Virginia Allen Interview Transcript


Tape One

Q:  It is August 30" and I am in Virginia Allan's home in Sarasota, Florida, talking with the woman who is probably most mentioned of anybody in this entire project, perhaps with the exception of Catherine East. So we want to check to see if the microphone is picking up her voice. So, Virginia, just say a couple of words for us.

Allan:  I want you to look at the bird out there. It is listening to what we are about to say. It is sitting right on the fence.

Q:  Virginia has some fat and sleek morning doves outside her villa here. It is a very attractive place overlooking a--what does one call that, a canal right?

Allan:     Uh-huh.

Q:  So I am going back to when I first met Virginia in the middle '60s. And this project is really looking at advancing the cause of women in government, so my question of Virginia is were you aware of the problems of women in government at that time? I believe you would have been president of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Club about that time. So what was your opinion of their status then?

Allan:  My status?

Q:   The status of women in government.

Allan: Well, I just knew that there was discrimination and I really felt very keenly about doing something that would correct the situation so that the discrimination would be wiped out.

Q:  Had you known Catherine East at that time? As I recall, you and Catherine were very good friends and she was very active in this area.

Allan: Well, Catherine guided me all the way. I hardly would take a move without consulting her because she was so knowledgeable and so very willing to help. This wouldn't have been done the way it came out it wouldn't have been nearly as fulfilling as this has turned out to be if it hadn't been for Catherine. She was the centerpiece of what we did.

Q:    Now, she was at the Labor Department, right? Allan: Yes.

Q:    So she assembled a lot of statistical evidence about the problem that was quite persuasive?

Allan:  Yes. Yes, she had all of the data. She was very interested in this and there wasn't anything that she hadn't looked into and so she was just a fount of knowledge.

Q:    I remember when you were president of BPW, you launched something--and my memory is a little vague about the name of it, it was called something like Womanpower Talent Bank, and the purpose was to assemble a list of women.

Allan:  People who could be appointed to government positions. And with the backing of BPW it gave it visibility and, of course, Catherine was all for this because she wanted more outstanding women in government. So it all worked out very well.

Q:  And you worked with both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee?

Allan:  Yes.

Q:    To let them know about the people who were available?

Allan:   Yes.

Q:    As I recall, you also met with--when Liz Carpenter was important in the Johnson administration--

Allan:  Yes.

Q:    --you met with her to give her names for the President to consider?

Allan:  Yes. We distributed widely because that was the only way we were going to get appointments, to have enough people putting their stamp of approval on what we were trying to do.

Q: This was to counter the argument that there weren't competent women out there to appoint?

Allan:  Absolutely. We flooded the opponents, so to speak, with capable women, so we didn't hear much about that after we published all of these names and everything.

Q:    I remember another area in which you were active, you had a meeting with some of the women in the Press Corps, I think maybe Fran Lewine of the Associated Press and Helen Thomas of United Press.

Allan:  Helen was from Michigan.

Q:    Right. You heard about their problems and one of them was they were excluded from the Press Club when foreign visitors came, so you went to work on that too, as I recall.

Allan:  Yes.

Q:    We just interrupted for a little bit and now we are going back to talk about your meeting with Helen Thomas, Fran Lewine and I think there were a couple of other women in the media who were concerned because when foreign visitors came they couldn't get in to the Press Club to hear them.

Allan:  Yes.

Q:    Which seems very hard to believe now. Virginia got active in that. I think you went to the chief of protocol of the State Department to get something done about it. Do you remember that, Virginia?

Allen:  Not really, but I was in there most of the time. I kept finding out these areas of discrimination as I went and it was just sort of overpowering to me that when I knew needed to be done to bring women up to equality.

Q:  BPW was really at the forefront of the women's organizations in being active in a lot of these issues.

Allan:  Yes.

Q:  The other organizations came along later, but BPW was the one who was really out there fighting for Equal Rights Amendment, right?

Allan:  Yes, absolutely.


Allan:  Yes. So, you know, I had been participating in all of that so I was up on what discrimination was across the country and very concerned and I had the back-up of the organizations that would keep me up to date on what was going on, or what wasn't.

Q:   Some very able women had preceded you and followed you in that movement, as I recall. They were strong fighters and weren't afraid to speak. One thing that has emerged, forgive me for this comment, is that part of the battle at the time was that women were accustomed to a passive role.

Allan:  That's right. The people in BPW really we studied discrimination, we had our platform that would correct the situation and so we really had a backing of women across the country.  Plus, I had met with many organizations and all of the organizations agreed on what should be done, so we had quite a number of women organized throughout the country.

Q:    That is true. Because while BPW was taking the leadership, you felt strongly about bringing other organizations along with you--

Allan:  Oh, my, yes.

Q:    --and you kept your--?

Allan:  Yes. I knew it couldn't be done with just one organization. It had to be across the board. Also, at the same time, some of the newer organizations, and we were educating them on what the discrimination was. They had felt it, but they hadn't been in a movement that would do anything about it.

