Katherine Graham Howard was not born into Republican politics, but she eventually became one of the most important political figures of the twentieth century. Even in Howard’s early life, her ability to be influential, levelheaded, and resourceful was never in question. These qualities served her well from the start of her Republican career through her work as Secretary of the National Republican Convention and in her position on President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff. Long after performing these duties, Howard continued to work with organizations such as NATO and her contributions to the Brussels World Fair can hardly be doubted. Most importantly, Katherine Howard was unique in her field because of her gender. Her advice and philosophy concerning many women’s issues in the 1950’s and 60’s changed much for American women.
Katherine Graham was born in Savannah, Georgia to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph L. Graham. Her family soon moved to Winston-Salem, NC where she remained through schooling. Her education was undertaken at the Moravian all-girls school, Salem Academy. She graduated in 1917 with honors and a prediction that she would become mayor of Winston-Salem. While still a young woman Katherine participated in numerous charity and community service projects. She then enrolled in Smith College and graduated in 1920.
Katherine Graham was born and raised a southern Democrat. Her brother, John S. Graham, was a strong Democrat who held several influential positions in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Harry Truman. Despite her liberal ties, marriage brought about a dramatic change in political affiliation. Six months after her marriage to Charles P. Howard in Boston in 1922, she found herself on the campaign trail for a state senate seat for her new husband. Howard organized transportation to and from polls and helped run the Republican headquarters in Boston. Charles Howard was not only a member of the Massachusetts State Senate; he also served as a delegate to several Republican National Conventions. However, soon after Charles’ victory Katherine Howard proved that her husband was not the only politician in the family.
Shortly after being selected Secretary of the Republican National Committee in 1948, Howard snatched the national spotlight. She helped General Dwight D. Eisenhower secure the Republican nomination after a dispute over rival delegates in Texas became an issue. Thanks to her position she was able to refer the dispute to the National Republican Committee instead of allowing it to be decided in the unfairly partial (pro-Robert A. Taft) Texas State Committee. Howard was given most of the credit for this monumental turn of events and was reported for “using her considerable power in politics to bring about the nomination of General Eisenhower.”
After obtaining the Republican nomination, General Eisenhower proceeded to win the Presidential Election. Women’s votes had a large role in his victory and Howard’s hand in this was obvious as she promoted Eisenhower’s morality and his stand in Korea, specifically appealing to mothers in the United States. Once in office, Eisenhower was insistent that Howard be a part of his administration. Even after she refused an earlier job opportunity that would have forced her to live away from her husband, the President named Howard Assistant Civil Defense Administrator. She served under Val Peterson, former Governor of Nebraska.
Howard made her mark on Americans, especially women, during her tenure with President Eisenhower. She traveled the nation giving demonstrations and speeches that both reassured the public and roused them to precautionary action. Two of her most notable projects were Operation Alert and Rescue Street. In 1953 Howard launched Rescue Street, an unpleasantly realistic program that educated the masses about war at home and its subsequent horrors. After mock air raids in which “sirens screamed, fires raged, and hysterical cries came from amid the rubble of crumbled homes,” the issues concerning war at home were imprinted on the minds of on-lookers. Less than two years later in 1955 Operation Alert grabbed the attention of the public. Howard lectured on the importance of home shelters using graphic pictures and diagrams.
Another important aspect of Katherine Graham Howard’s position on the political stage was the image of her that was projected into homes through the press. She was appealing to the press as a woman in a unique government position and was able to shift interests to women’s responsibilities in Civil Defense in the home. Howard was also shown to fit the role of the more stereotypical American woman of her time, whether this image was fortunate or unfortunate is debatable. Such an image could have been used to show her more human, personable side, or to undermine her position and power in politics. She was popularly regarded as a leading G.O.P. “Glamour Girl” with brains. Also, periodical articles could be found that discussed her lack of time to shop and the somewhat menial issue of fashion and clothes.
Howard’s most significant contribution to the public during her lifetime was undoubtedly her words of wisdom for the American women. She not only lead a defensive crusade, she advocated principal and morality as well. In accordance with her position, she promoted preparedness at all times and made an issue of the importance of the American housewife. She suggested that all housewives keep attics clear, enroll in Red Cross courses, set aside basement shelter space with supplies, and volunteer with local Civil Defense groups. Howard also instructed women on proper priorities. She made a point of saying “My first job, and any woman’s first job is to make a home and if any woman hasn’t made the right type of home, she has no business doing anything else, and anything else includes politics.” Howard also said that the idea of women worked excellently because of their inability to compromise. She explained this theory saying that men compromise on deals because they have to worry about job future and economic pressure (in order to support a family), while women can “pay the price of complete honesty.” One subject that Howard was most insistent on was that women were in politics to stay. She reinforced this idea by paving the way for other women as was evidenced by the naming of an unprecedented number of five other women to key positions in the Eisenhower administration.
Katherine Graham Howard was one of the most important figures in the United States during the Cold War. “She overcame a double hazard—political and anti-feminist.” Her strength and conviction allowed her to play a key role in a field of politics where no other woman had been before. Her contributions to the Republican Party, the Eisenhower Presidency, Civil Defense, and American women will not soon be forgotten.