Ruth Olson, Special Assistant, Division of Volunteer Field Support

One of the nicest people, especially to RPCVs arriving at PC/HQ in the early days, was a woman who had the least connection to Volunteers life, Ruth Olson. She was raised in Albuquerque, N.M. and had two years at the University of New Mexico before she came to Washington to take a job as a typist in the Treasury Department. It was then the gloomy Thirties, the heart of hard times, and her college career became a casualty to economics.

The approach of World War II generated a number of new war agencies which, because they were new, had tumultuous personnel problems. Beginning in 1940, Miss Olson moved through the personnel offices of a number of these new agencies—the War Production Board, the Federal Security Agency, the Foreign Economics Administration, the vastly expanded Navy. In the process, she was called on to deal with every conceivable variety of personnel problem. It was a rough course, from which she emerged at the end of the war as a personnel expert.

In 1951, she was head of personnel for the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics, “when I suddenly decided I ought to go ahead and get my degree.”  She made up her mind, indeed, to get two degrees, and while continuing to run her office in the daytime, she commenced attending evening classes at George Washington University, working on her B.A. and M.A. simultaneously. In 1958, she received the B.A. in business administration. The following year, she was given her master’s in personnel management.

Ruth Olson
Special Assistant
Division of Volunteer Field Support

Ruth Olson was one of the pioneers—along with Dorothy Jacobson—in the Government’s famed intern program for prospective Federal administrators. Heading a staff of 50 persons, she directed the intern program for the Navy’s air arm. She also directed an extensive program of personnel research in order to find ways of improving personnel responsiveness to management policies.

Coming straight from the Navy to the Peace Corps, which she joined in the new agency’s first week, meant for Ruth Olson “a chance to get away from processing and a chance to get a new look at things. It is the first new agency I have ever been in that has not been involved in some aspect of war effort. Nothing is routine about the Peace Corps –and nothing should be routine where Volunteers are concerned. Whenever I begin to flag, I think about what the Volunteers are doing, and then I get all fired up again.”

“Probably no experience
in international
relations was ever
launched with so
many opportunities
for failure. But the
Peace Corps has been
a remarkable success,
praised both in this
country and abroad.”
—Tampa (Fla.) Times

2 Comments

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  • Thanks, John, for remembering this Nuevomexicana. I think the quote you added, from the Tampa Times, is something to remember, and gives me some thoughts for the text of the PC monument I’m working on. John Turnbull Lower Canoncito, New Mexico

  • John, thanks for sharing this review of Ruth Olson’s background. That’s a great picture of her and so representative of her personality. She was the first person I met in the PC Personnel Office, when I came for a job interview at the end of the first year of PC . As a young person fresh from a rural area of Southwest Georgia, with limited professional experience and little knowledge about the Peace Corps she obviously saw something in me that gave her confidence to recommend I go talk with Pat Kennedy. He had recently arrived from Wisconsin to establish the Office of Volunteer Support. He hired me on the spot and her recommendation and his decision dramatically changed the trajectory of my life. One never knows what opening one door of opportunity will lead to. It was a motto I adopted for myself, with lots of encouragement from many mentors along the way, as I continued to seek other adventures, including a 2 year assignment in Nepal. The adventures continue to this day, thanks Ruth!

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