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Graciela Gil Olivarez  (b. 1928, d. 1987)
Graciela Gil Olivarez
Graciela Gil Olivarez had a varied and distinguished career, which included becoming one of the first female radio disk jockeys in Phoenix, directing the Office of Economic Opportunity for Arizona, earning a law degree at Notre Dame Law School and serving in President Carter's administration as Director of Community Services. She became the highest ranking Mexican American woman in Carter's administration, a post she held until 1980.

Region: Phoenix and Central Arizona
Theme: Women at Work and Women in Politics and Government

Graciela Gil Olivarez traveled a long way from a small mining town to work in Washington, D.C. She spent her youth in the copper mining town of Sonora, Arizona before moving to Phoenix with her family in 1944. Although she dropped out of high school at the age of fifteen, Olivarez attended Lamson's Business School and found work as a stenographer and translator for a real estate agent. Her skills caught the attention of businessmen at a Spanish-language radio station in Phoenix (KIFN), and she became the women's program director of KIFN, gaining local fame as the city's first female disk jockey. Through her work, she learned about the poverty of Mexican American families living in migrant camps around Phoenix and those in the impoverished inner-city. When Graciela Gil Olivarez began to call attention to the plight of these families in her radio program, station owners criticized her commentaries, believing her role was to limit her programming in the culinary arts, Latin jazz and women's interests only.

A new opportunity came her way when the philanthropist, Robert B. Choate initiated the program "Careers for Youth" in Phoenix, and she began working for him, counseling Mexican American families in south Phoenix. This work gained her recognition and success. In 1965, she became the State Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity for Arizona. Later President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed her as a member of the National Advisory Council, directed by Robert Sargeant Shriver, Jr.

In 1970, Graciela Gil Olivarez accepted a new challenge, attending Notre Dame School of Law. She graduated at the age of 42, becoming the first woman and the first Chicana to graduate from this law school. Olivarez returned to the Southwest, taught law at the University of New Mexico, and worked for various leaders and government agencies, including the Governor of New Mexico, Tony Anaya. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed her as Director of the Community Services Administration. She became the highest-ranking Mexican American woman in Carter's administration, a post she held until 1980.

For more information see the following:

Graciela Gil Olivarez's papers are in the Chicano Collection at Hayden Library, ASU.

Photo Credits:
Graciela Gil Olivarez - Courtesy of Graciela Gil Olivarez Collection, Chicano Collection, Arizona State University Libraries

 

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