Q: This is a test. I am Jean Rainey interviewing Virginia Knauer on Tuesday, April 14, in her antique-filled apartment in Washington. It's truly magnificent. Virginia, could you just say a couple of words for us?
A: Yes. Jean, it's so wonderful to see you again, and may I congratulate you on this whole program. I think it's a wonderful thing.
Q: You need to congratulate people other than me.
A: Well, all right.
Q: Virginia, you became active in politics in the late '50s and were elected to the City Council in Philadelphia in 1960. What motivated you to become active in politics?
A: My husband. When I married in 1940, I did the usual things, community work and organizing and that sort of thing, and my husband thought I had a gift for drawing women together to get them to work for this, that or other good causes, and we became active.
The first political activity was that -- for Eisenhower, "Friends for Ike" or something like that, they called it, and, apparently, I organized women's groups and all sorts of rides, "Bikes for Ike," and got my teenaged son leading a campaign for door to door registration. I became interested and I felt that citizens should do everything they could to elect to office people that they admired and trusted and thought would do a good job for our country.
So that was the beginning, and I became, therefore, very active within the workings of the Republican Party. I became Vice Chair of the Republican Party in Philadelphia and was always promoting women. We had a mayoral election coming up in 1959, and also we went through -- put up candidates for five slots, council-at-large. I had made a great campaign to choose women, introducing to the party leadership these very attractive and talented young women, and later the Chairman called me in and he said, ''Virginia, we have made a selection,'' and all I could think of, they didn't consult me which of these women I had recommended, and I said, "Who?" And he said, "You." I said, "Oh, don't be silly. I don't want to run. I'm too busy running things. I don't want to run for office.'' He said, ''It's either you or we'll just put a man in that slot." Well, of course, they were fighting words for me, and I said, grudgingly, ''Okay,'' and, of course, with a great deal of push from my husband, who was a consummate politician, having served three governors of Pennsylvania as Deputy Attorney General, and when I met him, he was in the Mayor's Cabinet in Philadelphia. He was very, very political, and this was sort of getting back into it. Well, during that earlier period, 1954, he ran for District Attorney and it was a big campaign that I helped organize, but he didn't win.
Anyway, it came my turn, and he was wonderful, and, of course, I had organized all these women's groups throughout Philadelphia and had worked with all the male party leadership. So, when the votes came in, Philadelphia's Constitution is such that the top two of the minority party, which in Philadelphia was the Republican Party, of these five Councilmen at Large, the top two were the ones elected. I came in second, but only by about 257 votes, and the number three person was the President, then, of the Philadelphia Bar Association, who had fits -- public fits. He could never be beaten by a mere housewife, he claimed, and so he got in front of a judge. He said, "It must be massive fraud on her part," me, as if I were tampering with boxes. So we did a massive recount, and the only fraud we found was in his count, and he lost another couple of hundred votes, and I chortled about that. I talked about it publicly! He didn't speak to me for years, of course, because I made so much of the fact that a mere housewife had licked him.
Anyway, I was inaugurated in early January of 1960 and served for four years, was reelected with a big majority in 1964. I must say my Democratic colleagues taught me the very practicalities of getting along in politics. You stick to your guns, of course, and also learn to compromise, because there were only two of us. Tommy Foglietta, who is now U.S. Ambassador to Italy, was the other Republican at that time. It was a lot of fun, we all traveled together. We were good friends, in spite of many political differences on the floor of City Council.
So at the end of the eighth year, the Governor of Pennsylvania Raymond Shafer, a good friend, called me up and said, "Virginia, rather than run again, I'd like you to come to Harrisburg and head up my (Pennsylvania) Office of Consumer Affairs,'' and I said, ''Ray! Your what?'' And he said, ''That's right. No one has heard about it,'' and then he goes on to talk about this brand new office, and I said, ''But you need a lawyer,'' and I'll never forget, he said, "I have lawyers coming out of my ears. I need someone who has good public relations," and I did. I got good headlines all the time, because I worked with the press. If they needed a story, they got the information they needed.
So I decided to go there. It was something new, and it's not a big office, but we had 5 offices around the state. I think we may have had 33 people or so, but I reported directly to the Governor, and he said, ''Do whatever you think has to be done.'' So we rewrote -- in fact, in some cases, originated consumer protections for the people of Pennsylvania, and at that time I was the only woman heading a state bureau, and I think that's what attracted attention, and Pat Hitt of California was a good friend and in the new administration of President Nixon. She had made speeches for me in Pennsylvania. So she invited me down to Washington. She said, ''Virginia,'' you know, I'm now Assistant Secretary of HEW, and I was thrilled. I came down. So she said, ''Virginia, I want you to meet some of my friends in the White House," and I said, "Oh, that would be exciting." So we go over there, and I suddenly find myself in an interview situation, and I was not interested. I had a big home in Philadelphia, my children, everything. All my interests were in Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. So I had no interest in it, and I suppose I was sort of -- not cocky, that's not the word, but literally disinterested, gracious and what have you, and they queried me on different things, and I said, ''Well, in Pennsylvania, we do this, and this is what you should do,'' etcetera.
