Q: Okay, we are officially starting our interview, and I am Jean Rainey interviewing Major General Jeanne Holm on November 11, Veterans Day. So, Jeanne, I was fascinated in reading your biography to learn that you enlisted as a Private in the Army in 1942 I believe it was.
Q: And I'm interested to begin with in getting a sense of that era. It's much ahead of the era that we're actually studying. But I think it would be useful to get a perspective on how women in the Armed Services were regarded in that era. I expect it was quite different from anything even in the '60s and '70s, the period that we're studying.
A: Very different as a matter of fact. I use the word Private because people understand what a Private is today. In fact, because of the status of women at the time, we were not Privates. We were Auxiliaries. The first of the women's components to be set up for World War II was the WAACs, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps.
We already had nurse corps in the Army and the Navy, but there were no other women in the Armed Forces. After Pearl Harbor, because of the manpower shortages brought on by World War II, General George Marshall, who was then the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, decided it would be necessary to tap the women power resources of the country. So he had his people do a study on the feasibility of bringing women into the Army. But neither the Congress nor the Army staff could cope with the notion that women would actually be members of the Army in every sense.
So they insisted on setting up this women's Army "auxiliary" corps which meant that the women would be with the Army, under all the rules of the Army, but would not have some of the rights of actual military personnel. They would not have the same ranks, same titles or veterans benefits for the future. But it was the only way that the military and the Congress would accept military women other than nurses at the time. Even the nurses were not full fledged military personnel at that time. It was a sign of the times. The way society thought about women in those days.
I enlisted in the Army (WAAC) primarily because of the war. My two brothers were in the Navy, and, in fact, had the Navy admitted women first, I probably would have joined the Navy. But the Army was the first one to come along in the summer of 1942.
I was at the right age to enlist. So I jumped at the first service that would take me and that was the Army. The fact that WAACs did not have full military status did not register with any of us at the time. We were just happy to have an opportunity to serve our country. The one thing that I could do is drive a truck. So I enlisted to be a truck driver.
Q: Fascinating. I'd like to then jump forward to the '60s, a period that we're studying, to the period when you serve as Director of Women in the Air Force. Was that a new position? How did it come about?
A: When the services set up the original women's programs in 1942, it was assumed by everyone, the military as well as the women themselves, that they would be supervised by a senior woman. None of them actually had command responsibility. They were titular heads to advise the military on policies that affected military women, how they would be recruited, employed and assigned the kinds of jobs they would do, the kinds of training they would get, uniforms, whatever. That senior woman in each case was called a director, but in reality she had no authority to "direct" anything.
That pattern followed after the war when they established the permanent women's programs in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and newly created Air Force. Each program that they set up, under the 1948 Woman's Integration Act had a woman to head it up with the rank of full colonel, or in the case of the Navy, captain. No other woman in that component could serve in that grade.
So we had full colonels or captains heading up each of these programs, including the nurse corps. And by law, no other woman in that component could serve above the rank of lieutenant colonel or Navy commander.
Q: To whom did you report, then?
A: Basically, to the Deputy Chief of Staff of Personnel. All of these offices in each of the services came under the chiefs of personnel of their respective services. Except for the nurse corps, of course, and they were under the surgeons general. I reported directly to the Deputy Chief of Staff of Personnel who reported to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. But in reality, I worked across the board within the air staff and with commanders in the field. I visited bases all over the world to determine what was going on with military women, to keep the women informed as to what we were doing in their behalf, what the policies were and what we foresaw for the future and to identify problems that I would report to their commanders in the hope problems could be worked out locally.
Q: So I'm looking at the issue of authority to make changes and she's shaking her head at me which means zero.
A: That's right.
Q: But you must have had, did you have the authority of the bully pulpit in any way?
is. We had no direct authority per se. We were advisors to the Chiefs of the services and their staffs and to the Secretaries. We were advisors to the Congress when they asked for our opinions. We had more imagined authority than real.
In other words, people thought we had far more authority than we had because of our positions and our access to the power structure of our services. But in truth, we had to request changes. We had to convince the people in power of changes that were needed. Sometimes it was difficult to impossible to influence the people in power to get things done.
Q: Despite that, were you able to achieve some changes?
A: Yes, but it was usually despite a lot of opposition. Not just from the power structure, not just from the people in power who were always men in those days - male generals, but often from women as well. The only way I could get anything done was to deal directly with the men in authority to convince them of the need for change.
The Chief of the Nurse Corps was different. She was chief of the nursing function of the Air Force with direct control over the nursing functions of the Air Force. But the Director of Woman in the Air Force or WAF, which I was from 1965 to 1972, had to be sure that women called WAF were integrated into the personnel system, that they were considered in decisions that were made concerning military personnel.
Because the military structure was so used to thinking in terms of men, they automatically ignored women. It was very difficult to get policy makers when they made policy, to think in terms of how that policy would affect women. And it wasn't just the men in the power structure who wore these blinders, many women had the same problem.
So this wasn't some male/female confrontation. It was a point of view often shared by other women in my own service who did not believe we should change policies that affected their lives. They did not believe that we should accommodate to the special needs of women. Many women just did not want to rock the boat or call attention to themselves.
[Clarification by Jeanne Holm to taped interview:
Many women did not believe that military women should have families or that they should serve above the rank of lieutenant colonel. This reflected a basic social attitude that stemmed from our upbringing.
Also, most women did not believe that men and women, especially in the enlisted ranks, should be truly integrated into the military organization. The women, especially the older ones, were used to the protection and guidance provided by the women's support structures, sometimes referred to as "petticoat channels. But in practice, the concept of treating men and women differently created a lot of confusion and divided loyalties. While the programs had served the military well when there were relatively few women in the armed forces, by the early 1970s they were beginning to outlive their usefulness.
Moreover, the concept of women's programs was incompatible with the explosion in the numbers of women required by the all- volunteer force. For many practical reasons men and women had to be more fully integrated. So the women's programs, their directors and their acronyms (WAC, WAVES and WAF) were abolished.
Of course, none of this applied to the nurse corps. They're an entirely different situation.]
Q: So the opposition you faced was partly the traditional male opposition but was also sort of a state of mind on the part of some of your fellow women in the military service.
A: It was a state of mind of women in general and of society at large. You cannot separate what was going on in the military from what was going on outside. When you went to college, my guess is you did not live in an integrated dormitory, you see? That was unheard of. We had sororities to protect women's virtues and all this sort of thing. We were very concerned about having Deans of Women. You see, the concept of women being able to compete and to be part, fully part of any organization was just foreign to us.
It was forced upon us during World War II, a certain amount of it. But immediately after the war, we went back to the traditional ways of thinking that had prevailed in the '30s and early '40s, as to what women's proper roles were and what their places were. It was almost Victorian.
