Washington — Elizabeth Hanford Dole, the most powerful woman on the Reagan White House staff, looks at first glance like the perfect model for a Southern belle. Dressed in an expensive-looking black suit that is at once feminine and businesslike, the strikingly beautiful Mrs. Dole greets her visitor with a ready smile and a soft North Carolina accent. She seems more like the gracious wife of a politician (and she is), than the person picked as Assistant to the President for Public Liaison.
Yet appearances are often misleading. Elizabeth Dole broke out of the traditional Southern pattern back in the 1950s when she was growing up.
Even in grammar school, she says, her interest was politics. The interest grew at Duke University where, besides being May queen and a Phi Beta Kappa member, she was named "leader of the year" in a Southern student body which as yet knew nothing about the women's liberation movement.
With a government career on her mind, she headed for Harvard University where she earned both a masters in education and a law degree. Then, she says, "Washington was like a magnet." She worked here for the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, specializing in education for the deaf, and later took a major role at the newly created Office of Consumer Affairs.
In 1973, President Nixon appointed her to be one of the few women ever to serve on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). When the FTC probed into problems at nursing homes, she began going privately into old-age homes, visiting the elderly and seeing conditions for herself.
Married to Sen. Robert Dole (R) of Kansas in 1975, Mrs. Dole stayed on at FTC until 1979, resigning to help her husband run for president. After he dropped out of the race, she joined the Reagan-Bush effort and played a major role on the Reagan transition team as head of human resources.
Mentioned for Cabinet-level posts and even for jobs as lofty as the US Supreme Court, Dole says she is content with her White House role. She says her job will be "to develop a consensus for his [Reagan's] policies and programs" by "reaching out to various groups."