So I was offered a job. These were all the top people around the President. I recognized their names and pictures, and they said, "Wouldn't you like a job down here?'' and I said, ''Oh, no. I'd rather be the big fish in the little pond of Pennsylvania than a little fish down here in the big pond of Washington.'' They said, ''Well, wouldn't you like to be a fairly big fish down here?'' and I said, ''What do you mean?'' and they said, ''Well, we just think that you would do a good job as the new head of the Office and as Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs," and, of course, I said, "Well," I said, "I'm not sure the Governor would release me." They said, "A call from the President will take care of your Governor," and I said, "Well, my husband has not been well." "Well, that's your decision. Focus all your attention on it. Take all the time you need. Call us at nine o'clock tomorrow morning."
Well, I have used that line thereafter. People who waiver about a job offer, they focus on that challenge and I either get them or lose them completely. To me, that was a prime line in recruitment, ''Call us by nine o'clock tomorrow morning.'' I called the Governor. He said, ''Virginia, I told you that Pat Hitt was enticing you down for this.'' I said, ''Well, I didn't believe you." He said, "Now, believe me," and he said, "Of course, you can go,'' and he said, ''They're doing nothing down there and you can do so much, and -- you know -- talk about Pennsylvania,'' which I did.
So my husband said, "You can't use my health as an excuse," so I accepted the offer to head the White House consumer office. We took an apartment in Wardman Plaza or whatever it is now called, and it worked out very well. I brought some friends from Pennsylvania with me, political associates, who were steeped in the problems of consumers. They came down, and one stayed with me until she retired. Another one was with me three or four years, but I gathered a lot of very wonderful people, and in my law division I was attracted to a very young woman who sat down and explained the budget, which had already been decided before I got there.
Incidentally, I came down -- they asked me the end of March in 1969, but it was when Eisenhower died, and they said, ''Sit on it for a week until the funeral is over, because we want Rose Garden publicity,'' and because this was, they considered, an important female appointment. So we did, and I actually took over in April, early April of '69. But as I was saying, there was this brilliant young lawyer, and she was not only lovely to look at, she was gracious and charming and a fine legal mind. She volunteered to explain the budget that I was to defend. Well, her name was Elizabeth Hanford, and Elizabeth Hanford didn't stay too long in that law office. I made her my Deputy, number two in the operation, and she was with me four-and-a-half years, and she then went over to the FTC. I introduced her, when she was in my office, to her future husband -- that was Senator Bob Dole. They had the same sense of humor. I knew it would work, and Bob used to joke and call me his marriage broker, he said, "He forgot to give me my ten percent." Of course, that was our little joke, but they have remained good and close friends ever since.
And we recruited a lot of women. One of them was Tillie Fowler, who became, then, my first lawyer, and when we would go up to Congress on the budget, the three of us would testify. One time this southern congressman said, "Mrs. Knauer, what do you have against men?" and he said, "All you bring with me (sic) are two lovely ladies. Don't you have any men in your office?" I said, ''Yes, but I leave them home." So he had to laugh.
So-- Tillie is now a Congresswoman. I'm very proud of her, and other women have gone on to head trade associations.
In Philadelphia, years and years ago in the 1940's, a very wonderful woman, head of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania, acted as my mentor. She opened doors for me, and I always felt it was my obligation to do the same for other women down through the years, and, as I said, I suppose my greatest mentor was my husband, because he was full of good advice. He was a great parliamentarian, and he would sit in City Council room and just grin, especially when I came up to give a speech, but he did warn me. He said, "Too many women in the past just cackle." I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "They talk about anything except what they should zero in on.'' He said, "Focus. Don't open your mouth unless you've done your research and have something important to say," which was, I think, good advice.
A: So that was it.
Q: I want to take you back to your period on the City Council. You were on the Finance Committee --
A: That's right.
Q: -- and that is frequently a committee that women are not chosen for because they are not believed to know anything about money. Is there a story there?
A: Actually, same time I was elected, the Democrats elected their Vice Chairman of the Democratic Party, Mary Varallo, and we became the best of friends. The President of City Council got a little nervous when he would see the two of us with our heads together.
But, no, I never had any difficulty. I think they put me on that because when they passed any finance bills they needed the two Republican votes to pass it. So -- but I never had any difficulty. I was used to budgets, and my husband involved me in everything of a financial nature. So I wasn't completely unprepared it was during this time -- a little before -- that I had a large kennel of Doberman Pinschers, and I raised Doberman Pinschers, showed them, and that involved quite a bit of bookkeeping. I became National President -- the first female, again, there -- of the "Doberman Pinscher Club of America." We set the standard for breeders.
In my family background, there was no politicians in it. My father was an accountant and a professor at Temple University, and Mother had gone to a finishing school, as young women did in those days, and she had prodigious memory, was very artistic, and -- I think she gave me my love of literature -- I do a lot of reading. She always felt that women could do anything they wanted to. During the Depression, I won a four-year Philadelphia Mayor's scholarship to an art school of my choosing, I chose the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The family felt that I needed a college degree, and at that time the University of Pennsylvania was giving a joint degree, Bachelor of Fine Arts, but they gave you credit for your painting done off their campus, which was wonderful. All I did was the usual academic studies that lead up to a degree, and I've been involved in the university ever since, and it was fun.
