Elizabeth Hanford Dole

Elizabeth Hanford Dole (born 1936), has worked as a lawyer, White House aide, cabinet officer, and president of the American Red Cross.

Elizabeth Hanford was born and grew up in Salisbury, North Carolina, the daughter of wholesale flower dealers. She was a political science major at Duke University, received a master's degree in education from Harvard in 1960, and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1965 as one of 25 female graduates in a class of 500. Dole was often described as friendly, gracious, and "brainy," attributes which led to her election as college May Queen and student body president as well as to Phi Beta Kappa, and the national honor society.

After law school Hanford went to Washington, where she earned a reputation as a consumer advocate in (what was then) the Department of Health, Education and Welfare; as executive director of the Presidential Committee for Consumer Interests; and as deputy director of the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs. Although briefly employed in private law practice, her primary professional commitment soon became public service.

In 1973 Hanford was nominated to be one of five commissioners on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Once appointed she became known for her enforcement of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1975 and for an FTC investigation of nursing home abuses. A colleague at the FTC remembered her priorities as " … the poor, the handicapped, minorities, and women. She really cared about them."

Married Republican Senator Robert Dole of Kansas

Hanford married Robert Dole, the senior senator from Kansas, in 1975 and they quickly became known as Washington's premier "Power Couple" because of their prominent roles in national politics. However glamourous that designation may seem, it referred strictly to their jobs and not their social life. According to the New York Times, the Doles often "return to their two bedroom apartment at the Watergate complex after a 12-hour day and either heat up a … frozen meal or go to a nearby Chinese restaurant." Their lives revolve almost totally around their work. And according to Dole, the work experiences shared in her "dual career" marriage, often provided a source of satisfaction and enjoyment. "It's a great way of sharing even if you can't share all the information, and you don't have as much time together … you share a sense of pride in each other's accomplishments." Marrying late in life, she was nearly 40 and the Senator was 53, the Doles had no children and lived in Washington's famous Watergate Apartments.

Religion also played an important role in Dole's personal life. Although raised a devout Methodist she, for the most part, kept her religious views private. With little fanfare or publicity she regularly attended church and often performed charitable services for nursing home residents. A turning point came in 1987 when, in evangelical fashion, she provided her Christian "testimony" at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. Afterwards Dole became a favorite of Christian conservatives and began to speak regularly to religious groups around the country.

Achieved Prominence as a Republican

Previously a Democrat, Dole became a registered Independent during her early years in Washington. Following her marriage, she became a Republican and campaigned vigorously when her husband ran for vice-president on the unsuccessful Ford-Dole ticket in 1976. With her husband's own campaign for the presidency in 1979, she resigned as FTC commissioner to campaign for him full-time. Although that campaign, too, was unsuccessful, by 1980, "Liddy" Dole was becoming well-known as one of the Republican Party's most outstanding female leaders and recognized, just as much as her more famous husband, as a contender for high political office.

Served in Reagan and Bush Administrations

In 1983 President Ronald Reagan appointed Dole as Secretary of Transportation, the first woman in American history to hold that cabinet position. As "Madame Secretary" she headed an organization of 102,000 employees and administered a budget of $28 billion. Problems facing the new administrator included highways, bridges, mass transit, air traffic control, shipping, Conrail, and the Washington, D.C. public transportation system. Since the Secretary of Transportation is also the director of the U.S. Coast Guard, she was the first woman to command an armed service in the United States. At that time, Transportation was rapidly becoming an important cabinet post since it involved 20 percent of the gross national product and touched the lives of most Americans.

During her first month as Transportation Secretary, Dole "moved a mountain" and agreed to provide $70 million in existing Department of Transportation (DOT) and Amtrak funds to start making Union Station, the antiquated train station in Washington, D.C., "alive and vibrant with people … a center of activity for our city of Washington and for this nation."

