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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 293: M-53: Phon-3: T-38: T-146

Papers of Mary Elizabeth Switzer, 1922-1973


Correspondence, reports, speeches, etc., of Mary Switzer, government official.


  • Creation: 1922-1973


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 Mary Elizabeth Switzer 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.


33.78 linear feet ((81 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 1 folio+ folder, 70 photograph folders, 1 folio photograph folder, 5 audiotapes, 2 phonograph albums.)

The Mary Elizabeth Switzer Papers are divided into three series. Consisting mostly of Switzer's office files, her papers reveal very little either about her role in the making of administrative policy decisions or about her personal or family life. Files from her early work with the Federal Security Agency are more informative than the bulk of the collection, which documents Switzer's public relations function as the Director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Series III, which documents Switzer's membership on the Board of Directors of the Menninger Foundation, is probably the most illuminating portion of the collection. For the most part, the papers have been left in their original file units and, while they have been rearranged, original headings have been retained.

Series I, Biographical, 1922-1973. This series consists mainly of biographical information, job descriptions, and tributes to Switzer.

Series II, United States Government Administrator, 1922-1970. This series chronicles Switzer's career in various federal agencies, including the Public Health Service, and as Director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (later the Vocational Rehabilitation Administration) which moved from the Treasury to the newly-established Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1953. The bulk of these papers reflects her directorship of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (1950-1961) and her position as Commissioner of the Vocational Rehabilitation Administration (1961-1967), and as Administrator of the Social and Rehabilitation Service (1967-1970). Papers have been divided into subseries by type of record, reflecting the divisions of Switzer's office files.

A. The Administrative file, 1933-1969, arranged chronologically, consists of official papers from the agencies and offices for which Switzer worked. Department organizational papers and official correspondence between Switzer and the officials of the Public Health Service, the Federal Security Agency, and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and other departments document the evolution of HEW through a series of reorganizations, as well as Switzer's activities and responsibilities over a period of 36 years. This subseries offers some insight into Switzer's role in the development of Government policies and programs, especially in health care, but many of the papers are routine.

B. Office files, 1936-1967, arranged chronologically, contain reports, memoranda, and routine inter-office correspondence concerning Switzer's specific responsibilities within the various agencies for which she worked. The materials highlight Switzer's diverse activities but there is little information on her contributions to decision-making.

C. Committees, 1935-1969, arranged chronologically, documents Switzer's participation on numerous government and government-related committees. Materials on the Interdepartmental Committee on Science Research and Development and the Health Advisory Committee are fairly complete, but the remainder of the series is less informative, particularly in describing Switzer's role.

D. Conferences and Meetings, 1939-1969, arranged chronologically, provides some insight into Switzer's extensive speaking and public relations activities on behalf of vocational rehabilitation, as well as into her professional affiliations and interests. Most of these activities took place in the United States, but several European conferences are documented, including some at which Switzer served as a United States Government delegate. Many of these files contain agendas, her speeches, and information prepared by her staff. Such routine material as travel brochures and hotel receipts has been removed.

E. Subject file, 1933-1970, arranged chronologically, has been slightly rearranged but is otherwise intact from Switzer's office files. Although most headings are health-related, it is not clear to what extent Switzer was involved with actual policy decisions in these areas, and which documents she kept simply for her own information.

F. Correspondence, arranged alphabetically, covers Switzer's entire career with the Federal Government (1922-1970), though the bulk of these papers falls between 1951 and 1967. There are occasional references to personal and family matters, but most is Switzer's professional correspondence. Bulk alphabetical file units are followed by those representing individuals and organizations.

G. Travel, 1951-1968, arranged chronologically, consists of correspondence, reports and agendas, mainly from Switzer's trips to European countries, usually combining a vacation with attendance at an international conference.

H. Public Relations, 1930-1971, includes six sections, each arranged chronologically: speeches, articles, awards, news-clippings, photographs, and sound recordings. Drafts of speeches, and correspondence concerning them, probably reflect only a small portion of the speeches delivered by Switzer. Many speeches were published and appear in the next section. Articles have been divided into those by and about Switzer. The former are filed first in chronological groupings. Articles about which Switzer corresponded were filed individually, usually with the article itself included.

This order has been retained in both the articles by and those about Switzer. Awards contains a presumably complete listing, as well as an incomplete file of the actual awards. Newsclippings about Switzer, covering the years 1939-1970, have been microfilmed (M-53) and discarded. Few substantial interviews are included, most are publicity coverage, as are the photographs, ca. 1930-1971, which include portraits and group photographs documenting Switzer's work for the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Audiotapes include recordings of speeches, travel letters, and lectures.

Series III, Non-Federal Agencies and Organizations, 1938-1970. This series, arranged alphabetically by name of agency, contains correspondence, memoranda, minutes and reports of agencies and organizations in which Switzer had a decision-making role: as a board of foundation member or as president. Also included here are papers from conferences and meetings Switzer attended as an official, while those for other years are in Series IID. Of particular interest is the correspondence of Switzer with Doctors Karl and William Menninger concerning her membership on the Board of Governors of the Menninger Foundation. Both her role and the development of the Menninger Clinic are fully discussed. The remainder of the series is less illuminating and probably does not reflect the extent of Switzer's work with these agencies and organizations.