Q:    How did you happen to become involved in BPW? Tell us about that. You started out in Michigan, obviously, and you worked your way up the ladder.

Allan:  Well, it is interesting, a woman that was a teacher in the Wyandotte School System and her husband was Superintendent of Schools, and Florence Croll just pushed me along. She realized what needed to be done and she was right there and told me about the discrimination, made me aware of it and stayed right with me until we got enough people to work on it. I am very indebted to her.

Q:   There always seems to be a mentor around who was influential.

Allan:  Well, she certainly was. And as I say, it helped that her husband was Superintendent of Schools because, again, to have her pushing--.

Q:    And his support?

Allan:   Yes.

Q:    That is great.

Allan:     I was very fortunate.

Q:    Let's see, I want to skip forward to the Nixon years and your appointment as Chairman of the Task Force on Women's Rights and Responsibilities.  And Charlie Clapp has joined us. He played some role in your appointment as chairman, I guess. Charlie, would you like to tell us about why the White House and you as its agent in effect decided that Virginia was the right person to chair the Task Force?

Clapp:     Well, we looked at a lot of resumes and background material on people and a couple of the staff people to Arthur Burns had specific people in mind. However, when I read all the resumes, Virginia seemed to have an outstanding background and experience. It seemed to me that a couple of these other people, one in particular, was a person who had a no exposure to things like this, and was very conservative and I thought she would be a bad choice, or not the ideal choice. The more I read the papers, the more I was convinced that Virginia was the person we wanted because of your experience and the things you had already done.

So I went to Arthur Burns and I said, Arthur--Marty Anderson was pushing somebody, and Tom Cole was pushing somebody. I said, look, a lot of people are going to be suspicious about any Nixon committee anyway. The worst thing you could do is to pick one of these right wing people to head it. We've got to get a reasonable person, who has been active in the right areas to head this. It would give it a lot of credibility and it will help us to get a balanced group of members. And Burns, you know, he'd take his pipe out of his mouth and put it back in and "go on, go on." And so we'd talk about it and so on, and finally he said, "You are absolutely right, absolutely right." And that was the end of that discussion.

But then, of course, I had to--I'm not saying I was effective in all of these things, but in this one I had to kind of ward off a few suggestions that I thought would color the group. You know what I mean, would make it more difficult for reasonable positions to be taken. And I think on the whole we were pretty successful in the task force. Don't you?

Allan:  Very muchly so. And don't forget about Elly Peterson. She was in there pushing all the time. She is from Michigan.

Clapp:     Right. I know that's true.

Q:    She was Co-Chair of RNC at the time, or was that later?

Clapp:    I don't know.

Q:    I lost track of time.

Allan: Yes, me too.

Clapp:  Well, that's right, people like that. You needed the support of people like that too, of course. But Burns was a very reasonable man. If you presented the facts to him, I always felt that he could make the enlightened decision. I thought he was pretty good. People thought of him as a conservative. Now, for example he held no brief for Ehrlichman and Haldeman and these people. He said these people don't realize that what is good policy is good government. He surprised me in a way.

Allan:     I'm glad to hear all of this. This is new to me.

Clapp:     Really. He was supportive and he knew that Nixon had a lot riding on this, too.

Q:    Vera Glaser has told me that Burns had a news conference-­ no, it wasn't a news conference, it was a briefing for women reporters at which he asserted that there was very little discrimination against women when Vera asked that question. And so she then called Catherine East and wrote a letter to Burns saying we have evidence that we would like to present to you on the discrimination that exists, and so Burns called her and said, "I would like to meet with you" and they presented their information. She believes that was the reason for the appointment of the Task Force. Now, do you have any evidence on that?

Clapp:     It could be. I've been trying to think. We made a list of possible task forces. I was given a list when I went in there. I've got that somewhere. But it was amazing how many changes were made before the final list came out. I don't think, on the list that I was given from him, that the Women's Task Force was on it.

Q:   It was a later addition?

Clapp:     It was a later addition. So it could be that that conference came later and it brought to his mind that this was an important subject that had to be treated. He was very fair about those things, I think.

Q:    Now, how did the process work? Virginia was selected as chairman, and then did she have input into the other people who where named or was that list--?

Allan:  Yes.

Clapp: Definitely.

Allan:  Yes.

Clapp: Definitely, yes.

Allan:  We sat down and talked about it.

Clapp:  We had a lot of people--a lot of suggestions from people, but I went over them all with Virginia. She knew about certain people, oh, yes, that one would be good. Dee Boersma was her fine tune.

Q:    I wondered about that, because she had insisted that there was a student.

Clapp:  She wanted a student. We didn't have a student down, and she saw that that was a very important ingredient of the whole mix.

Q:    And you wanted to be sure that there was a black representative, right? And a labor representative?

Clapp:  Yes.

Allan:  Absolutely.