Q: Now, also, I note in your bio that when you were Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection for Pennsylvania you were the only woman in the United States to hold such a position.
A: That's right.
Q: Was consumer protection a male prerogative, because it was regarded as a male kind of expertise?
A: I think so, because, remember, that was the time when Ralph Nader stood up and fought General Motors, and somehow it was, I suppose, in the public's mind, but let's face it, women do all the shopping. They make a lot of the financial decisions, sometimes jointly with their husbands, sometimes not, and they are the major and most important consumers.
My predecessor, who became a very good friend of mine, she was a Democrat, Esther Peterson, who, unfortunately, died last December. Esther came from the labor movement, and she headed the office before I got there, but because of her background, she was suspicious of big business, and I felt the biggest hurdle I faced was to make these gun-shy businessmen cooperate with my office, because I talked about a cooperative triangle, consumers on the top. The bases of that triangle was government and also the business sector. My office was getting up to 50,000 complaints a year. Oh, incidentally, when I took over it was the Committee for Consumer Interests, some silly name like that. It was President Nixon who created the first White House Office of Consumer Affairs. Well, we were getting piles of letters. So --
Q: So this was quite a different situation --
Q: -- organizationally than had been the case when Esther Peterson ran it.
A: Yes. Yes. Yes, but I started by involving businesses. I couldn't give consumers a new automobile, nor could I send them a box of cereal if something went wrong, but I worked to involve business, to resolve complaints and gradually they put in consumer offices. There are thousands of businesses now that have their own consumer office. It was later, of course, in the Reagan administration, that we put together all the complaint resolution centers in the Consumers' Resource Handbook, with thousands, not only at the state level, city level, but also in business, but to get consumers to realize that they could do something. Then we did a study that showed that if a business satisfied a disgruntled consumer, they told their friends, they were surprised, delighted, et cetera, and continued to buy the product
Q: There was a tremendous growth -
Q: -- in consumer
Q: -- activity by business during that period as well.
A: Yes, absolutely. Phenomenal, and I said, "This is your bottom line. Congress gives me a very inadequate bottom line." It was never more than $2 million, but by getting business to sponsor this conference or that, I think we testified that we raised over $6 million from the business community to help us publish this consumer information, and it was very useful.
Q: You were one of the few women in the White House at that time. What were your observations -- I'm talking about when you first came there in '69 --about the status of women in government generally, throughout the federal government?
A: Well, I always felt there weren't enough of them, and I was so delighted when President Nixon appointed Barbara Franklin to head up that recruitment effort. So that gave us a chance to push for more and more women, Jean, and I think that helped. But I know that the President appointed me not only as his Special Assistant, but to the Cost of Living Council -- I was the only woman on that -- and to a good many other programs, and, fortunately, I had chosen and inherited a very wonderful staff who were great backup, but I was -- I felt that there should be more females in decision-making positions. Because consumerismwas sweeping the world, Henry Kissinger, of course with the President's suggestion or approval -- I was named the American Delegate to OECD, to a new committee they had, Consumer Affairs. I served there about 16 years though the three administrations I served on.
Q: Okay. You had responsibility, as you mentioned, for representing the consumer on key Cabinet-level committees, such as Cost of Living, et cetera. You were the only woman at these meetings, I gather, and were you -- did you have problems with discussing items on the agenda that you wanted to advance? How did men treat you
A: Well, I know the President (Nixon) had me address a Cabinet meeting, and it was the first time. I had been there just two or three months, and I was a little timorous about the whole thing, and I went to sit around the rim of the Cabinet Room, where the President, you know, sits at the table and opposite the Vice President. He looked at me, "No, no," and he points me to a seat about two from him, and all I could think of is, ''This seat belongs to one of the Secretaries. I hope he's out of town or he'll be offended when he comes in.'' But who was the first speaker that day to the whole Cabinet? Henry Kissinger talking about foreign affairs, and I know I did not wiggle. I may have looked over my shoulder once at the garden outside, but the President, I think, was a tremendously sensitive person, and when Henry finally sat down, the President leaned down and said, ''Now, Virginia, tell them about our consumer program," and it was just as if he had put his arm around me. I never had any shyness about addressing any of those groups ever again, but when I first sat down, I thought, "There's the President of the United States. There's the Vice President. These are all the Cabinet officers. What am I doing here?" but he felt I should be there to tell them.
And out of that grew something -- it was the -- well, that was a little later. We urged the selection of representatives in every Cabinet office who would represent consumer interests in that department. That was under Ford. We called it the "Consumer Affairs Council."
Q: You had mentioned Elizabeth Dole earlier, but, as I recall, you developed an enviable reputation for recruiting top people to your staff, and for this interview I'm calling it the Virginia Knauer Academy of Government. Tell us about some of the graduates of the Virginia Knauer Academy.
A: Well, there were also some very important men who progressed through the thing.