Q: Interesting observation. Nevertheless, I think you did say that you were able to achieve some changes. Can you tell me what some of those were?
A: Well, some of them might seem rather minor to you, and here again it reflects society's attitudes towards women. Society believed married women should not work. So when a military woman got married she was allowed to get out immediately, even encouraged. Even though a man who had had the same training as she was not allowed to. He had to fulfill his contractual obligation. But we would allow her to just leave, just because she was a married woman. If she became pregnant or married a man with children, she was forced out whether she wanted to or not.
[Clarification by Jeanne Holm to taped interview:
Pregnancy had always been grounds for immediate discharge, irrespective of the question of legitimacy. That practice was shot down by the courts in 1972. I played no part in it because, frankly I was very ambivalent to the issue. It was a tough one for the military and still is.
One of my biggest battles was to reverse the practice of involuntary discharge of women (in the military) with minor children by virtue of adoption or marriage. The most frequent cases involved women who married men who had children by a previous marriage and were either widowed or divorced. The children may have been without a mother present for many years but the moment a military woman married their father her career was over no matter how much time she had invested.
This policy made no sense to me but there was great resistance within the Air Staff to discontinuing it. Part of my problem was my counterparts in the other services. The women directors had always tried to have consistency in service policies unique to women. In this instance the Army and Navy directors were dead set against any change and they let the Air Staff know how they felt in an attempt to undercut my efforts.
So this was a much more difficult fight than I had ever anticipated but we won, with help from the courts.]
Q: Now, you say we. Where did you find support?
A: I found support from many of the men, but my boss, General Dixon, was the key. He agreed with me and told the personnel staff to change the policy. But, as I said, the directors, my counterparts in the Navy and the Army, fought it all the way because they realized that if the Air Force caved in on these social policies, their service would have to as well. And, in the end, they did.
There was also strong institutional resistance to allowing women to have the same allowances as men when it came to dependents. In other words, it was automatically assumed that any man who was married, his wife was his dependent. She might be a multimillionaire. But it didn't matter. She was assumed to be a dependent with specific rights in terms of medical care and her husband was to receive additional allowances for housing and for food. He was entitled to family quarters, just by virtue of the fact that he was married. It was not true of women. The military regarded them as single. They were not entitled to those benefits unless they could prove that their husbands were dependent upon them for more than 50 percent of their support.
Well, I fought that for many years without success. I had to go through the legal system of the Air Force but they would not support me on it. There is a 1952 decision of the Comptroller General of the U.S. that was against us. Every time I would talk to women in the Air Force during my field trips, they would raise this issue. Why can't we have the same (military) benefits as men when we marry, they'd ask. If her husband was going to school as a civilian, she could not claim him as a dependent. He couldn't get medical care either. He couldn't go to the base exchanges. They were very upset about this. I would tell them that we're not going to win this until we have some woman or man who's a civilian husband willing to challenge the ruling in a court of law. If we do that, I was convinced we would win. I said if anyone wants to take it upon themselves to fight, either for their benefit or their husband's benefit, be my guest. That I would send them all the information that I had in my files to bolster their case.
Well, fortunately some lady by the name of Frontiero at Maxwell Air Force Base picked up the challenge. Her husband had left the service and was a civilian and going to school. She was told that she could not live in family quarters and could not get family allowances. For all practical purposes, she was single.
So she took it to court. My office sent her all the material we had. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court to be resolved. And guess who argued it before the Supreme Court?
Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She won.
Q: That's a wonderful story.
A: It was a landmark decision because it impacted on so many issues in which women and men had not been treated equally in such entitlements.
Q: Do you remember about when that was?
A: Yes, 1973.
Q: Great story.
A: Now, you also must remember too that it coincided with a very important thing that was going on in our society. The drive for equity for women and the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. And there was a synergistic effect between what was going on in the military and what was going on in society as a whole. And the courts were picking this up. They were making decisions that were different from the kinds of decisions they had been making before. I think it was a direct fallout of the women's movement that had percolated to the surface in the '60s.
Q: Was it easier or harder to make changes in the Air Force than the other branches of the military service?
A: It depends on what the subject was. I liked to think that the Air Force would lead the way. And while I was Director, I was doing my best to see that we would lead the way, because it was clear that the other services, with the exception of the Marine Corps, that the other services were not interested in changing things. My counterparts in the Army and Navy wanted to retain control of their program. They wanted control of the training programs, the commissioning programs, and women's policy issues. The Air Force was integrated in most of those areas.
But the other directors wanted to maintain control of the quality of the women in their services, of the women they recruited.
They wanted to maintain a much higher quality than was true of the men in their services, because the draft was taking just about any warm male body. The services did not want that kind of quality with regard to women. We thought, I thought, we should maintain high quality of both men and women not go down to the level of the other services. So the other women directors didn't want to relinquish the quality control they had over their program that they exercised through recruiting criteria and training.
Q: So the fact that the Air Force was a newer branch, it was different.
A: Oh, yes. That's part of it. Also, we didn't have to take draftees. The Air Force was the preferred service.
Q: Easier isn't the right word.
A: That's part of it. We were younger and we were more willing to change generally, but when it came to certain things we were not. For example, when the decision was made in the '70s to open pilot training to women, that cut close to the Air Force's heart. Flying is its mission. That's our reason for being.
When I was asked at a Congressional hearing during my last year as the Director of WAF why the services didn't allow women into pilot training, and I had to give the official positions which was that our pilots are supposed to be able to fly in combat and women were not allowed in combat. I knew full well that most of the airplanes in the military are not combat aircraft. But nonetheless, that was the standard response, the party line.
But then I was asked, and I think it was by Mr. Cohen, what's your personal opinion about this. Well, my counterparts (who were also testifying) were against it. I said I personally thought that women should be flying non-combat aircraft in the military and soon. My Army and Navy counterparts did not agree. The Marine Corps director had no strong feelings either way.
Of course, I had to go back to tell the Chief of Staff of the Air Force (General Ryan) what I'd said. I also told him that I thought that the Air Force, as the flying service, should lead the way in training women as pilots. And he smiled. He was always very nice to me. I usually told it like it was, as gently as possible, of course. Well, he kind of smiled and said, "Yeah. I guess I understand what you're saying, Jeanne. Let it go at that."
Then I pressed further, "If we don't do it," I said, "the new Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral (Elmo) Zumwalt, will make that decision and do it soon. Then the Army's chief will move out....
[Clarification by Jeanne Holm to taped interview:
leaving the Air Force "sitting there with our thumbs in our mouths." I believed that, as the flying service, we should not be in that position - we should lead. I knew I was on dangerous ground.
The suggestion cut too close to the heart of the Air Force mission. But again, the Chief just smiled.