Q:    And probably somebody with a legal background, so that is where Judge ------- entered the picture, right?

Clapp:  And I think Whitlow was a lawyer too, wasn't she?

Allan:  Yes.

Q:    That's right, she was.

Clapp:  I don't know what happened to her. Nobody seems to--.

Allan:  I've lost track of her.

Q:  She is the one person we cannot locate.

Clapp:  Yes, and I think--.

Q:   Everybody else we have found.

Clapp:     I think that's all been true, you know, that they've all said that.

Q:    And then Pat Hutar, of course. It is a wonderful group of people.

Clapp:  Sort of off the record, I had a little concern at first about Pat Hutar because she had been so prominent--

Allan:   Sure.

Clapp:  --in some of this, and what I worried about was she going to be a challenge to Virginia's chairmanship. Do you know what I mean?

Allan:  Yes.

Clapp:  Would that upset the apple cart and destroy what we wanted to be a pretty cohesive force. You don't want a couple of people vying for leadership. But finally, I was persuaded that-­ and you seemed to think she would be fine and we went ahead with her.

Q:    And clearly it worked all right. And then, Catherine East was the staff person assigned to the Task Force. And everybody I talked with so she was just--.

Allan:    She was the key to it.

Q:  Well, they also say you were the key.

Allan:     No, Catherine was the one who had the knowledge. I mean, I had through BPW and so on, I knew what the problems were, but Catherine knew the people that should be working on this, brought in and recognized. We couldn't have had what we did if it hadn't been for Catherine. She was center.

Q:    Tell us how it worked. You had meetings how often, once a month?

Allan: There were so many that we had.

Clapp:  I don't remember exactly either.

Q:    Well, it doesn't' matter how often. But you had hearings or did you call people in to sort of testify and then meet afterward?

Clapp:     Let's see. I'd say we had about five or six meetings. Don't you think?

Allan:  Yes. That would be--

Clapp: At least. And there was a lot of conversation on the phone. I'd say that of all the tasks forces--there were 17 of them--I think that this one had the best combination of chair and advisor, like Catherine East and you, I think, were more effective than any other two people in any of the other task forces. I think it really made a difference.

Allan:   Well, Catherine had information.

Clapp:    Amazing.

Q:   So you were giving facts, not just emotions?

Allan:     Yeah. I knew Catherine. I knew what she had to contribute and I let her guide me.

Q:    Well, we are going to try to make the trip to Boston to delve into her papers so that we can get some more information there, hopefully.

Allan:     Good.

Q:    Now, there was one minority view expressed in the report. I would like the name of that report.

Allan:   Evelyn Cunningham.

Q:    This was Dorothy Haener, wasn't it?

Clapp:    Yes, the labor person.

Allan:  Oh, labor.

Clapp: Yes.

Q:    Evelyn was a minority member, but she very much agreed with the majority view on the recommendations, right? And there was only one of them that Dorothy Haener disagreed with, right?

Allan:  Yes.

Clapp:  Yes. She was very respectful about it, wasn't she?

Allan:  Yes.

Q:    And the tone of that was respect?

Allan: Yes.

Q:    And the tone of your response was respectful?

Allan:     Well, we enjoyed working together and we respected the ability of the people who were on the Task Force.

Clapp:     It is funny, I don't have much memory of Evelyn Whitlow. I remember she participated, but I don't remember anything she said. Do you know what I mean?

Allan:     I don't either.

Clapp:     I don't remember the--most of them I had a feel for.

Q:   All of a sudden I lost my own thought here. The recommendations were almost all implemented eventually, either legislatively or at the administrative level.

Allan:     Yes.

Q:   Although when Barbara Franklin was appointed she didn't get the level job that the task force had envisioned, is that correct?

Allan:     That's correct.

Q:    You wanted somebody with a sort of cabinet-level stature or close to that with a broader charter, but nevertheless, you all joined ranks to help her along in that job?

Allan:     Absolutely. The news went out across the nation. I mean, we had no people, so the country knew what we were about and that strengthened us immeasurably. And they were taking the issues up on a state level which made it easier for us on a national level.

Clapp:     That is a good point.

Q:    Can you tell us more about what was done on the state level? Do you have some anecdotes about that or memories about that?

Allan: The only thing I could say is that they were discussing the issues that we were--I mean, many times they brought up issues that we weren't aware of and we found out that this was across the nation. So I think this business of our working together was very important and the feed-in from the states, absolutely essential and then it went down to a local level, too. So we had it all the way up.

Q:    I'm really struck by the fact that there doesn't seem to have been anybody with sort of a "Queen Bee" syndrome. You all appeared to work very much together on behalf of women generally.

Allan:   Absolutely.

Q:    That is kind of remarkable, isn't it?

Allan:     I don't know. I guess I never had a lot of contact working with any "Queen Bees." Most of the people I knew, knew what the problems were and they knew that they couldn't do it by if we were going to accomplish anything.

