Richard Graham, Early EEOC, Teacher Corps Leader

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 29, 2007

Richard A. Graham, 86, an original member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the founding director of the National Teacher Corps in the 1960s, died Sept. 24 at his home in Royal Oak, Md., after a stroke.

Dr. Graham also served as vice president of the National Organization for Women when it began in 1966.

He was a Wisconsin engineer and businessman before turning to public service in 1961, initially as a deputy to Peace Corps Director R. Sargent Shriver. A Republican at the time -- he later changed party affiliation -- he was named to the newly created EEOC in 1965 to add political balance.

He later said he "learned on the job" to become a feminist and soon became one of the more outspoken commissioners for women's rights, along with the only female member, Aileen Hernandez, a future NOW founder and president.

The EEOC had been formed to enforce laws preventing discrimination on the basis of race and sex, but women's groups had long derided it as toothless on matters of importance to them.

During his one year at the EEOC, Dr. Graham denounced companies that excluded mothers from management training programs, saying that women who have borne children have proved to be "the most stable workers in the labor market."

He also noted that "misplaced chivalry" prohibited some managers from hiring women in labor-intensive parts of a company plant or in questionable sections of a town. He later told a Newsday reporter, "Women in a tire plant were losing their high-paying jobs to kids because the plant manager and the bargaining agent agreed these weren't jobs for women. [They would say,] 'I wouldn't want my wife to do work like this.' "

One of the commission's best-known decisions at the time was its refusal to end the common practice among newspapers of sexually segregating classified advertisements for jobs. Dr. Graham and Hernandez were the sole dissenters on the vote and both went on to serve as founding officers with NOW.

"He was a male supporter of women's rights at a time when not a lot of men said publicly that they supported the equality of women," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "Being a leader of the organization in its infancy gave us a certain level of credibility, to have two EEOC commissioners among its first group of national officers."

Richard Alton Graham was born in Milwaukee on Nov. 6, 1920. He was a 1942 mechanical engineering graduate of Cornell University. He received a master's degree in education from Catholic University in 1970 and a doctorate in philosophy in 1972 from what is now the Union Institute & University in Cincinnati.

During World War II, he served in the Army Air Forces and used his engineering background to develop guided missiles. Afterward, he worked with his father in Milwaukee to build and sell a variable-speed drive transmission that is used in many industrial settings.

He developed hepatitis while skiing in Aspen, Colo., and decided during his convalescence to leave business for a career in government.

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