Then I had to go brief the Air Force Secretary. He too just smiled tolerantly and said: "I don't think the Air Force is ready for that." I knew, of course, he was right.
Similar questions were raised about women in the service academies. I'm not sure if it was during the same hearings but the four women directors were testifying. We were each asked how we felt about women being admitted. Predictably, the Army and Navy directors were in total opposition and I was for it. The official position of the Air Force was against women in the academy but actually, the subject was being debated internally.
So my views were pretty well known. I had said repeatedly: "Women in the academy is inevitable, it's just a matter of when and under what ground rules." Meanwhile, pressures were building from members of Congress to nominate female constituents.
Shortly after I left the Director, WAF job hearings were held on the subject. The services all testified against it. For obvious reasons, even though I was the senior woman in the armed forces, I was never invited to testify. A year or so later Congress mandated opening the academies to women.]
Q: You mentioned Congress. Was there support in Congress for making the sorts of changes you were trying to achieve.
A: Oh, yes. I found many in Congress very supportive. The Armed Services Sub-Committees were generally supportive. And they would ask the leading questions in hearings to draw the subjects out. But they could sit there and listen to these women experts on opposite sides of the issue which was not terribly helpful.
[Clarification by Jeanne Holm to taped interview:
But over the years Congress and individual members brought pressures to bear on the services to up-date their policies on women and, in some cases, they forced change upon a reluctant military. The women in Congress were especially influential starting with Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers in the early 1940s. Since the first World War she had been trying to get the Army to accept women other than nurses. She was a major force behind the 1942 law establishing the Women's Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and its conversion a year later into the Women's Army Corps or WAC.
After the war Congresswoman Frances Bolton and Congresswoman (later Senator) Margaret Chase Smith played crucial roles in getting legislation to authorize permanent status for women in the post-war military known as the Women's Armed Services Integration Act of 1948.Then in the 1960s Martha Griffith was involved in military women's issues. In later years (Congresswomen) Pat Schroeder was very knowledgeable and influential in military issues in general and had a great deal of interest in the women. Certainly Nancy Kassebaum-Eaker has been absolutely magnificent on the subject of women in the military.)
Backing up a bit, Margaret Chase Smith was extraordinarily influential in pushing the services during the Korean War. In her personal correspondence to General Marshall, then Secretary of Defense, she advocated greater use of military women. She had been given reserve commission from the United States Air Force as a lieutenant colonel. It was helpful to have her make her visits when she would come on active duty in uniform and visit bases. However, because of the law, she could only be a lieutenant colonel. She could not be a full colonel because by law there was only one, the Director.
Later, when the time came to change that 1948 law to remove the promotion restrictions and the grade ceilings, then Senator Smith and the other women in Congress helped a lot with that legislation. Also, the civilian committee referred to as the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in The Services, the DACOWITS was very effective. The committee had been established in 1952 by Marshall when he was the Secretary of Defense to help recruit more women for the Korean War. The committee still exists today and is deeply involved in all women's policies as well as sexual harassment and many other issues.
Q: I am looking again specifically at this '69 to '74 period that we're looking at. We've talked about Congressional support. What about the White House or I guess the other you're nodding your head yes. Tell me more about that.
A: The White House was very supportive. Certainly we got support in the late 1960s during the effort to remove the promotion restrictions on military women. Also written in the 1948 law that established the peacetime components was a two percent ceiling on the total numbers who could serve on the regular Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. It had very little practical effect since the services were not recruiting many women because they were able to draft all the men they needed.
In the late '60s, during the Johnson administration, the decision was made to go for legislation that would remove the legal promotion and grade restrictions on women in the armed forces as well as the 2 percent strength limit. It was pushed by DACOWITS. The Department of Defense, although they supported it, was giving more lip service than real support. The services didn't really want any part of it. Essentially, the legislation was forced on the Department of Defense by the insistence of the DACOWITS. Military women could not lobby for it. It would be too self-serving. We provided information when asked, but it was DACOWITS that forced the issue on the Department of Defense.
Some members of Congress were also very interested in it, especially Margaret Chase Smith. So, after many years of foot dragging, because of this constant pressure, the Department of Defense finally prepared legislation and sent it to Capitol Hill, where they gave it lukewarm support. But they never seriously envisioned, ever, that women would be able to perform in those senior roles in their own right without heading up a woman's program. It was assumed by DOD and the services leaders that the women who were promoted to general officer and flag, that's Admiral rank, would head up women's programs only. And it was believed that the numbers of the women who would be eventually promoted under that law to full colonel and captain in their own right would be very limited.
So they took solace from the thought that the law would not have much of an impact. Of course, the law opened the Pandora's box because the pressures from civilian organizations and Congress to actually promote women once they had passed the law was gaining strength. Now, we could not have gotten that legislation without the direct support of the White House, the people in the White House and President Johnson himself agreed with it. The President had a personal interest. One of his favorite staff members, was a female Reservist lieutenant colonel in the Army. And he very much wanted to promote her to full colonel but was told he couldn't because of the law. That hit close to home, you see.
So with a great deal of lobbying, a great deal of effort, Congress passed the law after numerous hearings and President Johnson signed it in the White House in November 1967 with a great fanfare and wonderful photographs. This was a major breakthrough. Included in that law was something that was rather minor, the repeal of the two percent ceiling on military women.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, it had had no effect anyway because the military wasn't interested in recruiting a lot of women anyway even with the Vietnam War escalating. They simply drafted more men. The total numbers of women on active duty at that point was less than one percent, not the two percent authorized by law.
So repeal of the ceilings had very little practical effect until 1972 when President Nixon decided to eliminate the draft and go for an all volunteer force. With that decision, the handwriting was on the wall. Without the draft the services would need other resources. And women were a very important resource for the Armed Forces that they had not tapped at all since the Korean War.
But in 1972, the elimination of the two percent ceiling (on women) became an important factor because the numbers of women that had to be recruited for the all-volunteer force far exceeded anything anyone had ever envisioned before. And in fact, had that decision not been made by the Nixon Administration to expand the use of women, the all-volunteer force would have failed.
Women saved the all-volunteer force during the ensuing years.
Q: Did you have any contact with Barbara Franklin's office when she became the special assistant to the President for the--
A: Yes indeed.
Q: And was that offer helpful?
A: Not in this sense. But that was all part of a package. The recognition that women really could hold higher level positions, was seen as a commitment by the Administration. Her job was to go out and recruit civilian women with remarkable qualifications, sent a message about women that resonated throughout the government.
Not only did she have to go out and find them but then she had to find appropriate positions for them to be appointed. She had to convince the agencies heads to accept them. That was a selling job that she did very well. She was very good at it.
She has a manner that I think was indispensable to her achievements in that area. Some of the positions were within DOD and I think that sent a message to the military as well.