Q:    How important was it to have Barbara Franklin in the White House?

Allan:     Absolutely. She worked right along with us. She had our backing. I mean, it worked both ways.

Q:    And there was remarkable progress made with women in government. Well, as a matter of fact, eventually you were among the appointees?

Allan:     That's right.

 Q:    You were Deputy Assistant Secretary of State?

Allan:     Yes.

Q:    The State Department, up until that time, had been very much an old-boy network, was it not?

Allan:     Your absolutely right.

Q:    Now, what were your experiences in getting yourself in the middle of that?

Allan:     Well, I guess I just like people and I like to work with them and that business of an old-boy network didn't bother me. So I just felt that I had their support. I mean, I went through channels whenever I wanted to do something and thought something should be done and eventually they got so they appreciated all that was being done because they weren't getting complaints like they had.

Clapp:     I think that Virginia's personality was a key to the success of that activity. I think that if you'd put a different belligerent and demanding and so on, boy, she would have been so turned off, there would have been no progress at all. One thing about Virginia, she may appear to be sweet, but--.

Allan:     Charlie.

Q:    Several people have said that to me, don't let Virginia deceive you because there is a will of iron behind that smile. Clapp: She's got a commitment and she moves towards it. And, you know, she's pleasant about it, but she is still moving. And it is not easy for people to combat it, because she is so reasonable about it all but there she goes, you've got to keep watching. I do think that was an important--I think that Virginia's selection for the Task Force, quite apart from the State Department, was very fortunate for women--

Allan:  Yes.

Clapp:  --because of her personality and the fact that she knew there was a problem and she knew the Task Force was an opportunity to do something about it. You had to make good--she had Catherine East feeding her these facts and giving her strategic advice. They were a tough team, I tell you.

Q:    Well, an observation was made that there was some criticism of the Task Force recommendations because they weren't far reaching enough, but that Virginia and the Task Force were determined to make recommendations that were reasonable and doable and not reach so for that they would not be listened to.

Allan:   Scare people. That's absolutely right.

Q:   Can you enlarge on that a little bit, as far as the goal ofthe recommendation?

Allan: I can't at the moment. I'd have to go back.

Clapp:  I think that within the White House there was opposition to some of the recommendations, because they didn't want anything to happen, you know, the old Ehrlichman crowd, those people. They would come to me occasionally and say, what are these people going to do, where did you find them. So given the state of the art at the time and the situation in which they found themselves, I think that they pursued the right path and were more effective because of it.

Allan:  I don't think that the Task Force was ever belligerent. I mean, we just stated facts and we had people who were recognized within the Republican party, like Pat Hutar and it all gave it credibility. I don't think we scared anybody.

Clapp:     No.

Allan:  I think it made our tasks a lot easier.

Clapp: One of the things that I did--and I don't want to interfere here. I felt in the first place on all these women's right issues, the Democrats had such a monopoly of the people interested, so I deliberately saw to it that on that Task Force we had the National Committee Woman from Maryland.

Q:  Kitty Rhinehart.

Clapp:  Yes. But what was her name before that?

Q:   Massenberg.

Clapp:  Massenberg. And we had Burnham in Massachusetts.

Q:   Right.

Clapp:  So we had a couple of people who held office in the Republican Party and, of course, Pat Hutar. So that kind of reduced the alarm, perhaps, in some quarters. Don't you think that is true?

Allan:  Yes, absolutely.

Clapp:  That's a good combination of the political---

Q:    I've always liked the name of that report, A Matter of Simple Justice." Who chose that name, Virginia, do you remember? I think it is a wonderful name.

Allan:  I think I did, but I'm not sure.

Clapp:  I think probably she did, but I'm not positive either.

Q:    It really just says it all. It is very good.

Let's see, beyond the support from our friend Charlie Clapp over here, are there other people within the administration, that you can think of, who were helpful--obviously, Catherine East, are there other folks you can think of who were helpful? You had mentioned Elly Peterson, I guess not in the administration, per se. You can think about that and come back to me, if you want to.

Allan:  Yes.

Q:    And then I want to also ask--.

 Allan:    I didn't need other people as long as I had Charlie.

Q:   Well, that does make a big difference to have somebody in the White House at that level.

Allan:     Really, because I mean, he worked at that level and I didn't. I mean, I went through him.

Q:  And he would know within the administration--

Allan:  What to do and how to do.

Q:   --how to keep people committed to or failing to oppose.

Allan: That's right.

Q:    Okay. Good point. You don't need to spend your energy when somebody else is taking care of it, right?

Allan:  Well, I just recognized his ability and all.

Q:   What about women members of Congress? Did you have any support from them during the Task Force process? Does anything come to you there?

Allen:     Elly Peterson.

 Q:   Now, Martha Griffiths, although a Democrat, was always a good friend of yours?

Allan:     Oh, yes, she was a good friend of mine.

