Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: MC 390

Papers of Alison Palmer, 1971-1978


Photocopies of transcripts and exhibits of Palmer’s hearing before the United States Civil Service Commission, initial findings, and taped interview of Alison Palmer, concerning her sex discrimination suit against the United States Department of State.


  • Creation: 1971-1978

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Alison Palmer 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.


.83 linear feet ((2 file boxes) plus 2 audiotapes)

The papers consist primarily of the transcripts and exhibits of Alison Palmer's hearing before the United States Civil Service Commission. Also included are Beath's initial findings, a few papers concerning the conflict over his recommendations, and a taped interview of Palmer by Marguerite Cooper King. Palmer's personal papers are in the Farnham Archives at Brown University.


Alison Palmer was born in Medford, Massachusetts, in 1931; she received a B.A. from Brown University in 1953, and an M.A. from the Boston University African Studies Center in 1966. She attended American University in 1959 and again in 1970, and Virginia Theological Seminary, 1972-1974. She was the thirteenth woman in the United States to be ordained an Episcopal priest.

Palmer began working for the Department of State in July 1955 as a clerk typist, and began her career as a Foreign Service Officer in the spring of 1960. After several ambassadors objected to her assignment to their embassies in Africa in the late 1960s, and when she was expected to act as social secretary to an ambassador's wife, she started an internal grievance procedure through the department's Equal Employment Office charging sex discrimination. In 1969 Palmer, then stationed in Vietnam, was notified that the EEO had found in her favor but refused to enter the report in her personnel file.

Palmer returned to the United States and, with the help of the American Federation of Government Employees, took the case to the Civil Service Commission. The hearings were held in June 1971 by appeals examiner Andrew B. Beath, who found in Palmer's favor. A dispute ensued between Palmer and the department on the question of whether Beath had recommended a retroactive promotion for Palmer; this was granted in 1975. The State Department then announced that sex discrimination would no longer be tolerated. Palmer's case thus provided a basis for the more conciliatory tactics of the Women's Action Organization.

In 1976 Palmer filed a class action suit against the State Department for discrimination against women; the case was heard in a United States District Court and was decided for the Department in September 1985. Also, in 1985, Palmer was planning to publish a book, to be entitled Palmer v. Church and State.

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 78-M73, 78-M123, 79-M51

The papers of Alison Palmer were given to the Schlesinger Library by Alison Palmer via Jean Joyce, one of the early founders of the Women's Action Organization in the United States Department of State, in May and July 1978, and March 1979.


  1. Box 1: 1-11
  2. Box 2: 12-24

Processing Information

Processed: November 1988

By: Kim Brookes

Palmer, Alison. Papers of Alison Palmer, 1971-1978: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

3 James St.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA