Establishing The Peace Corps:Women at HQ, Post 24

Arriving for work on or before March 1, 1961, the day President Kennedy signed the executive order establishing the Peace Corps, were a number of women who would become famous during these early years at the agency. The majority of these women were well connected by family and friends to Shriver and the new administration and eagerly went to work at the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps was the ‘hot’ agency and everyone wanted to be connected to Kennedy–if they couldn’t be in the White House–they wanted to be with Shriver at the Peace Corps.

Some of these noted women were: Maryann Orlando, Sally Bowles, Nancy Gore, Nan McEvoy, Diana MacArthur, Patricia Sullivan, Alice Gilbert, Betty Harris, Ruth Olson, Dorothy Mead Jacobsen. It is a long list, but nevertheless the agency was dominated by men.

Looking at old black-and-white photos one is struck by two things: 1) the women are sitting behind the men at the conference table; 2) everyone is smoking.

The Peace Corps [like all agencies and businesses in the ’60s] was dominated by men; the women in those early days played secondary role within the agency. That said, several women, particularly Betty Harris and Sally Bowles, heavily influenced early Peace Corps 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 around twenty-three-years old.

Here are a few quick profiles of some of these women:

Mary Ann Orlando is the one person Sarge brought with him when he left Chicago for the Peace Corps. She was born and raised in Chicago, and went to work at the vast Merchandise Mart in 1946. When Shriver arrived in 1948 to take charge of the Mart, Mary Ann became his secretary and at the start of the Peace Corps had already worked for him for 13 years. Her title at the Peace Corps was Confidential Assistant to the Director. Mary Ann would go with Shriver to OEO, and then later into his private practice. No one–and I mean no one–could get to Shriver in his office unless they could talk their way around Mary Ann Orlando.

Al Gore has 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, it was not as a Volunteer. Nancy was the daughter of Tennessee Senator Albert Gore. She 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 travelled 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 onto run for Congress in New York State. Nancy would later become Bill Moyers’ assistant. At the time Nancy was dating David Halberstam, who was then writing for The New York Times. 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. She would die in 1984 at the age of 46 of lung cancer.

Working with Nancy, sharing an office in those first days, 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 had traveled and lived in Southeast Asia, India, Mexico, Morocco, France and Spain, and served as legislative assistant to Congressman John Brademas, and as administrative assistant to Solicitor General Archibald Cox. Sally 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 private trips overseas for him, to advice him on the performance of CDs when Shriver got word there was trouble in one or the other Peace Corps country. Other women in the early years often worked around official channels. I remember in Ethiopia how APCD Jane Campbell, another early women at the agency, 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.

Bluestocking Nan Tucker McEvoy, Deputy Director of Africa Program, was a reporter who had covered state politics in California, national politics in Washington and international conferences and events during ten years with The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Herald Tribune and the Washington Post. Her grandfather, Michael de Young, founded the San Francisco Chroniclein 1865. As the only child of Phyllis de Young Tucker, she inherited one-third ownership of the Chronicle Publishing Company and headed the board from 1981 to 1995. Today, she owns a 550 acre ranch in California and is the largest producer of organic estate-grown olive oil in the nation.

The women Shriver brought to the agency in those early days of the Peace Corps, and the significant influence they had, shaped many of the early policies at the agency, especially decisions relating to female PCVs. And at the time, less than 25% of all Volunteers were women. Today, the number is closer to 65%, showing not only the change in the agency, but the changes in American society. Today at the Peace Corps, women no longer sit in the back rows at the conference table.

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  • At last I know who Sally Bowles is! For years, she was one of the non-station regulars who showed up on the air to raise funds for the local (DC) PBS station, WETA, She never appeared at any time except at those twice-a-year events, but she was delightful and made the appeals actually fun to watch. She was the friendly face of the station at those times, and I’m sure her presence alone brought in thousands. You just liked her, instinctively.

    And it turns out she was Peace Corps. Of course! Wonder how long she worked in AL? I was calling that number at least 3 times a week towards the end 1968 as the draft was caressing my neck….

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