Q:   And Catherine May Bedell tells me that she was kind of not much involved during that period because she was ending her period in Congress, I think, and then went on to become the Tariff Commission Chairman. She was another one of the appointees that resulted from this. But what about, let's see, Helen Bentley came along a little later in Washington, right?

Allan:     I don't remember her.

Clapp:     I don't remember her activity, personally.

Q:   I think she was one of the other appointees. She came to the Federal Maritime Commission as a result of this work. Now, when I interviewed Ann Armstrong, I think she came along a little later, but she says you were her mentor when she first came to Washington and she is full of admiration for how much you helped her learn the ropes in Washington.

Allan:     That is just because I knew the non-governmental organizations.

Q:    Well, that was important.

 Allan:    Many of those had many Democrats and so you sort of had to go gingerly sometime on how you accomplished things. She did a beautiful job, well accepted and so we were able to accomplish.

Q:    Well, it sounds as though you had a big role in enabling her to do a beautiful job.

Allan:     Well, I don't know that.

Q:    She avoided some mine fields.

Allan:     I think she would have anyway. But anyway, we supported her and I'm sure that was helpful.

 Q:    I guess this prior question kind of is an indication, but individual leadership and how that can make a difference, and I think that we maybe just touched on that with your saying that learning the non-governmental organizations  is important to being able to provide leadership as well as how government works, is that a fair--?

Allan:     That's absolute--I mean, I've always believed that and I saw it work.

Q:    And leadership has different components, that is, sometimes it requires a lot of cooperation and submerging the leadership to provide leadership. Tell me a little bit about your leadership a little more about that.

Allan:     I don't know. I don't know how I do it. Well, number one, I like people. I like to work with people. I recognize the ones with ability and try to draw them in. I like to work with young people and that is why Dee Boersma was on the Task Force. She made a great contribution and spread the word among young people.

Q:    And Karen Keesling was another one in your--

Allan:     Yes. Karen and I are still friends. She is out in Arkansas.

 Q:    She moved on to become Assistant Secretary of Defense, right?

Allan:     Yes.

Q:    Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, I guess.

Allan:     Yes.

Q:    What do you think are the biggest barriers to making changes when one sets out to make changes, and are they institutional or attitudinal, or what?

Allan:     All I know is in terms of what I felt was that you don't come on aggressively. You get people who--just like we had on the Task Force, we had people who were key to the Republican Party and those people made a difference, ran interference and that you understood the issues and educated people.

Q:    So you are saying that the barriers can be overcome if you go at it with people who know how to get over or around them and stop, right?

 Allan:     You explained it beautifully.

Q:        And education is a big--?

Allan:     Yes.

Q:           Educating people of the facts and what can be done?

 Allan:     And not scaring or threatening people. I think you can --- I mean, if you in anyway show you are belligerent or you don't appreciate what they've done--it is just working with people and doing what you can accomplish and keep them quite on the ones you can't, and wait until the time comes along.

Q:         And then you can open the door?

Allan:     Yes.

Q:   Don't try to open it too soon. We mentioned working with women in the press earlier, but were they supportive in this total effort and can you give me any examples of people who were?

Clapp:  You said Vera on the Task Force.

Allan:  Yes. Vera Glaser certainly was key to what happened in terms of getting the information out and working with Press Club. I mean, she carried it but we had people working in all--like Evelyn Cunningham up in New York, she had all the contacts. I mean, everyone on the Task Force.

Q:    Evelyn Cunningham was very powerful among the black media.

Allan:     Yes. And Dee Boersma among the students. I mean, the word got around and people were--.

Q:    The Washington Press Corps was important but you are saying that--

Allan:     Throughout the country.

Q:    --getting all the networking throughout the country was focused?

Allan:    Yes. As I look at people, Massenberg in Maryland--I mean, we really--and then with our meetings that we had, we really educated people and spread the word, and the more the word got around what we were trying to do, the more it was better accepted by government.

Q:    Interesting point. We're going to stop and change the tape.


Tape Two

Q:    We've been talking about women in the press corps. There were some side comments during our break that I will not ask Charlie to repeat. But it sounds as though Vera Glaser had to play a very careful role there as a member of the press corps and a Task Force member so that she was able to adopt the moderate tone of the Task Force recommendations and not get caught in the middle with her role was the member of the press corps. Would that be correct or am I reading too much?

Allan:     Well, I don't know.

Q:    You stop me if I'm speculating.

Allan:      I don't really know. I don't have any reaction to that.

Clapp: I don't think anybody could slow down somebody like Fran, you know, and I don't know that she tried, but I could be wrong. I just don't know.

Allan:     I don't know either.

Q:    Looking beyond the Task Force for a moment, were there other things going on in the country that contributed to this whole process of advancing women in government? Obviously the women's movement was becoming very visible at that point.

Allan:    And also state meetings were held and state commissions were appointed, so it just was a burgeoning force. I think it was a time to do things.