Safety became Dole's "first issue" at the Department of Transportation. She endorsed the concept of a third brake light on cars and air bags to protect passengers in case of collision. In an effort to promote the use of airbags, DOT provided 5,000 new government cars and 500 state police cars with air bags. Her early victories at Transportation included winning government funds for new passenger railway lines and the passage of a maritime reform bill. Washington Monthly also credited her with adding more Federal Aviation Administration inspectors, fighting deceptive airline scheduling, and campaigning for higher drinking ages and for single-licensing of truck drivers to prevent "outlaw drivers from getting relicensed in other states.

Dole abandoned her earlier support for the Equal Rights Amendment after joining the anti-ERA Reagan administration. But she made it a point to increase the number of women at DOT as well as benefits, such as work place day care centers, designed to keep them there. Despite her identification with liberal consumer issues and former support for ERA, Dole received strong backing from the conservative Reagan administration. Critics, however, viewed her commitment to important issues as secondary to her ambition. The Chicago Tribune questioned the logic that transformed her from a "Democrat who had worked for President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society to a Republican who pampered big business, from a federal trade commisssioner who decried big-business mergers to a Secretary of Transportation who sanctioned almost every airline merger that came her way. The Washington Monthly summarized this feeling when it observed that, instead of an ideologue, Dole was "the consummate role player, her positions defined by her job description rather than deeply felt beliefs.

Dole resigned as Secretary of Transportation in 1987 to campaign for her husband's second attempt at the presidency. Although the campaign itself was unsuccessful, Dole again received high marks as a campaigner. Because of her previous cabinet-level experience under Reagan, and her immense popularity within the Republican Party, Dole was tabbed as the new Secretary of Labor by President George Bush in 1989. As Secretary of Labor, Dole negotiated a raise in the minimum wage, oversaw efforts to break "glass ceiling" restrictions that prevented movement of women and minorities into high executive positions, and was widely credited with the settlement of the United Mine Workers strike against the Pittson Coal Company.

Headed the American Red Cross

In 1990 Dole resigned as Secretary of Labor to become the president of the American Red Cross. As head of the Red Cross she oversaw a $1.8 billion annual budget, 32,000 employees, and 1.4 million volunteers. Priorities during her first tenure included issues such as improving the safety of the nation's blood supply against AIDS, responding to world emergencies caused by famine, war, and natural disasters, and improving the charitable giving by Americans to humanitarian organizations. In 1996 Dole took a one-year leave of absence to assist her husband's final campaign for the presidency.

Played Prominent Role in 1996 Campaign

According to the New York Times, Dole's leave of absence from the Red Cross was illustrative of her belief in and committment to her husband. It was the fourth time that she had "either quit or taken leave from powerful jobs to help along her husband's White House ambitions. Her intense loyalty was again displayed at the 1996 Republican National Convention with her talk-show style "Why I Love Bob" speech where she descended from the podium and spoke in personal terms about her husband to the nation. Saying that she would tell stories that her husband would not mention himself, Dole proceeded to deliver, in near flawless performance, a condensed biography of the Senator from his childhood days in Kansas to his current run for the White House.

So successful was Dole's speech that, after the convention, she acquired her own staff of 30, a travel budget of $1.5 million, and a leased 14-seat jet to campaign separately for her husband. Depite her efforts, though, the Senator was unable to overcome a slow campaign start and was subsequently defeated by incumbent President Bill Clinton.

Dole returned to her position as President of the American Red Cross in 1997. Her priorities for her second tenure included the reegineering of national headquarters to ensure greater responsiveness for service delivery and the strengthening of the disaster relief fund.

Dole continued her popularity as a guest speaker by delivering the 1997 commencement address to her alma mater, Duke University. Although she remained silent on future political aspirations of her own, Dole still remained a Republican Party favorite and may yet again return to high political office.

Further Reading on Elizabeth Hanford Dole

For more information see Elizabeth and Robert Dole, The Doles: Unlimited Partners (1988).

There is no book length biography of Elizabeth Hanford Dole, but she is listed in Who's Who in America (1984-1985, 43rd edition). Articles about Dole are in Vogue (October 1984) and Working Woman (April 1983), and a profile of her appeared in the Washington Post on January 8, 1983. Additional profiles appeared in The New York Times on July 19 and October 13, 1996.

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