Charleston Daily Mail
Highest Woman In Federal Government Is A Trail-Blazing West Virginia
By WILMA HIGGINBOTHAM
December 4, 1969
Daily Mail Women's Editor
Highest Woman In Federal Government Is A Trail-Blazing West Virginia Native
By WILMA HIGGINBOTHAM
Virginia Mae Brown may one day be recognized as a pioneer who blazed a trail for women who work in government.
As chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission, she is the highest ranking woman in federal government.
To petite, charming Mrs. James V. Brown - an attorney married to an attorney - she's just doing a very hard job, which is not unusual. "I've always had to work hard. Women always have to work a little harder than men."
Virginia Mae Brown hasn't changed much from the days when she was holding a series of very important jobs in West Virginia state government. She is just as down-to-earth but perhaps a bit more stylishly groomed and a bit slower to flash her personable smile.
She feels this has been a good year. She admits, "I had my fears because I was never sure how men would accept me. But the commissioners have cooperated 100 per cent and I think we have better communications among ourselves. They seem to respect me and my judgment, which is about the highest praise I can have."
So many changes are being made in the ICC she has not been able to use the experience of others as a guide. She said, "It's all new. And we've had more hearings than we've ever had. And we've had investigations for the first time.
"For me it has meant longer hours and often leaving the office with a big briefcase, stuffed with homework."
The Browns and their two daughters live in River Towers Apartments in New Alexandria, Va. She said, "It's part of a 27-acre complex. There's a swimming pool just outside the door; tennis courts and a large picnic area. It's wonderful but it isn't home. Home is West Virginia."
They average getting home every other week to visit Mrs. Hester Brown of Pliny, Virginia Mae's mother, an ex-schoolteacher who is president of the Buffalo Bank, and Jim's mother, Mrs. bessie Brown of Logan. Both are widows.
When Mrs. Brown left for Washington, the daughters were very young. Now Vicki is 14 and in junior high and Pam almost 10 and in the fifth grade.
She said, "Jim's such a big help with the great demands made on me. He does a lot of things I could be doing. And if dinner isn't until 9 or 10 o'clock, he makes things work. I appreciate this.
"We've been very fortunate in help, too. Sarah Ovington from Smithers, the lady who started with us when Vicki was a baby, is still with us. I don't know how we could get along without her."
"Both of the girls do a lot of dancing - tap, ballet, jazz and acrobatics. Vicki takes piano and loves it. This year, the Rev. Reid Digg's daughter, Martha, is in the same class. Martha is so gifted and has already done some composing. The girls work together on their music and have such fun.
"Mr. Diggs is minister of the Methodist Church we attend. For four years I went to the church and the minister didn't know me from the side of a barn. I couldn't get Jim inside. Then Mr. Diggs came. It's an entirely different church now and Jim goes right along with us and participates.
"We've rather stayed away from the social side of Washington. It has to be almost a command appearance before we go.
"We find the whole Washington area is so expensive. I'm really concerned about people with small salaries.
"And crime is so high banks can be robbed and it's such a common occurrence they don't bother to put it in the paper. I don't go out alone in the evening and we don't allow the children out alone. It seems a shame to tell your children you live in a country like this but you'd better tell them unless you want something dreadful to happen.
["]I find it hard to have time to shop. This year I didn't have time to shop for the girls before school opened. Later I felt lucky. School authorities decided it would be proper to wear pants suits to class. Of course the girls all wanted them and parents who already had spent money for all those lovely clothes had to go out and spend money for pants suits. At first I didn't like the idea of pants suits but now I'm for them in view of short skirts and the cold weather.
"I think people here would like to know that Hildred Hersman who worked in Charleston for three or four governors has been with me for two-and-a-half years. her husband, William, is a state policeman. They still have a home in Charleston but he's stationed in Charles Town where they now live. She rides the train back and forth every day. Hildred has made my year as chairman so much easier."
The most-asked question is "What will you do next?" She said, "I haven't thought much about what will happen when this job ends. I'll handle that when it comes along. We love Wets Virginia and hope to return one day. But one has to make a living and that usually dictates the decision."