Q:    There are men who were quite supportive of the effort. I believe Burns appears to have been so. I've been told that Bob Finch was quite supportive also. And I'm always curious about why some men of that era appear to have been quite supportive and others didn't understand it. Do you have any theories about why this was the case?

Allan:     I don't know. I've always had the philosophy that I enjoyed working with men and, you know, you just didn't come on strong. You just presented it and got their reaction and eventually many of them you got their help. A good example, right here.

Q:    He doesn't seem to have been very hard to bring along. Do you have any observations about the individual agencies or departments of which there were advances that accounted for that?

Allan:   No.

Q:   You personally were acquainted with the State Department situation.

Allan:  Yes, Labor, HEW. You know, there were meetings and various leaders who were in the women's movements were also throughout the cabinet. I think that we moved slowly but we kept going.

Q:    In interviewing people I have run into various terms and almost always people say the progress was slow but incremental, that it kept building.

Allan:  That's right.

Q:   Other people have described that period as a watershed--

Allan:   Good.

Q:    --that is that enough happened to sort of make the progress necessary for the future. There was no going back.

Allan:  Very good.

Q:   You would agree with that?

Allan:    Yes.

Q:    Do you have any words of your own?

Allan:  No, I think it was very well put. Do you have?

Clapp:   No, I think that is probably accurate.

Q:    How important do you think the Task Force was in setting stage for International Women's Year? Do you think there was any relationship between the two things?

Allan:  I think the Task Force was instrumental in getting things set up across the nation in various states, and that then made it possible, I've always felt, through regional, national in the BPW that we really didn't work as hard as we should in the international. And I think that this helped it. It had the states looking and the states had to think internationally as well as state-wise.

Q:    And there were quite a few battles fought over international women's year and the nature of U.S. participation, were there not? You were involved in those when you went to the State Department?

Allan:   I was, but we moved along.

Q:    You moved along in your Virginia Allen style peacefully rather than the--there may have been some battles, but you don't regard them as such?

Allan:   No, I don't like battles. I mean, I think you would have to sometimes not move as fast as you'd like to but let people catch up with you.

Q:   Interesting. To let people catch up with you, a very interesting thought. I'm going back to something we talked about a little bit earlier, the degree of camaraderie among the women involved in that era. Do you have any explanation for why women worked so well together during that period?

Allan:    Well, I think first of all, they realized that something was being done and that is the way the state commissions--I mean, a couple of commissions got started and it spread and met a need.

Q:    We're very fond of talking about networking in today's terms, but this is certainly an example of people networking in those days, was it not?

Allan: It just grew like topsy. I think it was an--I felt, an issue that its time had come.

Clapp:  I wonder what the impact was of you have this Task Force which was going to make recommendations and you had Catherine East--

Allan: Yes.

Clapp:  --as a guide to it and Catherine East, being in the Women's Bureau, dealing with the state commissions, that she could point to what the Task Force was doing in an effort to stimulate the states.

Allan:  That's very well put. She was center to the whole business. Absolutely.

Clapp:     I think that made a big difference.

Allan:     She knew the issues, she studied them thoroughly, she published, she made the connections by talking to the people and knowing who were the movers and shakers across the country. If I had to name one person who made a difference, it was Catherine. Isn't that right?

Clapp:     I agree. Absolutely.

Q:    You have referred quite a few times to the state commissions, and this project is primarily focused on advancing women in the federal government, but I think what you are perhaps saying to me is that there was a major progress at the state level, which fed the federal level and in turn the federal level fed the state level?

Allan:  Exactly, worked together and that made a difference.  I mean, the states had somebody to look to. On the other hand, the states were very energetic and so they prompted the nation to pay attention.

Q:   Do you think there was an impact of progress for women at the federal government level on their progress in business and the professions in the academic world? Do you have any sort of sense of whether the progress that was made for women in government made a difference for women in other areas?

Allan:  Of course. And progress for women in those other areas pushed the federal government.

Q:    I have done impressive talks with two women who came out of law school, and very prestigious law schools, in the '50s and could not get a job in the law firm, because they were not hiring women and eventually they had to do other things to get themselves moved along. Now, both were appointed during this whole process in the '70s, but in the '50s they had a very hard time.

Okay. I'm going to change the subject a bit here and talk about whether your family was involved in shaping your kind of approach to leadership and to achievement. Is that a fair or unfair question? I'm finding that family is important, of course, always.

Allan:  Well, I'm an only child. Both my mother and father, and my father more than my mother, were active in--well, my father was head of the Boards of Pharmacy and very active in the community, so I was brought up with--my mother, too, was in women's clubs and so on, so it just came naturally to me.

Q:    You were expected to be active in--they were active and--?

Allan:     It just didn't occur to me. This is the way things were done. You make a contribution.

Q:    Well, obviously this was an important factor to you then. Let's see, I have a couple of other questions for you.

Allan:     Oh, my.

Q:    Then, I'm going to ask you if there is anything that we haven't talked about that you wanted to talk about.

