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MC 293

Switzer, Mary Elizabeth, 1900-1971. Papers of Mary Elizabeth Switzer, 1922-1973 : A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Cambridge, Mass.
January 1980

© 1980 President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: MC 293
Repository: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
Creator: Mary Elizabeth Switzer, 1900-1971
Title: Papers of Mary Elizabeth Switzer, 1922-1973
Quantity: 33.78 linear feet (81 file boxes) plus 70 photograph folders, 1 folio+ folder, 2 folio folders
Location: Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Correspondence, reports, speeches, etc., of Mary Switzer, government official.

Processing Information:

Processed: January 1980
By: Kathleen Marquis and Donna Webber

Acquisition Information:

Accession numbers: 436, 1618, 1637, 1678, 1680, 1682, 69-24, 70-33, 70-35, 70-40, 70-53, 70-60, 70-91, 71-9, 71-60, 72-63, 73-27, 74-61
The papers of Mary Elizabeth Switzer were given to the Schlesinger Library by Mary Elizabeth Switzer between 1962 and 1971, and by her secretary Frances Curtis between 1971 and 1974. They were processed under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (RC-0051-79-1260).

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Mary Elizabeth Switzer as well as copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred citation for publication:

Mary Elizabeth Switzer Papers, 1922-1973; item description, dates. MC 293, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


Mary Elizabeth Switzer, government official, was born on February 16, 1900, to Julius F. and Margaret (Moore) Switzer of Newton, Massachusetts. Switzer graduated from Radcliffe College in 1921 with a B.A. in international law. She moved to Washington, D.C., where her first position with the federal government was as assistant secretary to the Minimum Wage Board. She worked for the Department of the Treasury until 1953, principally for the Public Health Service and the Federal Security Agency, becoming increasingly concerned with health care issues. In 1950 she was appointed Director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (which, in 1961, became the Vocational Rehabilitation Administration), overseeing its move to the newly-created Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1953. In 1967, responsibility for all federal rehabilitation services was combined under the Social and Rehabilitation Service; Switzer became its first administrator. She retired in 1970 and became vice-president of the World Rehabilitation Fund, where she remained until her death in 1971.
During her tenure at Vocational Rehabilitation Administration and Social and Rehabilitation Service, Switzer's principal responsibilities were to publicize the government's growing role in vocational rehabilitation and to encourage and support expansion of vocational rehabilitation projects among non-government groups and agencies. Programs for the mentally retarded and severely disabled were especially emphasized. Because of her expertise, Switzer was asked to participate in such bodies as the World Health Organization and the International Society for Rehabilitation; she served as advisor to many American health organizations, including especially the Menninger Foundation and St. Elizabeth's Hospital.
In recognition of her contributions to vocational rehabilitation, Switzer received the President's Certificate of Merit (1948), the Albert Lasker Award in medicine (1960), and numerous other awards and honorary degrees. In 1973, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare dedicated the Mary Elizabeth Switzer building in Washington, D.C.
For many years, Switzer shared a house with her life-long companion, Isabella Diamond, a librarian at the Department of the Treasury. They lived in Alexandria, Va., until Switzer's death on October 16, 1971.