I suppose I missed my daughter at first in Washington and I worked closely with all these women, but, as I mentioned, Elizabeth Dole, of course, was with me four-and-a-half years, and as that was going on, I said, "Elizabeth, you have been number two in this office too long. You should be number one,'' and just at that time, there was a vacancy on the Federal Trade Commission, and she was a little startled. I said, "It's time. You're a lawyer. It's time you really practice what you have been trained to do more than just the consumer aspect of it." So we campaigned for that. So the White House was delighted to appoint Elizabeth to that job. And many times, when I was out of the country or traveling all over the place, Elizabeth represented me, and I'll never forget her first interview. I went into her office and she had books piled high, I said, "Elizabeth, you can't possibly know everything, and do not fake an answer. If anyone asks you a question, they already know the answer. If you don't know it," I said, "smile prettily and say, 'Oh, that's a good question. I'll get back to you with my answer,'" and from then on she was a huge success with the press. You can't know everything, and it's honesty they give you credit for --being honest with them, and I think that helps.
Well, Tillie Fowler was in the law division. I made her my number one lawyer, as I said before, in the office, It was by then, as I said, the White House Office of Consumer Affairs.
There were other women in charge of business relations, and they have gone on to head large corporations and trade associations -- they've done very well.
The men have done equally well, and my first lawyer, Lew Engman, became the head of the Federal Trade Commission, and he went on to do other things. John Byington left me to become the Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and he was a very successful Chairman, and -- oh, I had others who have gone on to do myriad things, and, as I said, the senior staff and I still get together. Oh, I've had -- unfortunately -- two of my very favorite ones have passed away. I said here I'm 83 and still hanging in there, trying to keep active and what have you, and it's awful to see young men pass away. We have our annual reunion here where we can chitchat and catch up and now they're talking about their grandchildren. That really makes me realize that time has flown.
Q: You were already in the White House when Barbara Franklin was appointed, and you mentioned your pleasure in that appointment. What interaction did you have with her? How much were you --
A: Oh, very, very good. I would point out women in other branches who would do well in positions. We got along very well together.
Q: And I guess -- well, was she involved in Elizabeth's promotion?
A: No. None whatever.
Q: to the Federal Trade Commission, because that came later, right?
A: No, that had nothing to do with her.
Q: How important was it to have such a person in the White House with that responsibility?
A: Well, I think it was very important. First of all, it was a headline position. We established, and Nixon appointed prominent men and women to the "Presidential Committee on Consumer Affairs" to advise me. I recommended outstanding citizens including Dr. Jean Mayer, who had put together the first U.S. Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health. He later became President of Tufts University and a lifelong friend.
But Jean said, "Virginia, you must do something. Hot dogs are too fat. There's too much fat in hot dogs. It's about 50 percent. We should set a level,'' and I said, ''What do you think the level should be?" He said, "No more than 30 percent." So figuring he was an expert, I went campaigning. The then Secretary of Agriculture blew his gaskets, and he was demanding I be fired, among other things, and I got a call -- I was doing an interview with The New York Times, sitting beside my desk, and my secretary comes in. Her eyes are staring. She said, "Virginia, the President (Nixon) is on the phone.'' So instead of excusing himself and leaving, the reporter was sitting there. I took the call at my desk. I wasn't sure whether I was going to be fired or what, but the President got on and he's laughing. He said, "Virginia, you're absolutely right. I can't eat hot dogs anymore. They have too much fat." He said, "That's why I'm eating cottage cheese and what have you,'' and I said, ''Well, I'm sorry I've upset the Secretary of Agriculture.'' He said, ''Oh, don't worry about him. I'll take care of him, but keep on with it." But that's what I mean, Nixon was so sensitive and supportive.
Q: And so by chance you had a New York Times reporter there --
Q: -- and witness it.
A: Yes. Oh, he wasn't going to leave. He was sort leaning -
Q: Oh, boy. What a story!
A: Yeah. It was a fun story.
Q: As you know, we're looking particularly at the period of 1969 to '74, which is a very limited period. How would you describe that era as far as what was achieved then in advancing the cause of women in government?
A: Well, I think with the judicious choices the President and his supporters or his White House advisors made that these women proved they could hold their own, do a job and sometimes be even more creative than men who might have gotten the same appointment. I think it opened the door later for a whole list of women that came in during the succeeding administrations.
Q: What insights did you gain into the barriers to appointment for women?
Q: Barriers --
A: Oh, the old-boy network and -- nowadays, you'd be afraid to use that as an excuse, but I think of the President of the Philadelphia Bar Association way back in 1960 who couldn't accept the fact that he might be topped by, as he said, ''a mere housewife." Although I was a party leader, that didn't count, you know. I was an organizer of women's groups, that didn't count.
So, anyway --
Q: Wasn't another sort of excuse that there weren't competent women around?
A: Oh, yes, but some men never looked for them, and that's where you had to drag women in and recruit them.