My first question is, and maybe you have already answered it, I call it management style, but we've talked about leadership style, but your management style is to work cooperatively with other people to get things done?

Allan:     Right.

Q:    And then, I'm going to ask what we have not talked about that you would like to talk about?             What have I missed?

Allan:     I don't think anything.

Q:    Well, you can think about that and we'll turn it off.


After a Break

We're back and Virginia would like to add, again, to the discussion of Catherine East, the key to success in this whole era.

Allan:  Absolutely, because Catherine did her homework, she knew the issues, she knew the government backwards and forwards, what would move and what wouldn't. So I would say that--well, I can't pay enough compliments for Catherine because she certainly made what happened happen.

Q:    Thank you, Virginia and Charlie.

End of Tape 1 Side B

Q:    We're just testing to see how our voice level is. I wasn't pleased with the voice level on the second side of that last tape. So, Virginia, just say a word or so, if you can make yourself heard over your bird. Introduce your bird.

Allen:     Well, let's let the bird do the talking.

Q:   We are back a couple of days later after our first interview and I have realized that I didn't as Virginia very much about her experiences at the State Department. And she was appointed in 1972, I believe, and was at the State Department for five years. Am I right that you were the first woman to come in at the level of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the State Department?

Allan:      Yes. And later Ambassador Laise was the first women to be Assistant Secretary. She really had the top position. I was pleased to work with her. She was excellent.

Q:    What was your responsibilities as Deputy Assistant Secretary?

Allan:     They brought me in to work with the non-governmental organizations because for years the State Department thought in terms of foreign policy. Even though they had meetings where they had briefings of non-governmental organizations,  they really felt that they needed to step up the contacts with the non­ governmental organizations and that was specifically my job, to keep in touch, to bring them into various conferences.  In other words, it was an outreach to people within this country, particularly the non-governmental  organizations.

Q:    And obviously you had a lot of experience working with NGOs on the women's side, but in this case it was the NGOs in every sort of field, right?

Allan:     Yes. That's correct.

Q:    Can you give us some examples of the kind of issues that you took to the non-governmental  organizations?

Allan:     I'm not going to be specific here, but the thing of it is whatever was important to foreign policy at the time we'd call for a briefing. Those were the issues that were explained and the non-governmental  people had a chance to ask questions. It really was--for the most part, the State Department had taken care of, very well, foreign policy. But it came to the time when we realized that we needed the support of non-governmental  groups, and I must say there were many of those that weren't particularly interested in foreign policy. And so it was a chance to work with them, to bring them in, to exchange information with them and they really responded very well.

Q:    Is that outreach still going on today? Do you know whether that's happening?

Allan:   I really am not close enough to know, I imagine it is. I think they would carry it on. It is a very important way to really reach out across the country because the non-governmental groups did have people in every state in the union, and even if only their top leadership came, at the same time, many of them had international experience and so I thought that it was a great step that we took and an important one because non-governmental people are leaders within our country and most of them have international relations. That is why we worked with them and they gave us feedback, and it was just great.

Q:    It is occurring to me in terms of recent news the retaliation in Sudan and Afghanistan in response to the bombings in Africa, that would have been an ideal time for briefing non­ governmental organizations on the government's objectives. I don't know whether anything of that sort was done.

Allan:     I don't know either.

Q:    Interesting. Now, at State also you took the lead on the U.S. observance of International Women's Year, did you not?

Allan:     Yes.

Q:    And tell us a little bit about what you did there.

Allan:   Well, for one thing, we had briefings, periodic briefings on the issues as they came out from the U.N. We worked very closely with the U.N. and what messages they wanted to get across, so we had, as I said, briefings. And I knew that many non-governmental  organizations, even though they were international that they were so wrapped up with what was going on in the United States that many of them didn't get across what was important in terms of women and the international viewpoint.

Q:    And there was also some concern about what we call the new economic order, something of that sort, and whether there would be efforts to somehow make statements with International Women's Year on that topic that would be disruptive.

Allan:     Yes. In fact, we followed what the United Nations had set up in terms of issues and we brought the people in for briefings on those issues. And for the most part, the leadership carried it across the country, our American leadership.

Q:    And I know that earlier you were much involved in setting up the state commissions on the status of women. Did they somehow play a role in disseminating the message of International Women's Year?

Allan:     Absolutely. They were a great outreach.

Q:      How did that work?

Allan:     Well, we had information for them that was distributed across the country and they in turn, although most of them were mainly interested in what was going on within their city and their countryside and the state, and nationally with women's issue. This took it one step more to the international. I found that the response was very heartwarming.

Q:    I know that you represented the U.S. at Mexico City, and I believe you are the only person who has been a delegate to three international women's conferences. There was Mexico City and then what followed that? I can't remember. Then there was Nairobi. Was Nairobi next? And then--

Allan:     I can't think of it at the moment.

