Your Rich VR Heritage Issue #15: Mary E. Switzer—Rehabilitation Services Commissioner and Leader of Excellence
Happy Carolina Friday Team!
This issue, dedicated to three of NC DVRS’ women leaders who very recently retired*, will honor Mary E. Switzer, one of the truly outstanding women pioneering leaders in the field of rehabilitation.
Miss Switzer, through her demonstrated leadership capabilities, forged her own pathway in what was generally regarded to have been a challenging environment for aspiring professional women. It was the post-WWII era, one during which the national and state rehabilitation programs were predominantly managed by men, even though the war had presented the opportunity for women to fully demonstrate their capabilities in diverse situations. In 1950, Mary E. Switzer became director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation in the US Department of Health Education and Welfare (where the national VR program resided in contrast with US Dept of Education where it resides today). In 1967, Mary became the first administrator of the Social and Rehabilitation Service. She retired in 1970 as the highest ranking female official in the federal government and became vice-president of the World Rehabilitation Fund until her death a year later. If you visit the Department of Education in Washington DC, you will notice the building, which was built in 1940 and renamed in her honor in 1972.
The November-December 1971 REACH issue featured a short tribute to Miss Switzer, who, according to previous REACH issues took a strong interest in the North Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation program. We have scoured the issues to identify related material within this VR Heritage issue to honor a great pioneer in the national rehabilitation program’s development during an era of unmatched growth and commitment.
The Vocational Rehabilitation Manual of the Federal Security Agency Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (for State Directors) within the NC DVRS archives contains several typed memos signed by Miss Switzer. The first entry within that manual was the one shown below from March 8, 1951 addressing the topic of their recent replacement of numerical occupational codes with an alphabetical 3-digit arrangement that was to correspond to the then-current Dictionary of Occupational Titles, revised March 1949:
Over the span of her career, the NC DVRS publication REACH would routinely contain words of encouragement and Holiday greetings from the national leader. Below are some of the examples of her morale-boosting words of inspiration from the November-December 1955 REACH:
Another snippet of encouragement from the RSA Commissioner of the era (Jan-Feb 1968 REACH):
Miss Switzer made a visit to some of the Western regional facilities according to this July-August 1965 REACH entry:
One final example of Miss Switzer’s inspirational leadership commending NCDVRS’ job well done in the September- October 1965 REACH:
Through this issue, we hope that you have become aware of and inspired by one of the early great national woman leaders within the rehabilitation arena. Today the representation of women leaders is very strong within the Rehabilitation Services Administration and across the national team of vocational rehabilitation program directors, including our very own pedigree of strong women directors from our past, present, and future. Will one of you among the next generation of leaders arise to accept the rewards and challenges of strategically leading and inspiring your team and co-workers? There are never too many individuals demonstrating strong leadership in the many ways that are needed within such a dynamic human service intensive field as ours.
*This issue is written in honor of three great women NC DVRS leaders who retired this past week with distinguished careers, just as Mary E. Switzer did. Connie Barnette, retiring as Director of WorkSource West DVRS training facility; Georgia Gulledge, retiring as Manager of the Charlotte Unit; and Lynn Furr, retiring as a Quality Development Specialist and former Independent Living Services manager and mentor. We all will definitely miss and be impacted by the loss of their significant experience and unique contributions.