I know I was on senior staff in the White House, and we met every morning at 7:30. It was-- that senior domestic staff was headed by Ehrlichman, and I was the only woman on that. He would report on his earlier meeting with the President and bring us up to date with what was happening there, and we would report our activities. If I was on travel, I'd report sentiments somewhere else around the country and-- because I was political, I wasn't just tied into just the consumer bit. That was an important thing, of course. That was my official responsibility, but because I had a political background, I could report on questions raised about X, Y, Z around the country.
Q: Now, while you were there, were there any other women appointed -- let's see. When did --Anne Armstrong came along --
A: A little later.
Q: --but she was, was she a part of the Domestic Council operation or --
A: Not that I remember, no, I don't think so.
Q: So you remained the only one involved in these senior staff meetings.
A: Yes, as I remember it -- during the first Nixon Administration.
Q: The name of our project is, "A Few Good Women," and you know most or all the people well that we're interviewing for this pilot phase. What would you regard as some of their distinguishing characteristics?
A: They weren't afraid to take a chance, and I've always said to women, when a door is opened, don't be afraid to go in or if you see a closed door, don't be afraid to knock and open it, if that's the direction you want to go. I think that those early stereotypes of chattering women and fluffy women and I've nothing against women who are fluffy, but, I mean, I think the men felt they should stay home and play bridge and raise children, and that governing was something just for men, but that was breaking down because Johnson had appointed Esther Peterson. They had a row and he let her go, and she told me all about it. For the most part, there weren't that many women, and we were thrilled when Sandra Day O'Connor was put on the High Court, and real breakthroughs like that, and the second one is always easier, and the fact that we have a second female Justice. We have ambassadors all over the place, and Lindy Boggs, my good friend -- and she had been a Congresswoman for many years, and now is the first female U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. She lived in this condo and she was always rescuing my budgets. When I testified before her committee. When OMB was trying to cut me and I was furious, but I had to go along with the official position, and she was so cute. She had the Chairman and the Vice Chairman and herself saying, ''Oh, you are not going to be able to do thus and so.'' I said, ''No, I'm afraid not,'' and they took care of it and restored the cut. After a couple of years, OMB stopped trying to cut my budget. They figured that the Democrats were going to rescue me.
Q: Were there any other women Members of Congress who were useful to you?
A: I got to know a lot of them, but we didn't have that much federal legislation. I would be called upon myself to testify before them on certain bills that had a consumer either impact or a fringe effect on consumers, but
Q: Much of your work centered around the regulatory agencies, such as the FTC, CPSC.
A: I worked with them. I did not have regulatory power myself.
A: But I worked very closely with FTC, and, of course, because my former Deputy was heading the Consumer Product Safety Commission. I would choose them to join me on our consumer trips to the OECD in Paris and they would give their regulatory slant to it, and it was very interesting and informative to other nations' representatives.
Businesses would come in. They alerted me to the dangers of counterfeiting, and that became one of our great causes, because -- the counterfeiting of consumer products were often health hazards. At first I said, ''Oh, you mean the Gucci bags they sell on 17th Street?" and they said, "No, no. We're talking about heart valves.'' Well, then I got terribly interested about fake heart valves, and there's no end to it. Lindy Boggs was then a Congresswoman and she arranged a big exposition with one of the national shows in New Orleans. Our office's display there showed whether it was wine or other everyday consumer products, the fake one and the real one to warn consumers. When we got to OECD, this was our big pitch "Outlaw counterfeits." And I'll never forget two of the British delegates said, ''We do not have that problem,'' and I said, "I'm amazed. Two of your top manufacturers came to me in my office in the White House and said they were having trouble with counterfeits,'' and they shut up.
So -- they all got the message, and we worked with Japan - oh, I guess I went five -- at least five times to Japan to work with the consumer groups there and speak to them about various new things we were doing in our country.
Q: I'm going to stop for a moment and change the tape.
Q: I decided to change to another tape because there were problems with the earlier one, and we were interrupted as Virginia was talking about the Presidential wives and -- I think you were also, really, talking about the importance of friendship and loyalty -
A: Yes, well, I've been lucky in not only having a very loyal and wonderful family in my daughter, my late son, my three granddaughters, son-in-law-- I'm very, very lucky-- but even friends going back to high school days that, thank God, they're still around, and we see each other regularly, and a lot of new friends I've made down here in Washington in the last 20 years.
We keep together, and-- but I've been more than fortunate in my life. I've had a lot of fun, met a lot of wonderful people, had a lot of wonderful opportunities, and wonderful support from my three bosses, Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan.
Q: I failed to ask you when we were talking earlier about your Nixon years, there was a Task Force on Women's Rights and Responsibilities appointed during 1969, which would have been--
Q: -- shortly after you came to the White House, I believe. Did you have any interaction with Virginia Allan
A: Oh, yes, I knew Virginia Allan. Yes.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about her?
A: Actually, I didn't work on that, because I was a new director of the office, a new Special Assistant, and I had so much on my platter at that point that I didn't have time to take on any other jobs, because there was the Cost of Living Council, a lot of other things, wage and price, this, that and other things. I literally didn't have time, but I was supportive of whatever they did, and I knew Virginia Allan, very wonderful woman.
Q: And there were Departmental Action Plans for the advancement of women within the individual departments and agencies.