By then, women in the military were becoming brigadier generals. So that we became part of that package. When President Nixon was preparing for his 1972 election, he had wanted to show off what was doing for the military under his stewardship. So he invited the female generals over to the Oval Office for a meeting and photo op. There were five of us.
Q: I wanted to ask you about support from women's groups. Were there any of those that were helpful to you? I'm thinking of the traditional women's groups such as the American Association of University Women, the General Federation of Women's Clubs. Or did they kind of go along with the status quo?
A: A combination of both, but you have to recognize that when you talk about the classic feminists organizations, they had great difficulty dealing with the concept of women in the military because essentially they were antimilitary. They had great difficulty coping with what it means to be in the military.
Their primary interest was in equal opportunity. It did not translate well to the military personnel system. This is an organization with a mission that supersedes everything else including social goals. Equity is a fine goal, but there's a limit to how much can be achieved in an organization that has the kind of function that the military has, namely national defense.
Some of the women's organization, like the Association of University Women were very supportive. As a matter of fact, when I first was asked to speak to the national convention, Karen Keesling was the president. That was when I first met Karen. But generally, most women's organizations viewed the world from the perspective of women's equity. The issue of where women would fit in the military was very difficult for them. When I was asked to speak to these organizations, they were always very supportive, but I was never convinced that they really understood what the issues were because the military was so different from society as a whole and from civilian institutions.
Q: We took a little break a few minutes ago and I queried Jeanne during the break about whether the Cohen she had referenced in her earlier remark about members of Congress was the current Secretary of Defense.
A: That's correct. As I recall, he was in the House at that time. He was on the sub-committee hearing when the Directors of the women components testified. The Director of the WAF, which was me, the Director of the WAC and the Director of the Women in the Navy, what we used to call the WAVES, and the director of the women in the Marine Corps. We were asked to testify on policies and the status of women in the armed forces at that time. It had to have been early '70s. He asked some of the most provocative questions, as I recall.
Q: What about Department of Defense leadership at that time? Was that on Mel Laird's--
Q: What sense did you get of his commitment to this issue?
A: He was supportive. He certainly was supportive of promotions of women. I believe he had a direct hand in telling the services to start promoting women to general flag rank. The law was passed in the Johnson Administration under Mr. McNamara, who gave no evidence of any interest in it whatsoever, but his Chief of Manpower supported it to a point.
But when Mel Laird became the Secretary of Defense, as with most Secretaries, they had very limited understanding of the roles of women in the military at the time. But it became clear because of pressure from the women's organizations, particularly DACOWITS, that services were dragging their feet in implementing the law. Also, members of Congress were raising the question as to why, now that the law had been changed in 1967, to remove promotion restrictions, why was it the services weren't promoting women to generals and admirals?
Being a consummate politician, Laird got the message. Whatever motivated him, he certainly was supportive of the notion of women being promoted to general. Then General Westmoreland, Army Chief, told his promotion board that it was time to consider women. The Army promoted the Chief of the Army Nurse Corps, Anna May Hays, and the Director of the WAC, Elizabeth Hoisington, to brigadier general on the same day.
Q: And they were the first generals?
A: They were the first generals in the United States Armed Forces. Not the first in the world because other countries had women generals, Great Britain particularly. Then a year later the Air Force selected me for brigadier general.
[Clarification by Jeanne Holm to taped interview:
My situation was somewhat different because our promotion system was different from the Army's when it came to women. The Army maintained gender-segregated promotion lists in which women competed with one another for the available promotion vacancies, not with the men. The Air Force was the only service where men and women were actually integrated and competed with one another for promotion to grades we were authorized to hold. When the
1971 promotion board met to select qualified full colonels for brigadier general I was selected. How much politics played in it I shall never know. But I do know that I was one of the most senior candidates male or female, that I had the record to warrant promotion and that in earlier promotion cycles, had I been a man, I would very likely have been selected.]
Q: And then you were the first --
A: I was the first Air Force woman promoted to brigadier general and then two years later I was promoted to major general. And Mel Laird seemed to be delighted in that. He insisted on announcing it, even though the Air Force did it. But Laird's support certainly did not hurt. He wanted to announce it because he was very proud of it and wanted to take the credit.
Q: Now, the Departments all had I believe action plans at that point. At least that's my understanding there were departmental action plans set up after the report of the Task Force on Women's Rights and Responsibilities. You're not aware of one of them at the Defense Department?
A: I don't know what was in it. I've totally forgotten.
Besides I think that was later. These general officer promotions, the first ones, took place in the first Nixon Administration and fairly early on. We're talking 1970, I believe. That's when he became President. I don't believe the Task Force had anything to do with it because the promotions in the military are done by selection boards made up of generals and admirals.
Q: Because they're a totally separate process.
A: They are. Yes. Now, the lists of selectees go to the White House for approval before going over to the Hill. But the selection process is different.
Q: A departmental action plan at the Defense Department might well have been concerned with civilian employees.
A: That's just what I was about to say. It would involve the appointment of women to high level civilian positions in the Defense Department and in the service departments, and some of those appointees were of higher rank than any woman in the military. For example, the first woman Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for manpower was appointed by Carter. She held a rank that was equivalent to a three star general. When Karen Keesling had that same job under Reagan, she was equivalent to a three star general. Had I been on active duty in my last Air Force job, I would have reported to her as a two star because in that job I reported to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower.
Q: I guess I want to probe a little bit on the motivations of some of this. I'm looking especially at the men, such as you mentioned Cohen, and then I think earlier you had mentioned Les Aspin as supportive of change for women in the military services. Do you have any insights into their motivations or why they were supportive?
A: No, I don't. But Mr. Aspin was supportive from the very beginning. Also, Senator Proxmire was enormously supportive. He had a number of hearings on the subject of military women and I testified before his committee on several occasions. He was very interested in the concept of women in combat and of removing the artificial restrictions on women.
Also, during my last years as Director, WAF, I had a lot of support from my boss, General Dixon, the Chief of Air Force personnel. Now, his predecessors were not so supportive. I was in the WAF job for seven years, which is three years longer than normal. So I outlasted the opposition.
My previous chiefs of personnel were very conservative and most of them were negative to the policy changes that I thought were necessary. They were against women going to the service academy, against women in ROTC, against re-training women with children, against expanding numbers or job opportunities. The list is endless.
It was General Robert Dixon who came in, in my final years as Director, WAF who broke the log jam. He also became my mentor and supported me to be a brigadier general. As you know, without mentors, you don't get promotions. He is the one who went to bat for me. But more important, he is the one who changed the policies that I had been fighting for years. When he arrived, I was within two weeks of retiring as a full colonel.
Q: This was in the early '70s?
A: Yes, this was 1971. I had put in my retirement papers, because I was convinced the Air Force was not going to move on any policy issues. Dixon and I had always had a lot of rapport when he was in other positions in the Air Force.
