Women Were No Part of the “Mad Men” in the Early Peace Corps

Contrary to some myths, Peace Corps Washington was not a government version of “Mad Men.” writes Joanne Roll (Colombia 1963-65) yesterday in her blog item.

Sorry Joanne. I have to disagree. The Peace Corps (like other government agencies at the time was made up of  “mad men”.)

In the third year of the Peace Corps–1963–a booklet was published by the agency entitled “Who’s Who in the Peace Corps Washington.” Here is a photo in those early years of a Senior Staff Meeting with Shriver at the head of the table.

Two Women sitting at the far end of the table in the Peace Corps’ first office, the Maiatico Building, 1963. (However, all the elevator operators were women.)

A list of the top 40 employees were profiled in this booklet. Only three profiles were of women: Alice Gilbert (Director of the Division of United Nations and International Agency Programs); Ruth Olson (Special Assistant to the Chief of the Division of Volunteer Field Support); Dorothy Mead Jacobsen (Chief of the Division of Personnel).

There was also a list of  “Charter Members” of the Peace Corps. They were given a photo and a paragraph. A total of  21 employees were profiled. Of them 7 were women: Jean Hundley, a secretary; Nan Tucker McEvoy, Deputy Director of Africa Programs; Sally Bowles, daughter of Ambassador Chester Bowles; Helen Farrall, receptionist; Gloria Gaston, African Region; Nancy Gore, assistant to the Associate Director for Planning and Evaluation; Mary Ann Orlando, Confidential Assistant to the Director.

Coates Redmon in her 1986 book Come As You Are about the founding and first years only profiles one ‘famous’ early women staffer, Betty Harris. 7 men were profiled. Coates Redmon worked in the Evaluation Division in those early days. There were a few other women in key positions, Jane Campbell, in the Division of Volunteers Support, and later APCD in Ethiopia. However, in those founding years–1961-1963, no woman was a Peace Corps Country Director.

It wasn’t until the first RPCVs returned from overseas that HQ began to be ‘flooded’ with females, RPCVs like Maureen Carroll (Philippines 1961-63); Peggy Anderson (Togo 1962-64): Sally Collier (Ethiopia 1962-64); and our own, Marian Haley Beil (Ethiopia 1962-64) among others.

Today, more than 60% of all Peace Corps Volunteers are women. Since 1977 there has been 13 Peace Corps Directors–6 have been women and 6 have been Peace Corps Volunteers. I would estimate that 1/3 of all CDs are women. In fact, Maureen Carroll and Sally Collier later in their tour became country directors in Africa.

Today, from the directorship down to the PCVs, it is truly, The “Mad Women” of the Peace Corps.

John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962-64)



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  • John,

    I cerainly have to defer to your knowledge about the early days of Peace Corps. I think it is a matter of perspective. One of the reasons I applied to the Peace Corps was because there was a policy that women were to be treated equally with men. Truth be told, I have searched for that memo and still have not found it.

    Your information shows that women were in position of authority and were not excluded from meetings. Although, the number of women were not in equal numbers, but there was not a large pool of women, in the early 60s, who had executive experience. My intent was to reintroduce the memo which Marian Haley Beil wrote protesting an exaggerated statistic published in Newsweek. Marian Haley Beil was ultimately promoted to Chief of Volunteer Support. She did not hesitate to express her opinion in a memo because she had the authority to do so and used it.

    One of the first PCVL in Colombia was a woman. You documented how RPCV women were hired and placed in important positions, as soon as the first Volunteers came home.

    My perspective was based on my experience in the1960s AFTER I came home from the Peace Corps. I worked for an NGO which had a federal grant which included my position. Women in that organization were not allowed to supervise men because Apostle Paul said women should not be “over” a man. The organization was not a religious organization. Only men were allowed in the meetings were program decisions were made. That was a “mad men” organization.

    I was a member of an all female PCV women. We went through Outward Bound training meeting the same standards as men in other groups did. I still brag about completing the Drown proofing tests.

    I never worked at Peace Corps and certainly you know better than I. Still, I think Marian Haley Beil was a great model for women!

  • It took until 1977 before there was a woman Director, Carolyn Payton. The agency was then part of VISTA and Carolyn was fired after a year by the head of VISTA. Then it was 1991 before Bush appointed Elaine Chao, The first RPCV was a woman, Carol Bellamy. She was appointed in 1993 by Clinton.

  • Thank you John Coyne!
    You are the keeper of the heart and history of the Peace Corps🌍🌎🌏
    Always thankful you introduced me to Coates Redmond, NaN Tucker and Marian Beil .
    We had fun working as a team with Carol Bellamy. We are all still laboring for Peace…

  • John, the “Early Peace Corps “as reported is very accurate based on my experience as a young female working for Pat Kennedy, head of Volunteer Support from Fall of 1962-1964. All those female names are so vivid in my mind to this day. They were strong role models for me as a young woman just beginning a career in Government. I think they had significant influence on the direction of the PC even if they were not always in the meetings. They had easy access to the policy makers and wrote many of the white papers and recommendations for the “mad men” leaders. They worked long hours and helped pave the way for other women who followed .them. Thanks for the memories! Gwen

  • Thanks, John. The photo brings back memories of my colleagues. It would be fun to identify the folk around the table. I started work at PC/Washington as a “university officer” in Frank Williams’ Office of Private, International Cooperation on April Fools Day,1963. The booklet with brief bios of staff came out about the time I arrived. Nancy Gore was Al Gore’s late sister. I don’t recall any overt discrimination against women in the Washington office. Some male chauvinists would make disparaging remarks, but always in private. The agency was noted for being open to women and racial minorities. I’m glad you’re compiling the history while some of the principals are still around to comment on what happened from their perspective.