Q: Did you have any involvement with that, and was there any interaction --
A: Actually, I was always already doing it. Elizabeth had been advanced. We had a female General Counsel, several heads of the different divisions in my office were women doing a beautiful job, so that I had done -- for a very small agency -- had done a great deal already, but I applauded their efforts. I thought it was great to break down that old-boys' network and nominate qualified women.
Q: You had considerable experience in representing the U.S. at international meetings.
Q: I'm interested in any of your experiences or anecdotes in doing so, and also what you observed as far as the status of women in other countries --
A: Well, I was the American Delegate to that Consumer Affairs Subcommittee of OECD, and we met, certainly, twice a year, sometimes four times a year in Paris, and I would take as part of our American delegation, usually, the head of Consumer Product Safety, the FTC and other agencies that, at that time, had a particular interest in some aspect of consumer -- protection for consumers, and we made -- I think we made a lot of changes. There were a few other women representatives, and I know that there were women, I think, from the Nordic countries, but they had a tendency to change from time to time. After 16 years, I became sort of a fixture.
Q: That's wonderful, because you must have been fairly unique in --
Q: -- for that length of time -
Q: That's a great testimonial to your expertise.
A: But there were a lot of women's issues, labeling and that sort of thing that was very important.
Q: You've remained active in a number of things during the intervening years. I believe you told me you still serve on a couple of boards.
A: Yes, I still do.
Q: Do you have any sense of how young women today compare with the women with whom you worked during the '60s, as far as their aspirations, sense of responsibility to other women, et cetera? A: Yes. I think young women nowadays, they come into the world knowing that they're equal and they're going to have equal opportunities. They realize they must prepare themselves, whether it's law or medicine or whatever, to qualify. They just don't get by on a pretty smile. That's never harmful, actually, but, still, it's not -- shouldn't be part of the criteria, and I think they just expect to get ahead; and I think that men have been convinced that women should have these opportunities, and they take it -- just as we have house husbands nowadays, husbands who share in the care of their children. That was unheard of even when I was a bride. My husband would play with the children, take them out for rides, sort of look over my shoulder occasionally, but not actively, you know diapering or feeding or anything like that.
But I think that young women today are getting better educations. I know my daughter has her MBA, and -- from Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania. That's where she met her husband, and but she's been active in many, many things and sits on many of the boards down here in Washington.
Q: You were telling me at lunch about your granddaughter, I believe, who has graduated from law school and worked in a law firm. I couldn't help recalling Judge Cynthia Hall, whom I interviewed --
Q: -- last week, who told me that when she graduated from law school in the '50s, she could not get a job in a law firm. They simply were not hiring women.
A: Well, with Nancy Knauer, my son's only child, she got out of law school at 22, and immediately went into one of the big law firms in Philadelphia. She had been recruited by several, all of whom I knew, because of my work in City Council and other activities in Philadelphia, and I said, ''Oh, why did you choose that one?" She said, "They have a woman partner." I thought that was very smart, and she practiced law about eight years, and then suddenly realized when a former woman partner from that same law firm had moved to Temple University in Philadelphia, and the law division there, told her there was an opening. ''Would you like to try doing that?'' And, of course, the law firm laughed, and they said, "Oh, you'll be coming back. You won't like teaching." She loved it. She still loves it, and she's a very innovative teacher and has received all sorts of grants for her different projects, and she's ideally happy. She recently was tenured and has published several books.
Q: Did you have mentors? You mentioned earlier that -- one mentor, I think, who was helpful to you, I believe a man, but was a woman also?
A: Well, I would say first a woman. Her name was Edna Carroll.
She was very prominent in Pennsylvania politics, and she had formed the Council of Republican Women in Philadelphia, and she was President since its inception, until she stood aside for me. I had been forming local ones and greatly expanded the whole operation. So she became President Emeritus as long as she lived, and I followed her as President for 16-17 years myself, until I stood aside. I believed in recruiting women to work politically with the men in their community, and they finally became accepted, and, now, we -- while my democratic colleague and I were the first women to serve in Philadelphia City Council, as Councilmen at Large -- that's for the whole district of Philadelphia -- there have been quite a few women since then.
Q: Now, specifically how did she help you as a mentor? What sort of advice --
A: Oh, the fact that she would open doors and be very supportive, because she had her own following and reputation and that sort of thing, and I also became Vice Chairman of our party in Philadelphia, and another woman had had that job, but she retired and then I did it. It was wonderful. These women retired, left whatever they were doing and left doors open for me. My advice to young women, if you see a door there, open it, and if it's closed, knock, especially if you know that you can handle the job.
Q: When you came to Washington was there anybody who helped you here?
A: Well, I must say
Q: Pat Hitt was one of the persons who brought you down, right?
A: No, she just had me visit her office at the request of the White House. That was to lure me down. I didn't want a job. I wasn't looking for a job. I was perfectly happy, but being exposed to her friends in the White House, which she had set up, it became almost like an interview, and I was astonished, and I suppose I was not brusque or anything, but just uninterested and perfectly happy doing what was I was doing, and so, anyway, I'm glad I accepted. That was a door that was opened and
Q: Well, all of us are grateful to you, Virginia.