When he came in to take over Personnel, he immediately had meetings on some of these issues that I had been fighting, like the women with minor children. He called in his staff people, including generals, to discuss these contentious policies and nailed them to the wall, literally.
He said, I know what you guys are going to tell me. He ticked off all these things he'd been hearing from me and their rationale for not changing the policies. He told them their reasons didn't make any sense, and to change the policies. As I left his office, he said: "Was that enough action for you, colonel? Now don't you want to stick around for a while?" So I withdrew my retirement papers and stayed on. Then he went to bat for me to be promoted to brigadier general, and later to major general.
Q: Well, his contact with you and other women in the service was you think is what motivated him?
A: Oh, I don't know. He was that kind of person. He had a very innovative, creative mind and liked to rock the boat. He was known in the Air Force as the alligator. People absolutely hated him because he was a person so determined to move forward, to modernize the way the Air Force did things in Personnel. He liked to say: "We should be doing things for people, not to them.'' He'd say we've got to move with the times. If we don't change with the times, the courts will do it for us. For example, he had told his people to come up with a different policy on pregnancy, but they dragged their feet until somebody took the Air Force to court and shot down our policy. He said, "Now, if you'd done what I told you to do, we wouldn't be in the courts right now defending a policy that's indefensible." He was a true leader and I could not have worked for a finer boss.
Q: Now, his rank was?
A: Lieutenant general, three-star general. When I was promoted to two stars, I went to another job as the Director of the Personnel Council. Then Dixon became the Commander of the Tactical Air Command of the Air Force where he got his fourth star.
End of Tape 1, Side A
Q: We were just talking about the Task Force on Women's Rights and Responsibilities. Would you like to finish your answer to that question?
A: I believe I met with them, but their interests were far afield from the military as I recall. And they could have had very little influence over the military. They were primarily concerned with, as I recall, was civilian jobs and the government's programs related to civilian employment.
Q: My reading of their report indicates that that's accurate.
I want to turn now to the role of the media and what effect they may have had on the success of your efforts. She is nodding and saying affirmatively yes, yes, yes, I believe.
A: Absolutely yes. They had a great deal to do with it. I felt all along that the media could help me by airing the issues. I never felt that we should keep these women's policy issues internal to the military. I thought that they were related to what was going on in our culture in general.
So I was very free with meeting with the media and speaking my mind. I remember Vera Glaser being one of those, Sara McClendon, Fay Wells, that whole group was very, very supportive. All of those people were enormously supportive and I considered them good friends as well.
They would air the issues on occasion and that was very useful to me because I felt that this was the best way to inform the outside public and the military had to be educated as to what's going on and to the fact that some of the their traditional ways of doing things just didn't hold water anymore. The world was changing its views on women in the workplace and the military could not stand still.
I felt open public discussion was the best way to go. Anytime I had a request for an interview, I always gave it. Anytime I had an opportunity to appear on television or radio, I always did it to talk about these issues and what was going on in an effort to educate people that the military is not some foreign organization. It's not some Foreign Legion that doesn't relate to them. It's a part of our culture and part of what this country is about, and what is going on in our culture directly relates to what goes on in the military and vice versa. You mention several people in the media. They're all women. Now, I believe most of the major media have correspondents officially assigned to the Defense Department. Those have typically been male. I didn't hear you mention them.
A: Well, yes. Bob Schieffer was great. I just love him. He did a wonderful piece for CBS Evening News when I got promoted to brigadier general. He spent days with me. Came to my office, my home, even went out on my boat. We just had a grand time.
When the tape aired, it was the last segment of Walter Cronkite's evening news. And when it was all over, Walter Cronkite said, Well, that's the way it is.
Q: Do you have a copy of that tape?
A: No. I have pieces of it. As a matter of fact, there's a piece of it--
Q: In the Mike Wallace interview that you've just given me?
A: No, it's on the other one that I mentioned.
Q: Paving the Way.
A: I've forgotten. By the way, the statement I made that hit the news that night has a different spin today. Bob Schieffer and I were sitting at my desk in the final segment. And he said, well, now that you're a general, can you date a colonel? The truth of the matter was I was dating a colonel at the time. But at any rate, I said, very offhand, well, I guess a general can date anybody she wants.
Well, that got a big laugh. Everybody loved it. But that was 1971. A comment like that would be viewed differently today. And when I see it now, I cringe. We're in this period of heightened awareness about sexual harassment and all this sort of thing. All of a sudden I realize that it has a very different connotation today than it had then. Isn't that interesting?
We've changed so. I would never say that today.
Q: Degree of change. Unintended consequences sometimes.
A: And I'm surprised nobody's called me on that when the clip airs..
Q: Your biography indicates you earned the Legion of Merit and two Distinguished Service Medals. Can you tell us more about how those carne about?
A: Well, I received the Legion of Merit as a result of some Congressional hearings that I organized for the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower that turned out extraordinarily well. I was a lieutenant colonel assigned to the Directorate of Manpower. My job for four years was to work with Congress on manpower issues. I also was responsible for preparing for Congressional hearings involving the Department of the Air Force on manpower issues. So I prepared the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Personnel when he testified. On one occasion, they came out exceptionally well and the Secretary was so delighted that he insisted that I be given the Legion of Merit. The first Distinguished Service Medal, I received for my work as the Director of Women in the Air Force. The second DSM was when I retired from the Air Force. It was in recognition for my 33-year career and for my work with the Air Force Personnel Council.
Q: You served as Special Assistant to President Gerald Ford. What was your role in his administration?
A: Working with President Ford at the White House for Ford was one of the high points of my professional life. There was a lot of psychic income there to be in the White House. I had spent 17 years in the Pentagon. I was fairly jaded about the top levels of government and testifying on Capitol Hill and all this sort of thing. But working with Gerald Ford on women's issues was special. I was the Special Assistant for Women.
When I was asked to serve in that capacity I wasn't sure that I really wanted to do this. I didn't really want to work. I wanted to enjoy the good life. But I couldn't turn down this request, especially when I met with the President.
I walked into the Oval Office and President Ford got up and came out from behind his desk. He shook my hand and said, Jeanne, it was so nice of you to come. I appreciated his warmth. Then he proceeded to tell me how proud he was of his support of women and how he had helped Martha Griffiths get the Equal Rights Amendment passed in the House of Representatives.
He was enormously proud of getting ERA to the floor for a vote. I was embarrassed to admit I didn't realize he had been so involved with that. "Oh, yes, I'm very proud of that," he said. And he pulled out a copy of the hearings, the Congressional Record, and handed it to me. He really was so proud of it.
Well, that's when I knew I had done the right thing.
