# 17 Mad Woman At The Peace Corps: Elizabeth Forsling Harris (Washington, D.C.)

Betty had put Shriver on the spot by forcing the issue of whether married Volunteers could give birth while serving overseas. She did it with this, the last of her MOM and POP memos:

“Look Sarge. The Peace Corps is probably the most progressive organization in America. It’s what America claims to be all about: equality. In the Peace Corps, blacks have equality. Women have equality. Our female Volunteers are paid the same living allowances as the male Volunteers. They have the same responsibilities, the same physical hardships. We have said, in effect, that the rules are no different in the Peace Corps; the same goes for both sexes. So to suddenly say that a female Peace Corps Volunteer is too fragile, too fine, and too clean to have a baby in the Third World country, especially if she is game to do this, is to go back on our word–is to reverse policy. The exercise gets to be something of a sham. The women are insulted and the countries are insulted. And don’t think they won’t catch on. The couple ought to have a choice, at least. Stay or go. My bet is 99 percent of them will choose to stay.”

Three days after Shriver got Betty’s memo, at a Senior Staff meeting, Shriver said to the assembled Mad Men: “I’m going to Hyannis Port for the weekend. I have two memos here on the same subject, but with totally opposite viewpoints. The subject is pregnancy and childbirth. I will take this memo from the Medical Division and I will take this memo from Betty Harris. And when I come back on Monday, I’ll have an answer.”

Betty was sure of a defeat. The Medical Division was sure of a victory. And on that following Monday morning, they got their answer.



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  • When I was serving in the Marshalls one couple got pregnant and went home. I don’t know if they ever married. The poor guy had to learn she was pregnant via interisland radio with everyone listening.

    Another couple got pregnant who lived on Majuro, the district center. She had put together a health program on the one local AM radio station (WSZO to great Wazoo). She proposed continuing her service by using her pregnancy and raising of an infant as the centerpiece of the program. It was a great hit. Marshallese women had gotten away from nursing their newborns, replacing breast milk with watered down canned evaporated milk or even the sap from the coconut blossom. She ran her program while nursing her baby and it led to more women nursing theirs. It was a great service.

    Joe Midzalkowski
    Micronesia 3, Marshall Islands

  • A couple were pregnant in northern Ethiopia. They decided to complete their tour by transferring to Asmara in Eritrea where there was a United States military hospital. They had their child and completed their service. A single pregnant volunteer came home and the father-to-be was transferred to West Africa. This was in 1963-64.

  • There are many who should have pregnancy covered when it occurs during service (not speaking rape here). Yet, still it is a major, often insurmountable battle to get the USDOL to cover this service-related health issue.

    This warrants and discussion.

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