A: Oh, that's sweet.
Q: And you told me your husband was supportive of your political activities.
A: Oh, he was -- he loved playing Svengali, and I often teased him. He was perfectly willing to be on the sidelines. Unfortunately, some women have husbands who are rivals, and that's unfortunate or they have to give up what they're doing and move with the husband. That wasn't the way with me. My husband was older. As he said, he had been in the limelight for years and was a very successful lawyer beside his public service -- but he thought it was just great pushing a woman.
Q: And he was happy to come along with you.
A: Absolutely. Coming down here, that was a big decision. He lasted about four months, and I think he was bored to death, and we were in rented quarters. I think he didn't even like the furniture, and his friends were all in Philadelphia. So his doctor urged me to coax him to go home and that I would visit every weekend, which, you know, was a strain. I'd fly up every weekend. Fortunately, there was a Northeast airport about a mile from our house, a mile-and-a-half, and I'd leave a car at the airport, go back and forth, and be home the whole weekend.
Q: Probably taking briefcases full of work with you.
Q: What have we not talked about that you would like to discuss?
Q: And one thing we've not talked about that I recall I did want to ask you about is the role of your father and mother in your career and how important --
A: I had -- yes, I had a younger brother, and my mother was English. She was very beautiful. We had the same coloring, red hair and blue eyes. She was devoted to me, and nurtured my interest in literature. She was a great reader, and she was active in other things, and my father was, as I believe I said, an accountant and also professor at Temple University. He held the first chair of Accounting there, which is amusing because his great-granddaughter is now at Temple, a professor in law. Yes, in law, but the rest of the family have all gone to the University of Pennsylvania. There are now nine of us.
My father was very strict about punctuality, my mother, less so. He always said she liked to make a grand entrance. Whether it was theater or dinner party or anywhere else, she liked a grand entrance, but he always drummed into me punctuality, which I guess I do automatically. I try never to be late, unless there's a roadblock or something like that over which I have no control, but Itry to be very prompt. He came from a Maryland family that goes way back into -- among the earliest in Maryland.
Q: And, of course, they couldn't have known that they were preparing you for a career in this new field of consumer affairs, because they --
Q: -- had never heard of such a thing.
A: No. No one had heard about it.
Because it was the Depression, I was very happy to get a four-year Mayor's scholarship to an art school, because that was my interest, painting, and I chose the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Because the family felt I should have a college degree, I started in at the University of Pennsylvania, followed by my brother, and then my husband had gone there before I had, because he was older, but our two children, a son-in-law, three grandchildren, somehow adds up to nine.
Q: So I find it fascinating that you came from a degree in Fine
Arts and an interest in painting and furniture, and I look around your apartment which shows your quality of taste in antiques and ceramics.
A: Oh, thank you. Thank you.
Q: -- on that issue, but you translated all of that to activity in politics --
A: Well --
Q: -- to a wonderful expertise in consumer affairs.
A: Yes, and that was so funny. Well, the consumer affairs started with Governor Shafer of Pennsylvania, and I had worked as a City Councilman for eight years, getting things for my constituents, you know, either a stop light or something like that. I had worked with people, and because I like people, I like to do portraits, and sit down and talk to them and see if I can get a good likeness out of it. Now, aside from a few outside commissions, I largely do family portraits.
I did one of Elizabeth some years ago, and I had done it from an early photograph when we were together in the White House, and I took it to her. It was just a little extra gift at Christmas. We unwrapped it. She looked at it and burst into tears. I said, "Oh, my heavens. It's not that bad, is it?" "Oh," she said, "no, it brings back all those wonderful memories, and, you know, the travel, the programs and the other things." Bob was walking the dog, and came in, and he stopped dead in the middle of the room. He said, "Virginia, that's Elizabeth to a T." So I start to wrap up the paper to throw it away, and she -- ''Oh, would you mind if I take it home with me at Christmas to show it to my mother who lives in Salisbury, North Carolina?" and I know her. She's a wonderful woman, and I said, ''I have a better idea. You're up here. I get to see you. You see me, but your mother is down there. Why don't you leave the portrait with her?" Her mother has never forgotten that. Mrs. Hanford is in her 90s now, still has the picture, and she said it's such a comfort to see her daughter every day on the wall. So it was sweet, and, as I said, I've done -- you know-- other portraits of my friends. It's been fun.
A: Well, I love to do --
Q: -- and I am looking at wonderful portraits of her three granddaughters and daughter and son.
Q: -- and she has a great talent.
What else is there that we've not talked about?
A: Thank you, Jean. Well, for a while, I got into interior decoration. I did all the draperies and all the bed hangings, the four-poster bed hangings at home, and I brought everything down here. I was fortunate because the curtains were interlined and they were silk damask and they stood up very nicely. The ceilings in Philadelphia were 12 feet high instead of 10, so all I had to do was shorten them here, and it worked very well. I love sewing. I used to make all my own clothes and tell everyone about it.
Q: In contrast, when you have an idea that a liberated woman, which in a way you represent, is -- has a disinterest in such domestic fields as sewing, et cetera.
