No One Knew What to Expect: Breaking the Phoenix Gender Barrier in 1969

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The Honorable Mary M. Schroeder

1968 was not a good year for the world, for the United States, or for my husband, Milt, and me. The Vietnam War and public reactions to it were going so badly that in March, President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not stand for re-election in the fall. In April, Martin Luther King was gunned down in Memphis, sparking nation-wide riots including unrest in our Capitol Hill neighborhood in Washington, D.C. The ruckus drove Milt and me out of our little house at 8½ E Street Southeast and into the Virginia countryside while military units descended on Washington to keep order. Things became even worse when, in June, our great hope for the future, Bobby Kennedy, was shot in Los Angeles in a hotel kitchen, and died a few days later. That summer, the Democrats held a fiasco rather than a convention in Chicago, and in November, Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States.

By Christmas of 1968, Milt and I had tentatively decided to move so that he could go into law school teaching. Our decision became firm in January 1969, when a number of what appeared to be highly unqualified men took over the top slots in the Department of Justice, where I was a trial attorney in the Civil Division. They tried to reform the Department by making it more like the private sector. One “innovation” was to have all Justice Department attorneys keep time records like lawyers in private practice. Rumor had it that the antitrust division threatened to strike because nothing on the forms matched what they did. Little did we dream in the winter of 1969 that a number of those top Justice Department appointees would eventually wind up in prison after the Watergate scandal. But we did know that it was time to leave Washington.

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