Mary Elizabeth Switzer, government official, was born on February 16, 1900, to Julius F. and Margaret (Moore) Switzer of Newton, Massachusetts. Switzer graduated from Radcliffe College in 1921 with a BA in international law. She moved to Washington, DC, where her first position with the federal government was as assistant secretary to the Minimum Wage Board. She worked for the Department of the Treasury until 1953, principally for the Public Health Service and the Federal Security Agency, becoming increasingly concerned with health care issues. In 1950 she was appointed Director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (which, in 1961, became the Vocational Rehabilitation Administration), overseeing its move to the newly-created Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1953. In 1967, responsibility for all federal rehabilitation services was combined under the Social and Rehabilitation Service; Switzer became its first administrator. She retired in 1970 and became vice-president of the World Rehabilitation Fund, where she remained until her death in 1971.

During her tenure at Vocational Rehabilitation Administration and Social and Rehabilitation Service, Switzer's principal responsibilities were to publicize the government's growing role in vocational rehabilitation and to encourage and support expansion of vocational rehabilitation projects among non-government groups and agencies. Programs for the mentally retarded and severely disabled were especially emphasized. Because of her expertise, Switzer was asked to participate in such bodies as the World Health Organization and the International Society for Rehabilitation; she served as advisor to many American health organizations, including especially the Menninger Foundation and St. Elizabeth's Hospital.

In recognition of her contributions to vocational rehabilitation, Switzer received the President's Certificate of Merit (1948), the Albert Lasker Award in medicine (1960), and numerous other awards and honorary degrees. In 1973, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare dedicated the Mary Elizabeth Switzer building in Washington, DC.

For many years, Switzer shared a house with her life-long companion, Isabella Diamond, a librarian at the Department of the Treasury. They lived in Alexandria, Virginia, until Switzer's death on October 16, 1971.


  1. Series I. BIOGRAPHICAL, 1922-1973. Folders 1-6.
  2. Series II. UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT ADMINISTRATOR, 1922-1970. Folders 7-870.
  3. Series III. NON-FEDERAL AGENCIES AND ORGANIZATIONS, 1938-1970. Folders 872-1011.

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 436, 1618, 1637, 1678, 1680, 1682, 69-24, 70-33, 70-35, 70-40, 70-53, 70-60, 70-91, 71-9, 71-60, 72-63, 73-27, 74-61

The papers of Mary Elizabeth Switzer were given to the Schlesinger Library by Mary Elizabeth Switzer between 1962 and 1971, and by her secretary Frances Curtis between 1971 and 1974. They were processed under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (RC-0051-79-1260).


  1. Box 1: Folders 1-12
  2. Box 2: Folders 13-22
  3. Box 3: Folders 23-32
  4. Box 4: Folders 33-46
  5. Box 5: Folders 47-60
  6. Box 6: Folders 61-77
  7. Box 7: Folders 78-94
  8. Box 8: Folders 95-104
  9. Box 9: Folders 105-113
  10. Box 10: Folders 114-127
  11. Box 11: Folders 128-142
  12. Box 12: Folders 143-154
  13. Box 13: Folders 155-170
  14. Box 14: Folders 171-184
  15. Box 15: Folders 185-189
  16. Box 16: Folders 190-194
  17. Box 17: Folders 195-199
  18. Box 18: Folders 200-204
  19. Box 19: Folders 205-209
  20. Box 20: Folders 210-215
  21. Box 21: Folders 216-221
  22. Box 22: Folders 222-228
  23. Box 23: Folders 229-234
  24. Box 24: Folders 235-241
  25. Box 25: Folders 242-248
  26. Box 26: Folders 249-256
  27. Box 27: Folders 257-264
  28. Box 28: Folders 265-272
  29. Box 29: Folders 273-278
  30. Box 30: Folders 279-284
  31. Box 31: Folders 285-291
  32. Box 32: Folders 292-300
  33. Box 33: Folders 301-307
  34. Box 34: Folders 308-314
  35. Box 35: Folders 315-321
  36. Box 36: Folders 322-329
  37. Box 37: Folders 330-335
  38. Box 38: Folders 336-342
  39. Box 39: Folders 343-347
  40. Box 40: Folders 348-352
  41. Box 41: Folders 353-359
  42. Box 42: Folders 360-365
  43. Box 43: Folders 366-376
  44. Box 44: Folders 377-390
  45. Box 45: Folders 391-407
  46. Box 46: Folders 408-420
  47. Box 47: Folders 421-438
  48. Box 48: Folders 439-450
  49. Box 49: Folders 451-463
  50. Box 50: Folders 464-480
  51. Box 51: Folders 481-496
  52. Box 52: Folders 497-509
  53. Box 53: Folders 510-524
  54. Box 54: Folders 525-540
  55. Box 55: Folders 541-550
  56. Box 56: Folders 551-564
  57. Box 57: Folders 565-581
  58. Box 58: Folders 582-595
  59. Box 59: Folders 596 -608
  60. Box 60: Folders 609-628
  61. Box 61: Folders 629-639
  62. Box 62: Folders 640-650
  63. Box 63: Folders 651-669
  64. Box 64: Folders 670-677
  65. Box 65: Folders 678-688
  66. Box 66: Folders 689-698
  67. Box 67: Folders 699-709
  68. Box 68: Folders 710-715
  69. Box 69: Folders 716-750
  70. Box 70: Folders 751-779
  71. Box 71: Folders 780-792
  72. Box 72: Folders 793-801, 871-873
  73. Box 73: Folders 874-885
  74. Box 74: Folders 886-901
  75. Box 75: Folders 902-917
  76. Box 76: Folders 918-936
  77. Box 77: Folders 937-952
  78. Box 78: Folders 953-964
  79. Box 79: Folders 965-980
  80. Box 80: Folders 981-993
  81. Box 81: Folders 994-1010

Processing Information

Processed: January 1980

By: Kathleen Marquis and Donna Webber

Switzer, Mary Elizabeth, 1900-1971. Papers of Mary Elizabeth Switzer, 1922-1973 : 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.

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