Because it was clear to me that here was a man who was very, very supportive of women's issues. Of course, when I met Mrs. Ford, I realized that she was part of that equation. What a great lady!
I realized that here was the opportunity to do something worthwhile at the very top levels of government for women, the subject I had been involved in for many years. An added bonus was that my deputy would be Karen Keesling, whom I knew well and who was wonderful to work with. We had a very small staff, but we were able to look at all of the issues that came forward that involved women, to analyze them and make recommendations on what we thought appropriate. Any legislation that came up that we thought involved women we would be able to have an input and did.
We were able to have inputs to the President's speeches and to organize women's groups to come to the White House to meet with the President and to tell them what the Administration was trying to do with regard to increasing the visibility and participation of women at the top levels of government, President Ford was absolutely committed to this, as President Nixon had been.
I recall when Nixon was President, Barbara Franklin had invited all the women appointees over to meet with the President. We had a group picture taken in the Rose Garden. There were about 35 of us in all. Within a few years there were several times that many. Not only had President Nixon supported this concept actively, but President Ford had followed through and the White House was actively working at identifying women for top level appointments.
Now, that was not my mission. It was the job of the White House Personnel Office, but they would consult with me and Karen and request our comments or recommendations. So we worked very closely together.
We would also set up meetings for the President with women's organizations from around the country and we would speak to national women's groups at their conventions to let them know what the Administration was doing.
I think probably the most important thing we did during that period was to get President Ford to sign a letter to the Justice Department instructing them to examine all the federal laws and (regulations on treatment of men and women), Regulations that treated men and women differently and to make recommendations as to what changes ought to be made either through legislative initiative or policy changes, the rationale behind our proposal was simple: if we truly believed in the ERA, and we did, then the Administration should start bringing federal statutes and regulations into line with the principles embodied in the Amendment. That way, when it is ratified by the states, and we were sure it would be, the federal government would already be postured for implementation. Besides, with or without the amendment, assuring gender equity under the law was the right thing to do. Some on the staff did not agree, fearing that doing this would undermine ERA.
President Ford signed the initiative to the Justice Department, and they set up a task force and began the process of reviewing all federal laws and regulations on that basis. Then we lost the election in 1976 and in 1977 the Carter Administration came in. They liked it so much they claimed it as their own. That's all right. It doesn't matter who took credit for it. It was the right thing to do. So Carter's people followed through on that process for which I was very grateful.
Q: So this has resulted in the intervening years in gradual repeal or change in state laws across the country.
A: No, federal.
Q: Were there federal laws and state laws that were involved?
A: No, only federal laws and regulations. But it set a pattern, and which I think is the proper role for the federal government and certainly for the White House to set the tone, to set the direction. And we did that. I think that is probably one of the most important things I was ever involved with. Karen Keesling, of course, and I worked very closely on all of it. She has a first class mind.
Q: We've been talking about this period beginning with spanning your early career in the service in the '40s and then specifically the period that we're studying, '69 to '74. How important were the changes that came about during that era to women in succeeding years in your opinion? Can you give me any sort of overview of the significance of that era?
A: I think it was a watershed ('69 to '74), a turning point for our society as a whole. Certainly, it was for the military. When I meet with young women today and tell them the way life was before and after 1972 they are astonished. They're so used to things as they are today they take it all for granted. They even complain about the fact that things don't change fast enough and there aren't enough women doing this and there aren't enough women doing that. They don't comprehend how far we have come.
The women who are in government today and who are in big positions in industry or wherever all are there because the course was set back then. No longer can people easily dig in their heels or try to move the clock back, even though there are those who would like to. Those are men and women, who would like to move the clock back, but it can't be done anymore. The changes are part of our culture. And I believe it springs largely from the events of the late '60s and early '70s.
Q: We have been talking earlier about our observations about difference in attitude among the women of that era perhaps as contrasted with the attitudes of women in the current generation. Would you like to elaborate on what you've said at that point, Jeanne?
A: Well, women at that time were trying to cope with social evolution that they weren't necessarily prepared for. Most of us weren't prepared for the changes that were coming. Real, lasting social evolution comes slowly. Even though we like to think it's been revolutionary, it's not. Everyone has to adjust. We women have had to adjust our thinking, to ask ourselves some rather profound questions about what we were raised to believe or things that we thought were true that don't withstand objective analysis, one of them being women's role in this nation as citizens.
We're citizens of the United States of America. We were never conditioned to accept all the responsibilities that go with full citizenship as Americans in this nation. To some extent we still aren't. Women have had to make that transition, and many times we still haven't. It comes to light when there are subjects of discussion about serving in the military and what women should do or could do. Certainly when it comes to the subject of combat or the draft.
There's a tendency for women to look at issues in terms of equality and opportunity and to forget that with equality of opportunity comes obligation and responsibility. Responsibility to our country, responsibility to our service, responsibility for one another and responsibility for ourselves and what we do with our lives. I think there is a tendency to be too concerned about equality of opportunity and not the other side of the coin.
These are two inseparable sides of this same coin. The one issue that brings it down to the nitty gritty is the draft. This is the issue that killed ERA. Even the most ardent feminists were unable to deal with it. Why do we draft only men? Because they are citizens we say they have an obligation to serve. But we know there are hundreds of thousands of jobs in the armed services that women can do as well or better than men. I'm not talking about combat. That's another issue. The issue is service to one's country.
Why do we put that obligation only on the male half of our population? Are they the only citizens? We're all citizens. Women gained full citizenship when we got the right to vote. The fact that we were not included in the original Constitution wasn't just an oversight. It's the way people thought two hundred years ago. Except for Abigail. She thought differently. But we've gone through an evolutionary process where women must accept their obligations and responsibilities as much as their right to equality of opportunity. I think there are many women yet who haven't faced that. And I think it's important that we talk about that and not just take it for granted.
Q: I'm going back to an earlier comment or comments you made about the support you received from women members of Congress and from women in the media. And I guess I'm coming back to the point of do you see a similar support of women for other women in the current generation? Or do you have a sense of how that played out or any reason to make comparisons?
A: I am out of that loop at this point. I just don't know. I do know that many times when I meet young women, there's a tendency to think they got there because they're so good. A lot of them don't seem to know how many women paved the way for them. Each generation has an obligation to the next. Each must speak out for and to mentor the next generation.
Q: That's my theory. Do you feel that they are equally committed to other women, to supporting other women as well as their own climb up the ladder?
A: I have a problem with generalities. I think there are many who do and there are many who don't. But there is always a tendency to believe: "I got where I am because I'm so good, so deserving." It's probably natural to forget that somebody helped them. Men are willing to mentor other men. But I think women are not so willing to mentor other women. Let's face it. The power structure is still male in most professions. Without men mentoring women, they won't get there.
