Newly released documents detail how President Nixon made equality for women a top priority in his administration.
The materials, among the 1,400 pages of other textual material from the National Archives, shed light on his vision and drive to bring women into government, as well his support for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
He made executive recruitment a priority when he first assumed the Oval Office, deploying assistant and future Secretary of Commerce, Barbara Hackman Franklin, to lead a task force on the project.
The Nixon White House efforts would be groundbreaking.
By 1972, the number of women in non-career positions had tripled to 105, and 1,000 more women had been hired government-wide to important agency positions.
In a June 8, 1971 memo, Franklin broke down the administration’s 2-½ year effort compared to the Johnson and Kennedy administrations.
During President Johnson’s civil rights pioneering 6 years in office, just 27 women were appointed to high-level non-career positions. Between 1969 and 1971, the Nixon administration had already appointed 38 women. During the same period the Nixon White House appointed approximately 9,000 women to career positions, almost equal to the total of the Johnson years.
In a White House press release dated April 21, 1971, President Nixon took pride in the large amount of women appointed to high posts and presidential advisory boards, but refused to show complacency.
“I am convinced that we can and must do better,” he said. “It is important not only in terms of opening new opportunities for women, but also as a means of making fullest possible use of talents that are needed in the nation’s service.”
The Nixon White House was also very receptive to women’s issues during an era of radical social change.
Following a conference keynoted by NOW President Betty Friedan in St. Louis, Franklin took note that women’s issues were gathering steam.
“The ‘political power for women’ idea is extremely appealing,” she wrote. “We should be listening and thinking.”
As early as 1968, President Nixon took a position supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, which would guarantee equality for women at every level of society.
“The task of achieving Constitutional equality between the sexes still is not completed,” he wrote during his campaign for the White House.
Though the ERA was never ratified by 2/3rds of the states, administration documents show a consistent pro-equality position.
“The Equal Rights Amendment has become a unique symbol to many women, and the emotions touched by the issue are strong and deep,” wrote Special Assistant to the President Fred Malek to Domestic Council Adviser John Ehrlichman.
“The only visible alternative appears to be a positive stance.”