The Mary Elizabeth Switzer Papers are divided into three series. Consisting mostly of Switzer's office files, her papers reveal very little either about her role in the making of administrative policy decisions or about her personal or family life. Files from her early work with the Federal Security Agency are more informative than the bulk of the collection, which documents Switzer's public relations function as the Director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Series III, which documents Switzer's membership on the Board of Directors of the Menninger Foundation, is probably the most illuminating portion of the collection. For the most part, the papers have been left in their original file units and, while they have been rearranged, original headings have been retained.
Series I, Biographical, 1922-1973. This series consists mainly of biographical information, job descriptions, and tributes to Switzer.
Series II, United States Government Administrator, 1922-1970. This series chronicles Switzer's career in various federal agencies, including the Public Health Service, and as Director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (later the Vocational Rehabilitation Administration) which moved from the Treasury to the newly-established Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1953. The bulk of these papers reflects her directorship of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (1950-1961) and her position as Commissioner of the Vocational Rehabilitation Administration (1961-1967), and as Administrator of the Social and Rehabilitation Service (1967-1970). Papers have been divided into subseries by type of record, reflecting the divisions of Switzer's office files.
A. The Administrative file, 1933-1969, arranged chronologically, consists of official papers from the agencies and offices for which Switzer worked. Department organizational papers and official correspondence between Switzer and the officials of the Public Health Service, the Federal Security Agency, and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and other departments document the evolution of HEW through a series of reorganizations, as well as Switzer's activities and responsibilities over a period of 36 years. This subseries offers some insight into Switzer's role in the development of Government policies and programs, especially in health care, but many of the papers are routine.
B. Office files, 1936-1967, arranged chronologically, contain reports, memoranda, and routine inter-office correspondence concerning Switzer's specific responsibilities within the various agencies for which she worked. The materials highlight Switzer's diverse activities but there is little information on her contributions to decision-making.
C. Committees, 1935-1969, arranged chronologically, documents Switzer's participation on numerous government and government-related committees. Materials on the Interdepartmental Committee on Science Research and Development and the Health Advisory Committee are fairly complete, but the remainder of the series is less informative, particularly in describing Switzer's role.
D. Conferences and Meetings, 1939-1969, arranged chronologically, provides some insight into Switzer's extensive speaking and public relations activities on behalf of vocational rehabilitation, as well as into her professional affiliations and interests. Most of these activities took place in the United States, but several European conferences are documented, including some at which Switzer served as a United States Government delegate. Many of these files contain agendas, her speeches, and information prepared by her staff. Such routine material as travel brochures and hotel receipts has been removed.
E. Subject file, 1933-1970, arranged chronologically, has been slightly rearranged but is otherwise intact from Switzer's office files. Although most headings are health-related, it is not clear to what extent Switzer was involved with actual policy decisions in these areas, and which documents she kept simply for her own information.
F. Correspondence, arranged alphabetically, covers Switzer's entire career with the Federal Government (1922-1970), though the bulk of these papers falls between 1951 and 1967. There are occasional references to personal and family matters, but most is Switzer's professional correspondence. Bulk alphabetical file units are followed by those representing individuals and organizations.
G. Travel, 1951-1968, arranged chronologically, consists of correspondence, reports and agendas, mainly from Switzer's trips to European countries, usually combining a vacation with attendance at an international conference.
H. Public Relations, 1930-1971, includes six sections, each arranged chronologically: speeches, articles, awards, news-clippings, photographs, and sound recordings. Drafts of speeches, and correspondence concerning them, probably reflect only a small portion of the speeches delivered by Switzer. Many speeches were published and appear in the next section. Articles have been divided into those by and about Switzer. The former are filed first in chronological groupings. Articles about which Switzer corresponded were filed individually, usually with the article itself included.
This order has been retained in both the articles by and those about Switzer. Awards contains a presumably complete listing, as well as an incomplete file of the actual awards. Newsclippings about Switzer, covering the years 1939-1970, have been microfilmed (M-53) and discarded. Few substantial interviews are included, most are publicity coverage, as are the photographs, ca. 1930-1971, which include portraits and group photographs documenting Switzer's work for the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Audiotapes include recordings of speeches, travel letters, and lectures.
Series III, Non-Federal Agencies and Organizations, 1938-1970. This series, arranged alphabetically by name of agency, contains correspondence, memoranda, minutes and reports of agencies and organizations in which Switzer had a decision-making role: as a board of foundation member or as president. Also included here are papers from conferences and meetings Switzer attended as an official, while those for other years are in Series IID. Of particular interest is the correspondence of Switzer with Doctors Karl and William Menninger concerning her membership on the Board of Governors of the Menninger Foundation. Both her role and the development of the Menninger Clinic are fully discussed. The remainder of the series is less illuminating and probably does not reflect the extent of Switzer's work with these agencies and organizations.

Additional catalog entries

The following catalog entries represent persons, organizations, and topics documented in this collection. An entry for each appears in the Harvard On Line Library Information System (HOLLIS) and other automated bibliographic databases. THIS IS NOT AN INDEX.
Alexandria Hospital
American Friends Service Committee
American Hearing Society
American Association for the Aid of Crippled Children
Anderson, Mary, 1872-1964
Arthurdale Advisory Committee
Celebrezze, Anthony J.
Copp, Tracy
Diamond, Isabella
Flemming, Arthur S. (Arthur Sherwood), 1905-1996
Gardner, John W. (John William), 1912-2002
Hill, Lister, 1894-1984
International agencies
International Society for Rehabilitation of the Disabled
Jane Addams Hall of Fame Committee
Kennedy, Edward M. (Edward Moore), 1932-2009
Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968
Lenroot, Katharine F. (Katharine Fredrica), 1891-1982
McNutt, Paul V. (Paul Vories), 1891-1955
Menninger Foundation
Menninger, Karl A. (Karl Augustus), 1893-1990
Menninger, William Claire, 1899-1966
National Florence Crittenton Mission.
National Rehabilitation Association.
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
National Women's Trade Union League of America
Parran, Thomas, 1892-1968
People with disabilities
Pressman, Joel J. (Joel Jay), 1901-1968
Public health
Radcliffe College
Radcliffe College--Alumni and alumnae
Raushenbush, Elizabeth Brandeis
Ribicoff, Abraham, 1910-1998
Roche, Josephine A. (Josephine Aspinwall), 1886-1976
Rusk, Howard A., 1901-1989
Saint Elizabeths Hospital (Washington, D.C.)
Scheele, Leonard Andrew, 1907-1993
Service Bureau for Women's Organizations
Shriver, Eunice Kennedy
Shriver, Sargent, 1915-2011
United States. Children's Bureau
United States. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare
United States. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare--Officials and employees
United States. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Vocational Rehabilitation Administration
United States. Department of the Treasury
United States. Department of the Treasury--Officials and employees
United States. Federal Security Agency
United States. Federal Security Agency. Office of Vocational Rehabilitation
United States--Officials and employees
United States. Public Health Service
United States. Rehabilitation Services Administration
United States. Social and Rehabilitation Service
Viscardi, Henry, 1912-2004
Vocational rehabilitation
Wiesman, Margaret, 1898-1953
Weybright, Victor, 1903-1978
Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania
World health