Now if women don't mentor women, it's self-defeating in the end. I fear that women are reluctant to mentor other women because we don't, as a class, give equal weight to women mentors as we do male mentors. Also, I think it's related to our own sense of insecurity. We know that the people who hold the keys to success are male and without their support you're not going to make it in most organizations.
Not only are women in general reluctant to speak out on behalf of other women, or to mentor them, they are reluctant to deal with women's issues per se because there's something unworthy about women's issues.
I will be asked, oh, you were a Special Assistant to President Ford. For what? I'd say for women. Immediately there's a disinterest. The eyes glaze over. You see it.
Now the job of director of a women's program in the military was an incredibly demanding one. I mean, incredibly demanding with very little support. It was looked down upon because, well, she's only dealing with women. Women especially felt that way.
I remember when I was selected to be the Director, WAF, I had other women say to me, lieutenant colonels, why would you want that job? I saw it as a marvelous opportunity to do things, to get things done. There were so many things that needed doing. I felt that way all the years I had it. You got things done the best you could by whatever means you could that were legitimate, moral and legal. I saw it as an enormous challenge. And it was. More challenging than most of my male colleagues' jobs. Now, why isn't a job that's related to women not perceived as worthy? I don't follow that. It has always bothered me and still does, as you see
Q: No, you don't feel strongly at all. You made a reference earlier in your relationship to your promotion to brigadier general that women in other countries had been generals. I guess I'm looking at whether or not the progress of women in the military services in the U.S. have an impact on other countries or whether there was some reverse of that.
A: There was a lot of interchange, and we did keep in close contact, especially with the U.K. They were really the early leaders in this.
[Clarification by Jeanne Holm to taped interview:
Then in 1942, when the U.S. first set up its new women's programs we borrowed heavily from the British. But our programs soon adjusted to our own services' needs and our social customs.
After the war the British were trying to rebuild their country and hold onto what was left of its empire. Their military remained relatively small compared with ours, as did the number of military women. But by then the U.S. was a world leader with large and growing military requirements. The military women'' programs that had been created only for the wartime emergency were given permanent, full military status and plans were made to mobilize large numbers.
By the way, although the British post-war women's programs were much smaller and less developed than ours, their leaders were wearing stars long before ours were. I recall in 1967, when I was WAF director, my counterpart in the Royal Air Force (WRAF) and I exchanged official visits. She was equivalent in to rank to a brigadier general while I was only a colonel.
But we always stayed in close touch with our British counterparts, both officially and informally. For many years we had an officer exchange program in which a number of WAF officers served with the RAF and WRAF officers served in U.S. Air Force jobs for full tours of duty. One of them served in the WAF Directorate and vice versa, The whole idea was to learn from one another. And we developed a lot of lasting friendships.
For more than twenty-five years now the U.S. has been the leader in this field and set the example, not just for the British but for other nations, especially within NATO. The Alliance sponsors biennial conferences on military women. The participants are senior military women representing the fifteen member nations. The whole idea is to exchange experiences and ideas.Three years ago I was invited to give the keynote address in Brussels. I was amazed at the level of interest in what we were doing, especially in opening combat assignments to women.
So there's still a lot going on here.}
Contrary to mythology, I think women work remarkably well together. It's been my experience that women have a tendency to work better together than men do because there's not that macho ego thing getting in the way.
This is a generality but within the power structure of male dominated organizations, there is a lot of ego which is not noticeable for the most part among women's groups and among women in the military. We seem to be less threatened and more mutually supportive.
Q: I know you dislike generalities, but I'm looking for some kind of discussion of factors that enabled you to achieve some change. I've heard some of the areas in which support emerged, but can you give me any sort of broad brush on the internal or external factors that made change possible?
A: That's a very good question. The military women's programs were outside the normal organizational structure. My role as Director, WAF was outside the main power structure. Even though I reported directly to the Deputy Chief of Air Force Personnel, my office was always viewed as kind of different because we were women. What was the question?
Q: Factors that enable change.
A: Gaining support within the power structure is the only way you could effect change. Women could not bring about change themselves because they did not have the power. We were not allowed to make policy even on purely women's issues. Men retained that power. In order to effect change, you had to convince the power brokers by marshaling your facts and stating them as clearly and unemotionally as possible. And you had to gather support whenever you could find it. That meant a lot of working with the people in charge. And many times they were totally unconvinced and were not about to do anything. But it meant working with them and convincing people that the changes you wanted were in the best interest of the Air Force. That was probably the most daunting aspect of the job of being Director, WAF, selling your ideas that often seemed at odds with traditional ways of doing things.
Q: So it required a combination of persistence and then a willingness to come back at it from a different direction.
Q: Is that an accurate statement?
A: Yes, and also lining up the logic and presenting your case. In most instances, the logic on the other side would not stand up to honest analysis. Men tend to rely on gut feelings" and will state their positions as though it was an eternal truth written by the hand of God. I mean, this is just the way it is.
Military leaders have a tendency to think in terms of male norms and male organizations, male concepts and male needs without realizing that women were a necessary part of this structure.
The organization had to accommodate to reality, accept the fact that women were a part of this organization. We were there to stay. That required an awful lot of cajoling, arguing, building support and getting along with people whether they agreed with you or not.
Q: And I guess also you reported that General Dixon's argument was that what was good for the Air Force was a key argument in his decision on what he wanted to do.
We are resuming after being interrupted. We were talking about General Dixon. We're looking at the factors that influence change. The argument that women were needed by the Air Force was important to General Dixon. Is that right also?
A: Yes, he saw the total personnel picture as one fabric and that women were going to be an even larger part of it. That was in the cards with the all volunteer force. He saw the need to see to it that the whole structure worked together as one fabric. And what was good for women should be good for the Air Force and vice versa. You couldn't view women from an isolated point of view. They had to be part of the whole.
By the same token, women had to adapt to the way the military does things and the way the structure itself works. They had to fit in with what had been historically a male dominated--and it will always be a male dominated--institution, which meant that sometimes women could not view issues, policy issues, the way they had to be viewed in civilian life. As women they had to learn to view it in terms of the military and how it works and the requirement to deploy people all over the world and in jobs that could be very distasteful and jobs in which they might get killed. So women had to also adjust to this environment and if they could not adjust to it, they should find employment someplace else.
Q: It's occurring to me as we talk, that there may have been an impact on women in civilian life of the progress being made by women in the military. And I see you nodding in response to that question. Or I guess the other thought I have is that perhaps the experience of being advanced in the military may have contributed to some women's ability to make contributions in civilian life after leaving the military service.
Do you have any observations on that? Or am I not clarifying my question?
A: Well, the first part I can identify with. First of all, we were all in this together really. In many respects what was going on in civilian life was directly related to what was going on in the military vis-a-vis women.