A: Oh, my mother taught me to sew, and I could sew almost all my own clothes by 12 or 13, under her supervision, of course, but I loved doing it, and I suppose that was part of the creativity that I enjoyed.
A few years ago, they had something like Miniature Furniture of the Month. I subscribed, and they were little kits, all the pieces to make little high boys and low boys and beds and everything, and I found it fascinating. It was really doll house furniture to scale, beautiful scale, beautiful copies of very fine pieces of furniture.
So my daughter looked, she said, "What are you going to do with them?" And I said, ''Well, they sort of look silly, don't they, sitting on a little table?'' So she said, ''Why don't you get a doll house? You make it for your namesake Virgnia." Her husband's family had another doll house. She said, ''I'll restore that one,'' for her older girl, Frances, which she never got around to it. I completely furnished, wired, wallpapered, made rugs for, did all the furniture for a six-room doll house.
Q: Is that the one I was looking at --
A: Yes, it's six rooms and halls, too, and all the wallpaper and the wiring and everything. And it's funny, one time I did an interview, and the reporter wanted to know about hobbies and I showed him that. He got down on his knees. He said, "I'm walking through and up to the second floor." I couldn't get him away from the doll house, but I had a lot of fun.
And when it came time to give it to my namesake -- who would come over and sort of look at it. She never played with it. I think her mother had threatened her, ''Don't take the things out," or something -- the Mother said, "No, it takes up too much room in our basement playroom. You keep it." So I still have the doll house.
Q: What advice do you think is most important to pass on to other women? You told me the story about if the door isn't open, knock on it anyway, but what else --
A: Well, I think for a complete life, if they're lucky enough to find a person who matches their interests, their motivation and mutual support, get married, and, certainly, have children. I, certainly did, and my children and now my grandchildren are the biggest things in my life. I've always tried to put them first, at least in my heart and in my thinking, and a few very choice friends, you know, are right behind in my affections. Elizabeth and a few others. But I would say that for a rounded life, it's wonderful to have children, especially when you get older and as your friends die off, if they're your contemporaries. It's nice to look at another generation, also to see what your dreams are doing in a second and a third generation, and that is also fun, and to see them turn out well is a source of satisfaction.
But, on the other hand, quite a few of my friends have never married and have had very successful careers and they seem perfectly happy, and I would not suggest that they should have married, because, let's face it -- what is it? -- one out of two marriages break up, and in my day, it was just presumed that when you got to be in your early 20s or out of school that you were expected to marry.
And I had spent a year in the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, doing post-graduate art work there. When I came home, I met a man who -- I knew nothing about politics, and I knew he was a lawyer and he had some sort of a city job. I didn't know what it was. I didn't know it was in the Mayor's Cabinet, but he had never married, and, my younger friends used to say, ''How did you get him?" I said, ''Well, I didn't try to get him, but I think the dynastic urge was rattling around his torso, and he thought that I'd make a good mate." So we were together until he passed away. We were married over 36 years, and he just gloried in his children and his grandchildren, and all the things we did, whether it was raising Dobermans or traveling or collecting antiques.
Q: Now, I believe you said it was he who gave you the advice that you found helpful in Washington to develop a focus.
A: Yes. Yes.
Q: And that that's advice you also would pass on to others.
A: Yes, he felt it was important that women -- because those of us who are the sort of early females who had responsible positions, should know what we were talking about before we started "babbling," was his word, and to be informed, do your homework. I know in the early Council days, "do your homework," was my focus. Of course, my Democratic friends, if I put in a bill, it would be buried, but as a parliamentarian, my husband said, "What you have to do is put a Resolution in, put the same ideas in that. They have to read it aloud, and that, of course, hits the newspapers, and they can't bury it. It becomes part of the record, a resolution.'' Well, they began to get resolutions in everything I was interested in, and I got the publicity. Of course, they gnashed their teeth, but, in spite of that, we were all pretty friendly.
Q: Any other advice that you have -- you received or have for other people?
A: Well, I think be true to yourself, have confidence in yourself, and I think be loyal to your friends and take what comes. Let's face it, we all have ups and downs, and if we're lucky enough to have good health, take care of it, and, as I said, I have just celebrated, a week or so ago, my 83rd birthday.
I've now lived longer than any member of my family. That's the same as my husband. He was 83 when he died. The doctor seems to think I have a few more good years left, and I got my driver's license renewed, and they gave it to me for four more years.
Q: I think we are fairly confident you will be with us for a while. I certainly hope so.
A: Well, I looked at it and I said, "2002. I don't believe it.'' I said, ''If I make 2000, it will be very, very nice.'' My daughter said, ''You have a Scotch streak. You wouldn't dare not use it all." So we joke about it, but I'm fortunate. Having a sense of humor helps a great deal. You can laugh at yourself as well as others, of course, but I've had a good life and I've been very fortunate in choices I've made and also for people who -- as I say -- have opened doors for me.
Q: Thank you, Virginia Knauer.
A: Well, bless your heart. I've enjoyed it so much. You do a beautiful job. I feel so relaxed with you.
Q: Thank you.