Friday, October 18, 2013
Left to right: Alice Morrison, Evelyn Harrison, Hortense Boutell, and Mary Hilton during a meeting of the President's Commission on the Status of Women at Eleanor Roosevelt's home in Val-Kill, New York, June 1962. Catherine East Papers, Schlesinger LibraryLeft to right: Alice Morrison, Evelyn Harrison, Hortense Boutell, and Mary Hilton during a meeting of the President's Commission on the Status of Women at Eleanor Roosevelt's home in Val-Kill, New York, June 1962. Catherine East Papers, Schlesinger Library

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the report of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, we are featuring a few women who were members of or staffed the commission. The Schlesinger Library holds a set of official records from the commission, as well as the papers of eleven women who were closely involved with its work; they were commission members, served on one of its seven committees, or participated in one of the four consultations with the broader public.

Many commission members were well-known elected officials or involved with national organizations or causes. Several lesser known women are highlighted here. For some, involvement with the President's Commission was a springboard to future political engagement with women's rights. For others, it was another chapter in lives already devoted to furthering equality for women.

Attorney Marguerite Rawalt (1895–1989) worked in the office of the chief counsel, Bureau of Internal Revenue, for 30 years. She was active in organizations for professional women, serving as president of the National Association of Women Lawyers (1942–1943) and National Federation of Business and Professional Women (1954–1956). As a commission member she co-chaired the Committee on Civil and Political Rights.

President Kennedy meeting with Esther Peterson, Virginia Allen, and Dr. Minnie C. Miles at the White House. Photo courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryPresident Kennedy meeting with Esther Peterson, Virginia Allen, and Dr. Minnie C. Miles at the White House. Photo courtesy of Schlesinger Library

The records of many of the women's organizations Rawalt worked with are held by the Schlesinger Library: National Association of Women Lawyers, National Organization for Women, NOW Legal Defense & Education Fund, and Women’s Equity Action League.

Catherine East (1916–1996), a career civil service worker, was Technical Secretary to the Committee on Federal Employment of the President's Commission on the Status of Women. She subsequently was a senior advisor to all presidential commissions on women until 1977. East's papers are held by the Schlesinger Library.

The staff of the President's Commission conducted research, advised commission members, typed reports and memos, drafted correspondence, and contributed to the commission's work in a myriad of other ways. The color photograph above from the Catherine East papers shows four commission staff members, each enormously accomplished.

Alice Angus Morrison (b.1903) worked as a field agent and industrial economist for the Women's Bureau and was chief of the Division of Legislation and Standards from 1950 to 1966. She was later a member of the United States delegations to the United Nations Status of Women Commission.

Lt. Colonel Hortense “Bo” Boutell (1913–2006) was an officer in the Women's Army Corps, serving in Algiers and Italy in World War II. She was one of the first women to receive an officer's commission as well as the first female logistics officer in the US Army. After retirement she went back to school, completed her bachelor's degree, and then went on to get a master of fine arts.

Left to right: Dora S. Lewis, President, American Federation of Soroptimist Clubs; Esther Peterson; Marguerite Rawalt, National Association Women Lawyers; and Dorothy Lyle, American Home Economics Association at a Women's Bureau conference about equal pay for women, May 1961. Esther Peterson Papers, Schlesinger LibraryLeft to right: Dora S. Lewis, President, American Federation of Soroptimist Clubs; Esther Peterson; Marguerite Rawalt, National Association Women Lawyers; and Dorothy Lyle, American Home Economics Association at a Women's Bureau conference about equal pay for women, May 1961. Esther Peterson Papers, Schlesinger Library

Evelyn Barstow Harrison (1910–2000) was the first woman to earn an engineering degree from the University of Maryland. She was in the civil service through four administrations and served on numerous commissions and boards related to gender and racial equality.

Mary Nelson Hilton (1914–2009) earned a master’s degree in economics. Her husband was a foreign service officer, and the family lived in Germany and Hungary while raising three children. Mary Hilton later served as deputy director of the Women's Bureau, Department of Labor, from 1965 until her retirement in 1981.

The President’s Commission served as a space for numerous accomplished women to meet, work together, and imagine ways the government could encourage a better life for American women. The Schlesinger Library is honored to hold the papers of some of these hard-working trailblazers.


Listen to Eleanor Roosevelt interview President Kennedy about the establishment of the President's Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW). Esther Peterson Papers, Schlesinger Library