President Carter yesterday nominated Edith "Kit" Huntington Jones Dobelle to be U.S. chief of protocol, succeeding her husband Evan in the $50,000-a-year job from which he will resign to become treasurer - at $50,000 a year - of the Democratic National Committee.
It was the first time that a wife has succeeded her husband in the largely ceremonial job though it was not the first time the position has been filled by a woman. That distinction went to former actress Shirley Temple Black during the Ford administration.
In making the announcement, White House Press Secretary Jody Powell said Kit Dobelle, 33, a native of New Haven, Conn., had "in effect, been a member of the (protocol) staff although she has been doing so without pay.
"And, frankly, you might find some folks who would say she is doing a better job than Evan. I don't endorse that, necessarily," Powell continued "but some folks would say that."
"When the president asked Evan to be chief of protocol," Kit Dobelle told reporters at the White House briefing, "he asked us to serve together as a team and I took him seriously."
Said her husband: "She's been involved in the job diplomatically as well as I, and administratively, she will have no problems."
Both Dobelles are former Republicans who changed their registrations in January 1976 when they joined Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign as volunteers.
Describing Evan Dobelle, 33, as "a born-again Democrat," Powell told reporters that the former mayor of Pittsfield, Mass., "is going to do penance for his years as a Republican by being treasurer of the Democratic party and raising money for it."
(Democratic arty Chairman John White, who attended the briefing, estimated the party's debts at "around $2.7 or $2.8 million." He said he will appoint Dobelle acting treasurer until June, when the national committee will vote on Dobelle as permanent treasurer.)
Kit Dobelle, a University of Massachusetts graduate who was once a staff assistant to Massachusetts Gov. John Volpe, a Republican, said the role swap with her husband may go full circle in time.
"He's agreed to help me out when he can."
Dobelle said he felt he could be gift officer, as his wife was for him in the 13 months he has been chief of protocol. "I'll still raise money, I'll just travel on weekends."
Powell said the elevation of Kit Dobelle from a full-time nonpaying job to a full-time paying one did "not necessarily" mean that other wives of officials working in the Carter administration without pay would be offered jobs.
"I would not be exclude somebody because they were a wife or a husband. You're talking about apples and oranges," Powell told a questioner. "This is a position which is vacant. It was the president's decision that she would be the best qualified person to fill it. I suppose he decided that because she has been working in that position."
Powell acknowledged that Nancy Moore, whose husband, Frank, is Carter's chief congressional liaison, works "without pay" in the White House social office. And his wife, Nan Powell, works there "On occasion."
Nancy Jordan, estranged wife of presidential assistant Hamilton Jordan, also works full-time as an upaid volunteer in the Est Wing office of Rosalynn Carter.
Powell said that though his wife occasionally helps out, he doubted that she would have any interest in filling his own job were it to become vacant. Which prompted some conjecture from reporters.
"What makes you think so?" one asked him. "She might do very well."
"I am sure she'd do very well," he re lied. "She just had no interest. I ask my wife to put up with a lot. This is one thing I won't."
Though the chief of protocol position does not require Senate confirmation, the rank of ambassador does. "Since it was held that way previously," Powell said, "we would assume that is to be her case, too."
Kit Dobelle served as administravive assistant to the dean of academic affairs, school of education, at the University of Massachusetts, 1967-68; as deputy director in Washington, D.C., of the Ford Foundation grant in higher education, 1968-70; and as an educational consultant with the Massachusetts State Department of Education, 1972-73.
She ran, unsuccessfully, for Suffolk County (Mass.) registrar of probate and insolvency in 1966. When her husband was mayor of Pittsfield, she was a member of the Pittsfield Bicentennial Commission.
Mary Frances Smoak, wife of the former chief of protocol, ambassador Marion "Joe" Smoak, yesterday called Kit Dobelle's appointment " certainly different. She'll do fine. I personally think two people can do it better."
Kit Dobelle said she has no plans to reorganize the office of protocol, which her husband has spent the past year reorganizing and which currently is without a deputy. She may add a career Foreign Service officer to the staff but, "Evan's gotten things so they're working pretty well."
As for their combined, new $100,000-a-year incomes, an $80,000 raise over what they were earning two years ago, Evan Dobelle was laconic.
"Income averaging," he said.