in the fall of 1965, we worked together before she left the country. Later I followed her as the Director of Admissions at the College of Old Westbury in 1969.

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