Classroom Activities

Reader's Theater

One Question Makes a Difference for Women

A Readers Theater to highlight Vera Glaser and Catherine East biographies from A Few Good Women: Advancing the Cause of Women in Government, 1969-1974

Narrator 1:

Narrator 2: [Vera Glaser’s Editor]

Narrator 3:

Narrator 4:

Narrator 5:

Narrator 6: [Charles Clapp]

President Nixon:

Reporter Vera Glaser:

Catherine East:

Narrator 1:              It was February 6, 1969 at the second news conference of President Richard Milhous Nixon, the 37th president of the United States.

Narrator 2:            The setting for the news conference was the East Room of the White House at 11:00 a.m.

Narrator 3:             The president had just finished answering a question about the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Narrator 4:             A reporter from the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA) asked a question that would start a watershed moment for women in government.

Narrator 5:            The Newspaper Alliance was a syndicate serving about 90 newspapers around the world, most of them in the United States.

Narrator 6:             The reporter was the Washington Bureau Chief for the Newspaper Alliance, Vera Glaser.

Vera Glaser:            I had about seven questions in mind that the President could be asked. When he recognized me, I had to decide quickly what I was going to ask him.

Narrator 1:                        So… what was the question that you asked?

Vera Glaser:             It went pretty much like this: Mr. President, in staffing your administration, you have so far made about 200 high-level Cabinet and other policy position appointments, and of these only three have gone to women. Could you tell us, sir, whether we can expect a more equitable recognition of women's abilities, or are we going to remain a lost sex?

Narrator 2:             What was the reaction to the question?

Vera Glaser:            There were some chuckles because it was quote/unquote a women’s question. At that time, when the famous journalist May Craig would question the president, some of the men would laugh at her. And so there were a few giggles at mine.

Narrator 3:            What did the president say and do?

Vera Glaser:            Well, the President kind of smiled and leaned back. He said:

President Nixon:            Would you be interested in coming into the Government?

Narrator 4:                        In the transcripts of the news conference it says that there was laughter                                                 after the President’s question in answer to your question.

Vera Glaser:            Frankly, at the moment, I thought that was a little snide. But he must have realized that he was on television with 50 million people watching because he turned quite serious, and said:

President Nixon:            Very seriously, I had not known that only three had gone to women, and I shall see that we correct that imbalance very promptly.

Vera Glaser:             At the time, I took that as the kind of empty promise a politician might make. But indeed he did get going. He was the first President to give a lot of attention to it.

Narrator 5:             In fact that question, the 24th question of the news conference, squeezed in-between two questions that dealt with the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and the Soviet Union’s relationship with Czechoslovakia generated a great deal of excitement and publicity.

Vera Glaser:             Yes, what amazed me was my telephone. Although reporters were not identified on the air, my telephone was ringing off the hook with calls from all over the country. I don’t know how people found out who or where I was. Some calls were from women, some were from journalists.

Narrator 6:            What was the tone of the calls you got in response to the question?

Vera Glaser:            Most were approving. The general tenor was, well, it’s about time.

Narrator 1:             This event triggered the beginning of a movement to appoint women to higher positions in government.

Vera Glaser:            Indeed it did, but it didn’t happen overnight. My editor in New York had been watching the press conference and he called saying:

Narrator 2:            We have got to write a series on women.

Narrator 3:             And that’s how you met Catherine East.

Vera Glaser:            Yes, she had been monitoring women’s progress for years and she also called soon after the news conference to say:

Catherine East:            After hearing your question at the news conference it sounds like you could use some statistics on the status of women.

Narrator 4:             Catherine East was a U.S. Labor Department researcher from 1963-1975. Ms. East sent Ms. Glaser women’s employment statistics.

Catherine East:            Yes, I thought, “Here’s a woman after my own heart.” As I told the Washington Post in 1983, at the time, I didn’t feel that the women’s movement was receiving serious news coverage, and that most of what was written was patronizing and the issues trivialized.

