Catherine East, 1916-1996

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Government official and feminist activist Catherine East was born May 15, 1916, to U.G. and Bertha (Woody) Shipe, in Barboursville, W.Va. She attended Marshall College (now University) in Huntington, W.Va., from 1932 to 1935, where she majored in English and mathematics. Unable to pay her tuition, she had to leave school before completing the requirements for her degree. Marshall granted the A.B. in absentia in 1941, having allowed her to complete her coursework at George Washington University (GWU), which she attended at night during the 1939-1940 academic year. Later (1942-1944), she studied law at GWU, and took courses in comparative religion at the Washington School of Psychiatry and Episcopal Cathedral. She married Charles D. East on July 2, 1937; they divorced in 1956. They had two daughters, Mary Ellen ("Vicky," born in 1945) and Elizabeth Rose ("Betsy," born in 1952). East was active in the Unitarian Church.

After leaving college due to lack of funds, East worked as a bookkeeper in several clothing stores in Huntington. In January 1939 she began her career in the federal government in Washington, D.C., as a clerk in the Civil Service Commission. During her 23 years there she worked her way up to staff officer, placement officer, program planner as assistant to the chief of the program planning division, coordinating officer in the Bureau of Programs and Standards, and finally Chief of the Career Services Division in the Bureau of Recruiting and Examining.

East served in a senior capacity on all Presidential advisory commissions on women from 1962 through 1977, conducting research, and preparing position papers, publications and reports on a wide range of women's issues. These reports provided the underpinning and impetus for a renewed effort on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment. East was also instrumental in orchestrating pressure on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to adopt and enforce sex discrimination guidelines. She was the Technical Secretary to the Committee on Federal Employment of the President's Commission on the Status of Women (March 1962 - November 1963), and served as the Executive Secretary of the Interdepartmental Committee on the Status of Women and the Citizens' Advisory Council on the Status of Women (November 1963 - April 1974). While Deputy Coordinator of the International Women's Year Secretariat (April 1975 - November 1976), East wrote several chapters of the report, ...To Form a More Perfect Union... Justice for American Women . In November 1976 she became Coordinator of Policies and Plans for the IWY Secretariat, resigning a year later over differences with Bella Abzug. It was her last government position.

After her retirement in 1977, East began a new career as a full-time activist, working for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in Virginia and nationally, serving as women's issues coordinator in the John Anderson Presidential campaign (Nov. 1979 - Nov. 1980), as legislative director of the National Women's Political Caucus (Oct. 1983 - Dec. 1986), and as a board member of the National Organization for Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund (NOW LDEF) from 1979 to 1983. She also participated in a study of how ten newspapers handled various women's issues, and co-authored the report "New Directions for News." (The related correspondence and project files from that study are part of East's papers in the National Women and Media Collection at the University of Missouri-Columbia.)

East was a member of numerous organizations, including the American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, League of Women Voters, National Woman's Party, NOW, National Abortion Rights Action League, National Federation of Business and Professional Women, NWPC, and Planned Parenthood. Recognized by Betty Friedan as the "midwife to the birth of the women's movement," she also received numerous awards, including WEAL's Elizabeth Boyer Award in 1983 for her "outstanding contribution to the advancement of women," and the Veteran Feminists of America Medal of Honor in 1993. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y. in 1994. A longtime resident of Arlington, Va., East moved to Ithaca, N.Y., in early 1996 to be near her younger daughter Betsy East. She died August 17, 1996.

  • May 15, 1916: born in Huntington, W.Va.
  • Sept. 1932 - Aug. 1935 : attended Marshall College
  • Sept. 1935 - Dec. 1938 : bookkeeper in three clothing stores in Huntington
  • 1937: married Charles D. East
  • Jan. 1939 - Apr. 1941 : Application Reviewer and Supervisor for the U.S. Civil Service Commission (CSC), Washington, D.C.
  • Apr. 1941 - Sept. 1942 : Junior Administrative Assistant, CSC
  • Sept. 1942 - Apr. 1944 : Junior Administrative Officer, CSC
  • Apr. 1944 - Oct. 1949 : Staff Officer, CSC
  • Mar. 19, 1945: Mary Ellen East ("Vicky") born in Washington, D.C.
  • Oct. 1949 - Feb. 1951 : Civil Service Examiner, Chief, DCE [Displaced Career Employees] Unit
  • 1951 Feb. - Sept. 1951 : Special Placement Representative, CSC
  • Sept. 1951 - Oct. 1953 : Policy and Procedures Officer, CSC
  • June 12, 1952: Elizabeth Rose East born in Washington, D.C.
  • Oct. 1953 - Oct. 1955 : Regulations and Instructions Coordinator, CSC
  • Oct. 1955 - Feb. 1960 : Assistant for Legislation to Division Chief, CSC
  • Feb. 1960 - Apr. 1961 : Coordinating Officer, Bureau of Program and Standards, CSC
  • Apr. 1961 - Mar. 1962 : Chief, Career Services Division, CSC
  • Mar. 1962 - Nov. 1963 : Technical Secretary, Committee on Federal Employment, President's Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW): detailed from CSC
  • Nov. 1963 - Apr. 1975 : Executive Secretary, Interdepartmental Commission on the Status of Women (ICSW) and Citizens' Advisory Council on the Status of Women (CACSW). Also performed staff services for President's Task Force on Women's Rights and Responsibilities (1969).
  • 1972: testified before select committee of the British House of Lords; lectured throughout Great Britain.
  • 1973: Adviser to U.S. delegation to Inter-American Commission on Women
  • 1974: traveled and lectured in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji
  • Apr. 1975 - Nov. 1976 : Deputy Coordinator, International Women's Year Secretariat
  • 1975: Adviser to U.S. delegation to IWY World Conference in Mexico City
  • Nov. 1976 - Sept. 1977 : Coordinator, Policies and Plans, IWY Secretariat
  • 1977 - 1979 : Lobbyist for Virginia Women's Political Caucus, Arlington, Va.
  • 1979 - 1983 : Secretary, National Organization for Women Legal Defense and Education Fund (NOW LDEF) Board of Directors
  • Nov. 1979 - Nov. 1980 : Women's Issues Coordinator, Anderson Presidential campaign
  • 1980 - Oct. 1983 : Coordinator, study of newspaper coverage of women's issues, sponsored by George Washington University
  • Oct. 1983 - Dec. 1986 : Legislative director, NWPC
  • 1987: represented NWPC on coalitions for Civil Rights Restoration Act and opposing nomination of Robert Bork to U.S. Supreme Court
  • 1994: inducted into National Women's Hall of Fame, Seneca Falls, N.Y.
  • 1996: moved to Ithaca, N.Y.
  • Aug. 17, 1996: died in Ithaca, N.Y.

From the guide to the Papers, 1941-1995, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf East, Catherine Shipe. Papers of Catherine Shipe East. 1941-1995 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
Role Title Holding Repository
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Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Abortion--United States
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1916

Death 1996

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