In a memorandum to the heads of the executive departments and agencies dated April 21, 1971, President Richard Nixon announced a program to recruit top women for mid- and high-level positions in the federal government. The president wrote, “it has been my desire to attract the ablest and most talented people in the county to join this Administration and assist in the achievement of our far-reaching goals.” President Nixon continued, “The Nation’s many highly qualified women represent an important reservoir of ability and talent that we must draw on to a greater degree.”
With this in mind, Nixon directed the executive departments and federal agencies to take several actions: first, to develop and implement a plan for attracting more qualified women to top and mid-level appointment positions; second, to fill vacancies on advisory boards and committees with well-qualified women, with a goal of 25 percent of these posts held by women; and third, to designate an internal coordinator to oversee and be held responsible for these programs. Initially, Fred Malek, special assistant to the President on personnel, was the lead on this recruitment process, taking the reigns on recommending qualified women candidates.
However, it soon become apparent that a special staffer, dedicated solely to recruiting women to the federal government, was needed. Enter, Barbara Hackman Franklin. On April 9, 1971, Franklin, an assistant vice president at First National City Bank in New York City, was brought on to head the recruitment process. By April 22, Franklin was officially announced as a “Staff Assistant to the President for Executive Manpower,” though it was quickly shortened to “Staff Assistant” after press backlash over the inclusion of the “manpower” in a job title solely created to recruit women.
From the beginning, the recruitment process was an arduous process for Franklin. Having initially not been assigned an assistant, she handled and answered all her correspondence. As her workload increased, it became nearly impossible to manage. When Franklin finally got an assistant, she was constantly fighting to get her paid. She had to juggle with accommodating to the nature of White House work while simultaneously having to manage a vast and ambitious undertaking.
Though Franklin’s official position was behind the scenes, as the go-to person for recommendations on qualified women candidates she became extremely active as the public face of the Administration’s commitment to women.
In essence, Franklin headed the Nixon Administration’s larger initiatives on women’s issues, from the Equal Rights Amendment to childcare policy and abortion. She was increasingly seen as a special assistant on women’s issues in addition to her official work as recruiter for bringing women to the federal government. This is clearly seen in Franklin’s early memos with Malek and other members of the Administration, as she looked for specific information not only on women employees but also on issues of concern to women of all sorts.