[Clarification by Jeanne Holm to taped interview:
I think you could say that in some important respects the military was ahead of women in the civilian work place. But comparisons are not very practical because of the wide disparity between the military personnel system and the civilian employment world. In some respects the military is clearly ahead, namely in pay where the law has always provided equal pay for equal work. And I think advancement opportunities may be better for military women, but only up to a point. Promotion to the senior ranks is still very difficult for military women - the glass ceiling is still very much alive. It's just slowly moved up a notch or two.
But, in general, I'd have to say that the military has learned more from the civilian example than the other way around. When I was advocating policy changes and opening more jobs for military women, I would frequently cite trends and examples from the civilian workforce.]
Q: I guess what I'm searching for is did the ability of women in the military to serve as generals, for example, in any way pave the way for women to be promoted to vice presidents and such in big business which in that era was fairly autocratic also I believe as far as being male dominated.
A: And still is.
Q: So I think that's -- I'm asking whether you see any sort of spill over from the military to the business and perhaps the academic world.
A: No, not much. I can't speak for the academic world. But I think civilian employment was well ahead of the military for one very simple reason. That is that the military is not an open organization where people come into it sideways at various levels. People in business go from one business to another and one organization to another laterally, even into civilian positions in DoD and the service departments.
In the military, you start from the bottom and work your way up to the top. It's a very formal system that starts at the very bottom with officers as second lieutenants and enlisted people as privates or airmen, so that you don't have a lateral flow of people in and out of the organization. Of course, you do with the civilian employees who work within the military. There's a tendency to think of the military as an all military organization, and it is not. There are hundreds of thousands of civilians who are part of it and who run it by the way. You have to grow a general or admiral, or a senior master sergeant from the bottom.
Q: I see the point.
A: No so in civilian life. Let's take the civilian structure of the Department of Defense. A Karen Keesling can come indirectly as Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower with no previous military experience. That's a designated civilian position with a grade equivalent to three stars. No woman had achieved that rank in the military until last year, you see. It still has not happened in the Air Force.
The military community is significantly different in that regard. Civilian institutions were well ahead of the military in promoting women and still are. And I should point out that the Secretary of the Air Force is a woman who carries a rank comparable to four stars. We have yet to have a woman in uniform wearing four stars and I don't see it in the immediate future.
Q: And I have a further question about barriers and whether they were institutional or attitudinal. I would gather from the answers you've given me, it was a combination of both.
A: Yes, both. There are institutional barriers, starting with the premise that the military's job is fighting wars and that that is an all male business. The profession of arms is considered a masculine profession from the outset.
So here you have women attempting to fit into that profession and the attitudes that go with it. The military mission is to fight wars. Everything else is secondary.
Equality of opportunity, while important, is a secondary mission to fighting wars. The mission is not equity. And whoever is part of the military has to fit into that concept. You have to know that from the outset. Inasmuch as women only started entering the military in any numbers at all since the all volunteer force, they're working their way up that structure but many are falling by the wayside as men have fallen all along. Everybody isn't going to be a chief of the service. Not everybody is going to be a four-star. The vast majority isn't even going to make colonel, much less general or admiral.
Well, women aren't either, but they're moving up that ladder. Two have finally reached the three star level. The Air Force still does not have a female three star. It has a female Secretary of the Air Force. It has had Assistant Secretaries who are comparable to three stars. But no woman has yet achieved the rank of three star in the United States Air Force, yet.
So there's a structure there that is not terribly helpful in elevating women to senior military ranks. Of course, a major stumbling block has been that women were denied combat. As I have said, the mission of the military is fighting wars.
Traditionally the people who fight the wars are the leaders in the armed forces. So far that does not include senior women. It's a different world.
Q: While we were taking a break, you were telling me about a Barbara Franklin show and tell event I believe?
Q: Could you recapture that for me?
A: I think it had to have been about 1972.The senior women appointees were all invited over to the White House as kind of a show-and-tell for President Nixon. It had to have been sometime after he met with the female generals.
On this occasion, at Barbara's instigation, the women who had been appointed to high level positions in the Nixon Administration were invited over.
So we met with the press and described what was going on in terms of identifying women for top level jobs.
Then we posed for a photograph in the Rose Garden. I've forgotten how many of us there were, but there couldn't have been more than about 30 or 35. That included Elizabeth Hanford, later Dole. Barbara, of course, who was organizing this thing, Virginia Allan, Jewel LaFontant, Catherine Bedell. It's a wonderful photograph. But that was all there were in positions of government that could be classified at that level at that time. Except there were some other generals who were not there that day for some reason.
Q: And these would have been the political appointees.
A: Yes, they were all political appointees except for me. It was a wonderful gathering of great women and it was the beginning of an important network. Someone said we ought to do lunch sometime. So we did. Ethel Bent Walsh was one of the main movers behind this. So we got together for lunch, and decided to get organized.
As you know, it's one thing to be the senior woman in an organization. It's another thing to know that there are others who are also the first women in these kinds of jobs. So we decided to get organized, to interchange ideas and to network. That was the first top level women's network in the federal government. We called ourselves the Executive Women in Government (EWG). Again, Ethel Bent Walsh was a prime mover behind it. Of course, Barbara, Virginia Allan, Virginia Knauer, Katherine Bedell and other whom you know were active.
I don't know why, but I was elected as the first chairman. It was the beginning of a wonderful network that still stays in touch. The project that you're working on I believe is an outgrowth of that same network.
Q: It is indeed. We've just about finished my formally prepared list of questions. So now is my time to give you that opportunity to talk about anything that I failed to ask you about. And I am particularly interested in any anecdotes you have that might shed more light because anecdotes are really helpful in giving us a feeling of personalities of the era and of the mindset of the era.
A: I think the thing that I value most from the entire experience is the camaraderie and networking among women. It was very inspiring to get together with these talented women. Moreover, the networking proved invaluable when I worked in the White House.
End of Tape 1, Side B
Q: We were talking about the camaraderie and the networking and what was so precious to you about that.
A: All of us who became involved in this networking had been in our own little worlds and often fighting the battles of that world and trying to make our professional mark, if you will, isolated from one another. There has been in this country, I feel, a tendency to discourage women from networking and from just getting together and interacting. It seemed to present some kind of a threat to an organization. Of course, men have always done it so you have to wonder what the problem is.
Anyway, this all started when Barbara Franklin got us together in the Rose Garden in 1972. We soon realized that we had a lot in common, and a lot to share as professionals and as individuals.
To have so many women of so many different backgrounds get together, find common ground and shared interests was a wonderful, richly rewarding experience that I still value it greatly.
Q: Thank you, Jeanne Holm. This has been a wonderful interview with you. We're closing it for now. Although I'll give Jeanne a chance to reflect and we can always come back on if she thinks of something else.