Nixon’s Secret Feminists?

This week, the Presidential Library of Richard M. Nixon released the remaining 340 hours of tape recordings from the famous hidden office recorder, along with thousands of pages of documents.

Among a select group of memos is one from Lucy Winchester, the White House social secretary, to Nixon’s staff assistant Barbara Franklin, who was in charge of recruiting more women to top positions in the administration. Here’s what Winchester wrote in the the June 21, 1972 memo:

Nixon memo


“Have I ever been taking grief” most likely refers to the growing interest in “women’s issues” by both Republican and Democrat women at that time. Barbara Franklin also reports the importance of a feminist movement stirring, which she gleaned from a Betty Friedan speech she attended. But the surprise in this memo is the historical documentation that there were feminists in the Nixon White House. Winchester knew Franklin was a fan of Anthony, Stanton, and Mott, and even addressed the suffrage leaders as “Ms.”

In Franklin’s other memos, she sounds particularly concerned about women’s representation at high levels of government, including the vice presidency. The memos reveal the difficult task of nudging a presidential administration forward gently but firmly. That’s an important and timely message even 41 years later, as we wait to see if President Obama–more of a feminist than Nixon ever was, certainly–selects Janet L. Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve.


NanetteTwitterNanette Fondas is co-author of The Custom-Fit Workplace. Her articles on business, work, family and gender have appeared in The Atlantic, Psychology Today, Slate, Huffington Post, and MomsRising. Nanette is also author of award-winning research on “The Feminization of American Management.” She curates work-life-mom matters on Twitter @NanetteFondas.