Q:    Well, there were three international conferences. And do you have any observation on change, improvement across that span of --- What was the feel of those conferences? How did they differ from each other.

Allan:     Well, the very fact that they were held and information got out within various countries on women's issues. Women came together ont he country and state issues. And so I felt that it was very productive.

Q:    Is there any issue that stands out in your mind as to one that sort of transcends time that we need to keep working toward internationally?

Allan:     A whole lot of them.

Q:    List a few.

Allan:     Well, I mean, certainly wage levels and how they compare with men's and whether or not women were promoted, given a chance to rise up in their professions. We dealt with health issues. We dealt with social issues. We went across the board really in terms of what affected people.

Q:    And I guess just as basic as women's ability to vote was still an issue in some countries, or is it? Well, in non­ democratic countries, obviously.

Allan:     I'm sorry.

Q:    The ability to vote, to have a voice in the government.

Allan:      Yes. When we had these conferences, the countries felt the responsibility of having people representing their country, of women representing their country. I think it did a great deal to help women achieve and to be recognized and the leadership worldwide and they better get with it.

Q:    After you left State, I believe you were involved in setting up women's study center at George Washington University.

Allan:     Yes.

Q:    Was that the first such women's study center in a major university?

Allan:     No, no. There were many around about in various. In fact, I felt it was very important that we do it so we'd be recognized and get to go to conferences and all not only with various states but that Washington would be represented.

Q:    So the City of Washington had not had a women's study center before?

Allan:     No.

Q:    And what were some of the activities of that center?

Allan:     Well, we took the issues of the day and distributed them. We had conferences. We had input on various issues that were important to women across the country, plus I think what we did was to--even our various groups within the United States, they found themselves with so many issues that needed to be taken care of within the country that it was a little difficult for them to make that transition to the international.  I think we looked at issues or at least got the various groups to look at issues not only nationally but internationally as well.

Q:    You also did a major study, I believe, on the media and its coverage of women's issues. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Allen:     Well, we were fortunate to have women in the media working with us and certainly by doing that we had an outlet to the whole country. I mean, we were fortunate to have newspaper people, people in television. So I think we enlarged the interests of women and what was being done, as well as getting their input.

Q:    And a woman named Dorothy Jurney, I believe I've heard that name involved in that?

Allan:     Very much so. She was very active in the newspaper women. Dorothy had been in Detroit and that is how I knew her. I got her involved and that was terrific because she was in all of the women's organizations in the newspaper, the media. So that was a big help to get our message across.

Q:    Was that a major conclusion of that study that sticks in your mind, as far as the way the media handled news about women?

Allan:     I don't know. I guess I thought all of the issues were important. I don't know that I have any definite one to say this is what we did. But I think it did make a difference that we were getting the word out. It wasn't just in major cities. It was across the country.

Q:    Certainly there is a big difference in how the media handles women issues now as compared--

Allan: I think this was the beginning. We had the women who were in the media and so with the pressure that was put on from the outside with all women's groups to help them, it did make a difference.

Q:    The women's pages used to be entirely--

Allan:     Social.

Q:    --or recipes and fashion and now they deal with a whole range of issues.

Allan:     That's right.

Q:    Obviously recipes and fashions are still timeless. So your approach to that was to gather facts and then disseminate  through publications and conferences, etc., and to again involve people in the findings and the dissemination.

Allan:     Exactly. Particularly on the international  level. I mean, I feel we were getting a message out in local news and national news, but we hadn't quite reached the international aspect. I feel that because it was the State Department because we did bring them in for conferences, we did look at the issues that did affect women worldwide, it made a lot of difference both to women within the United States and around the world.

Q:    So your interest in international really stems for many years before you actually worked in the State Department.  You were really during your involvement  in BPW always interested in the international aspects of that.

Allan:     That's right.

Q:    And so the State Department was a natural extension for you.

Allan:  Well, I think what the State Department was looking forward to and expected me to do was they hadn't paid too much attention to women's groups. They did come in for conferences and so on, but I think they really felt that this was a segment of the population that they hadn't reached the way they wished to. So we did have conferences. The leadership was invited to come in and they had a chance to meet together on issues and to give feedback to the State Department, which I feel was a great contribution.

Q:    So people from the level of the Secretary on down recognized this was a valuable, in fact, new communications method for the State Department?

Allan:     Yes, because I think their view was doing their job, which was reaching out across the world. So I think they did. Various people were invited in to conferences and so on, but we were able to do the whole range of women's group and that made a difference. We did research on the women's groups across the country and they were invited in and they responded very well.

Q:    That, I suppose, may in turn have led some of those organizations to just by virtue of communicating the information Statement Department.

Allan:     I think so.

Q:    That strengthened their leadership internally as a result.

Allan:    Yes, I agree with that. It did open up I think many organizations--there was so much to do right at home that the international was way faraway in terms of what should be done. I  think maybe one of the great contributions that was made at that time was to get women in groups to not only think locally, national, but added international to it.

End of Interview