  • I don’t know…..From the vantage point of a lowly volunteer, the Peace Corps looked like a pretty equitable organization. I was raised with mildly chauvinist attitudes (or so I thought), but the Ivy Leaguers in my group (Ethiopia 62-64) proved to be true Mad Men prototypes. The spunky women PCVs convinced me that the times, they were a-changing. I’m grateful that gender equality was eventually reflected further up the hierarchical chain. But in my humble opinion, most bureaucracies (universities, local governments, corporations, for example), resemble military organizations in that they were created of, by, for men.

  • I have always thought that the Peace Corps was the first equal opportunity adventure offered by the USA. Pauline Birky-Kreutzer worked side by side with Maury Albertson in crafting that initial feasibility study and stepped into the country directorship for Pakistan when the nice young man given the job freaked out. My naive self had not gotten the memo growing up that I was somehow “less than.” I belonged to a sub-rosa feminist organization called the Girl Scouts. Four of us meet yearly to this day to drink tequila shots and solve the world’s problems. But I digress. It wasn’t until I came home in 1969, after assuring Indians that boys and girls were treated equally in my homeland, that I realized that nope, we have a problem here. But by then it was too late for me to learn the steps to the deferential tango.

  • To partly answer Ted’s question about who were the people at the senior staff table, the woman on this side studying her papers is Betty Harris. Betty was one of the original ‘characters’ at the agency (and certainly was part of the Mad Men!.) She knew Sarge from Newsweek where they both worked back in the late 1940s. She was heavily involved in Texas politics but in the early days of the agency she was going through a tough divorce with the son of the founder of a department store in Dallas. By chance, she was in D.C. and doing a favor for a friend and dropping off a resume at the Peace Corps office.

    She ran into Shriver when he was coming back from lunch. According to Coates in her book, Shriver said,
    “How’s your husband?”
    “Well, he isn’t, Sarge. I mean, we’re getting a divorce.”
    “Fine, so why don’t you come to work for the Peace Corps?”
    (That’s how staff got jobs in those days. Shriver another time hired his seat partner on an airplane flight.)

    The woman across from Betty, I think, is Gloria Gaston, a liaison officer. She would have been at the meeting because she was also on temporary duty in Ghana and other West African countries. She started to work at the agency in May, 1962. She had been on radio and television for the American Society of African Culture in New York. Also worked for UNESCO in Paris.

    • Thanks, John. In the photo, that’s my college classmate Moyers in the white shirt and coatless on 2nd row to left of Shriver. 1st person at the table to the left of Sarge is Frank Williams, The large man, two down the table from Frank, was my office mate John Simon who was in daily telephone contact with Father Ted Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame. To John’s right was Joe Coleman, Head of Evaluation Office, and later my colleague in HEW when he was Deputy Assistant Secretary in John Gardners’s cabinet post. Who else is there?

  • As one of the first women to serve as a PCV (Colombia 3 1962-64), “Peace Corps Washington” was not sure that women could be successful as PCVs in Colombia. We were assigned in teams of 3 people… two women and one male to each site. As I recall, there were earlier all female projects as nurses, etc. But the role and capability of women in PC was still being studied. Our project was urban community development.

    • Thank you, Kay, for this observation. I served in an all-woman group, Colombia Xl, 63-65. We were not nurses, we were Health Education/Rural Community Development. What is so interesting is that originally, we were supposed to be a companion group to Colombia VIII, which had both men and women. We trained a month after they had begun. The idea, as I recall, was Colombia VIII was going to build health clinics and we were to follow a month later and form two women teams, one from Colombia VIII and one from Colombia XI to teach Health Education classes. That never happened. I do not know of any assignments combining women from the two groups.

      Colombia XI were assigned in groups of two women in rural areas. An evaluator from Charlie Peters Evaluation Unit visited our groups’ sites in 1964. I had complained that we were not trained adequately to respond effectively to the health needs of people, as did others in my group. The evalutator’s final report said, in effect that members assigned to Health Education did need additional training in health education, but, we(Colomiba VIII and XI) had demonstrated that women could do rural community development.

      I had always thought women were assigned two to a site for safety reasons. A woman of Colombia VIII was promoted to PCVL up on the coast. I believe that the nurses arrived in 1964, after these two groups. Ironically, we trained in New Mexico with a group of all men for Ecuador and some of our group did community development training with the men. Others of us were in all women teams. Long ago and far away, but I remember it as if it were yesterday.

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