The petite woman with waves of white hair and a shoulder of orchids was waiting to be introduced. "She's a scholar, a scientist, an economist, a foreign policy expert, a writer -- of how many books, Eleanor?" asked John Richardson. "Thirteen" came the clear, commanding voice of Eleanor Lansing Dulles, the dowager of one of America's best-known political families.
Looking extremely pleased, she heard Richardson, a former assistant secretary of state and now president of Youth for Understanding, say, "If she had not lived at a time when it was difficult for women to get ahead -- "His though was finished by the hearty laughter and applause of 100 of her friends, celebrating her new book, "Eleanor Lansing Dulles: Chances of a Lifetime: A Memoir."
Besides selling a few books with an historic signature, the unstated purpose of the party was to give due to an unsung heroine, a woman who lived in the shadows of famous men. A granddaughter of one secretary of state, the niece of another, the sister of yet another, John Foster Dulles, who shaped American diplomacy in the Cold War era, and sister also to Allen Dulles, the intelligence czar and director of the CIA, her accomplishments have taken a back seat to their deeds. "She never resented it though. She enjoyed it because she enjoyed being a Dulles," said Clement Conger, a collegue at the State Department in the 1950s. She was one of the chief strategists for the restructuring of Berlin and worked at State until the Kennedys swept away the Dulleses after Allen Dulles' mishandling of the Bay of Pigs. "The thing that impresses me is that she is not young now, and she wasn't young then. She has tremendous energy." said Conger, now White House curator.
Among several of the women guests, the fact that Dulles raised two children alone and earned $10,000 less than her male counterparts at State touched feminist chords, "I think it's appropriate to celebrate her achievement and tenacity," said Alice [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the associate director of the International Communications Agency education and cultural division, "I'm meeting her tonight for the first time but I am glad she has taken the time to put her story on paper."
Hugh Alexis Johnson, a former deputy secretary of state, said, "I never felt there was sexual discriminiation per se. The nature of foreign service wasn't lent to a woman serving abroad." As for Dulles, he said, "She's fierce and determined, a bulldog. I guess that's not an appropriate term for a lady.She's a real terrier."
Added to all her other accomplishments Dulles was also a guiding spirit behind the Youth for Understanding, the largest student exchange program in the world, and their rolling, Cleveland Park headquarters was the setting for the party. "This is a very important day," said Dulles, "it's the birthday of William Shakespeare." She laughed, as did her audience.
A nephew, theologian Avery Dulles, watched her spirited autograph signing and commented, "She is still a great globe-trotter. For Christmas she will run off to the Fiji Islands, then to Europe for New Years. She swims, she boats. Next month she goes to the 25th anniversary of the Austrian peace treaty. She is the fixed point around which the family revolves."
Oscar Collier, her editor from Prentice-Hall and the hand-holder to Fishbait Miller, Mark Lane, Dick Gregory and James Webb, said Dulles the writer was most concerned with accuracy. "I wanted to put on the flyer, 'Dulles who has traveled to most of the countries in the world.' She thought for about five minutes, said, 'well I guess I've been to 51 percent, so go ahead.'"