Narrator 5:             The data the Ms. East sent spurred Ms. Glaser’s definitive work, a five-part syndicated newspaper series about discrimination against women in employment and government policy.

Vera Glaser:             I got a great deal of information from Catherine East and in the following months, I wrote the series on women, which were picked up by about 40 newspapers, including the Washington Star.

Narrator 6:             Ms. Glaser’s series began to generate a great deal of interest with a number of women’s organizations, such as the National Association of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, getting lots of new members.

Narrator 1:            The newspaper series sparked some indignation and thoughts that women needed to do better.

Vera Glaser:            One of the pieces was about the inequities in positions. The second was about the political advantage that a President who did things for women could enjoy.

Narrator 2:            Even back then, the potential for the powerful women’s voting force was apparent.

Vera Glaser:            That’s right. And one of the papers emphasized that women were kept to low quota in law and medical schools.

Narrator 3:            Several months later, Ms. Glaser joined the Knight-Ridder News Bureau.

Narrator 4:             The Miami Herald was the chain’s flagship paper, and Ms. Glaser was asked to make a speech at their annual gathering of women.

Vera Glaser:            I was not about to get in front of all those women and not try to educate them a little bit about how unbalanced some of our power structure was. So I gave them a speech, which was favorably received.

Narrator 5:             Just as Ms. Glaser was finishing the speech and everybody was leaving, someone ran up to her and said, “The White House has been calling you on the telephone.”

Vera Glaser:            The call was from Dr. Charles Clapp, who was the top aide to Dr. Arthur Burns, who was an advisor to President Nixon. Anyway, Charlie Clapp said:

Narrator 6:            President Nixon is preparing his State of the Union message. He and Dr. Burns are setting up a lot of task forces on different subjects to get new ideas for the speech. They’re setting up a task force on women and would like to know if you are willing to serve on it.

Vera Glaser:            I said Yes, I would like to, but I have to clear it with my new employers.  It was touchy, but they permitted me to serve on it.

Narrator 1:            The task force on women became known as the Presidential Task Force on Women’s Rights and Responsibilities.

Vera Glaser:            Yes, we met, and Virginia Allen, chaired the task force. Catherine East became the Staff Director or Executive Secretary. We met over a period of three months before we wrote our report.

Catherine East:            I set up a series of interviews with women from over the country, and all professions to get information. We did a lot of research and then wrote our report.

Narrator 2:            As a committee the task force made about a dozen recommendations for changes in the structure of the government bureaucracy that would give a better opportunity to women. Some were changes that required legislation.

Narrator 3:            There was execution of some of the recommendations that the committee made, but the results wouldn’t be seen until much later. How do you feel about your role during this time period and beyond?

Vera Glaser:             I have felt that my participation in the women’s movement was a very pivotal point in my life. I’m so happy that I did it. I had qualms in the beginning.

Narrator 4:            What kind of qualms?

Vera Glaser:            I had qualms as a journalist about asking the President the kind of question that I did. And yet in simple justice, you had to ask it. If I hadn’t I am sure eventually someone else would have.

Narrator 5:            You have said that you felt conflicted at times, in what way?

Vera Glaser:            I was conflicted between journalism and trying very, very hard not to be a partisan for a cause. You have to be very even handed in our business. If you got both sides of the question in, that was a big thing that had not been experienced by women. Their side had never been considered before. So I’m happy that I was able to do what I did, and I wish that I had been able to do a great deal more.

Narrator 6:             Catherine East died in 1996. The National Organization for Women founder, Betty Friedan, called Catherine East “the midwife of the contemporary women’s movement.” During her life, she influenced many women in the drive to eliminate sexism in society.

Narrator 1:            And Vera Glaser died November 26, 2008 at the age of 92.

Narrator 2:            Though her name may not be well known, Vera Glaser was a woman who asked one important question.

Narrator 3:            That one question generated discussion and excitement.

Narrator 4:            That one question started serious consideration of the equity of women’s roles in society.

Narrator 5:            That one question resulted in profound change—in attitudes and action in the quest for equal justice for women.