In August 1972, Newsweek proclaimed that “the person in Washington who has done the most for the women’s movement may be Richard Nixon.” Today, opinions of the Nixon administration are strongly colored by foreign policy successes and the Watergate debacle. Its accomplishments in advancing the role of women in government have been largely forgotten. Based on the “A Few Good Women” oral history project at the Penn State University Libraries, A Matter of Simple Justice illuminates the administration’s groundbreaking efforts to expand the role of women—and the long-term consequences for women in the American workplace.
The book focuses on Barbara Hackman Franklin, a staff assistant to the president who was hired to recruit more women into the upper levels of the federal government. Franklin, at the direction of President Nixon, White House counselor Robert Finch, and personnel director Fred Malek, helped bring more than one hundred women into executive positions in the government—almost four times more than in any previous administration. She also created a talent bank of over 1,000 names of qualified women and became the administration’s de facto spokesperson on women’s issues. In addition, the administration expanded the numbers of women on presidential commissions and boards, changed civil service rules to open thousands more federal jobs to women, and expanded enforcement of antidiscrimination laws to include gender discrimination. These advances were not limited to the public sector. Federal contractors and higher education institutions with federal grants needed to formulate action plans for hiring and promoting women, too, and during this time, Congress approved the Equal Rights Amendment and Nixon signed Title IX of the Education Amendments into law.
Although largely unknown today, the story of Barbara Franklin and those “few good women” shaped the opportunities available to women for generations to come. Through both a historical narrative of this effort and fascinating interview excerpts, A Matter of Simple Justice shows how the advances that were made in this time by a Republican presidency both reflected the national debate over the role of women in society and took major steps toward equality in the workplace for women.