DOLE, Elizabeth Hanford



As the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate from North Carolina, Elizabeth Dole brought years of governmental experience to Capitol Hill. A former U.S. Secretary of Transportation and U.S. Secretary of Labor in two different presidential Cabinets, Dole used her committee assignments to look after military bases, the financial services industry, and farmers in North Carolina. “We have a lot to be proud of in North Carolina,” she said in her election victory speech, “but we also have a lot of work to do. Too many people are out of work, and too many people are turned off on politics. I have listened. I’ve learned and I will not let you down.”1

Elizabeth Hanford Dole was born Mary Elizabeth Hanford on July 29, 1936, in Salisbury, North Carolina, to John Van Hanford, a florist, and Mary Ella Cathey Hanford. Dole graduated from Boyden High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Duke University in 1958. After graduation, she moved to Massachusetts and earned a master’s degree in education from Harvard University in 1960. During her studies, she worked in the Capitol Hill office of North Carolina Senator Benjamin Everett Jordan. Dole continued her education at Harvard Law School, earning her law degree in 1965, against the wishes of her mother who believed that her daughter should focus on domestic responsibilities. “I was listening to the beat of a different drummer,” she later recollected.2

As a new attorney, Dole was drawn to the nation’s capital. “Washington was like a magnet,” she said.3 She picked the capital city over New York and Boston because she felt that in Washington, “the doors were more open to women.”4 In the decades that followed, Dole built a formidable résumé. She began her career in 1967 as a staff assistant to the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Lyndon B. Johnson administration. After leaving in 1968, she worked for the President’s Committee for Consumer Interests, which later became the Office of Consumer Affairs when President Richard M. Nixon took office. She also served as a member of the Federal Trade Commission as an advocate for consumer issues. Originally registered as a Democrat, Dole changed her party affiliation to Independent while working for Nixon. At the White House she met Republican Senator Robert Joseph Dole of Kansas, then the chairman of the Republican National Committee; they married in 1975. After her marriage, Dole switched her party affiliation to Republican. Robert Dole later served for more than a decade as Republican Leader in the Senate.5

When Robert ran for Vice President in 1976, and then for President in 1980, 1988, and 1996, Elizabeth Dole was deeply involved in his campaigns. When Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980, he appointed Dole as director of the White House Office of Public Liaison. Three years later, Reagan named her as the first woman to hold the Cabinet post of U.S. Secretary of Transportation, a position she held from 1983 to 1987. As secretary, she prioritized safety, promoting measures such as a third rear brake light on automobiles and airbags in all vehicles, as well as raising the drinking age to 21. After George H. W. Bush won election as President in 1988, Dole became Secretary in the Labor Department, where she worked to enforce child labor laws and resolved a coal mining labor dispute in Appalachia.6

In 1991 Dole resigned as Secretary of Labor to become the president of the American Red Cross. At the storied nonprofit organization, she worked to raise money and implemented new procedures for the Red Cross’ blood donation program, while traveling the world on humanitarian missions.7 In 1999 Dole herself sought the Republican nomination for President but withdrew from the race in October.8

When longtime incumbent North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms announced his retirement in 2002, Dole decided to seek his seat. She easily won the GOP primary, taking 80 percent of the vote against six opponents. In one of the most expensive general elections that year, she faced Democrat Erskine Bowles. Dole raised millions of dollars and ran on a platform called the “Dole Plan,” which sought to promote jobs in the Tar Heel state. Although she faced criticism for having lived outside North Carolina for decades, she emphasized her roots in the state and traveled to all 100 North Carolina counties to meet with voters. On Election Day, Dole defeated Bowles with 53 percent of the vote.9

In the Senate, Dole was assigned to four committees: Armed Services; Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; and the Select Committee on Aging. She left the Agriculture Committee in the 109th Congress (2005–2007) and picked up a seat on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee in the 110th Congress (2007–2009). From her seat on the Armed Services Committee, Dole worked to protect the interests of North Carolina’s many military bases. Her seat on the Banking Committee allowed her to advocate for the burgeoning financial services industry in Charlotte.10

To fulfill a campaign promise to reduce government spending, Dole introduced a joint resolution in support of a line item veto. Her resolution proposed a Constitutional amendment that would allow the President to strike specific individual expenditures in appropriations bills without having to veto the entire measure. The resolution did not come to a vote.11

Much of the legislation Dole submitted in the Senate reflected her background in humanitarian work. She introduced several measures related to nutrition, including a joint resolution recognizing hunger as a worldwide problem; a bill to expand eligibility for subsidized school lunches; and a bill to provide tax benefits to trucking companies transporting food to charitable organizations.12

As chair of the Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Production and Price Competitiveness, Dole worked to protect North Carolina’s tobacco industry. As with many agricultural products, federal quotas set a cap on the amount of tobacco that farmers could bring to market. By controlling the supply of tobacco, the federal government could control the price. Because international growers were not subject to such limits, however, they could grow more tobacco and sell it for less than American producers. In 2003 Dole cosponsored the Tobacco Market Transition Act, which sought to make the American tobacco industry more competitive by eliminating the quota and price control regulations. The bill also promised to make payments directly to tobacco growers during the transition period. Similar legislation passed into law as part of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004.13

While Dole supported the George W. Bush administration’s push to secure free trade agreements, she also attempted to protect the textile manufacturing industry in her state. She regularly supported the establishment of new trade pacts, but when the Senate took up legislation to normalize trade relations with Vietnam, she and Senator Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina blocked a vote on the bill, citing concerns about the effects Vietnamese exports would have on the clothing industry in the Carolinas. Their opposition led to a decision by the Commerce Department to monitor the region’s textile sector once the trade bill went into effect.14 Because North Carolina is home to a number of major research universities and smaller colleges, Dole also proposed a higher-education bill that would provide additional student loan opportunities for students seeking specialized training in high-growth occupations.15

In the build up to the 2006 election cycle, the GOP selected Dole to chair the party’s campaign arm in the Senate, the National Republican Senatorial Committee. In a year in which Republicans faced serious electoral headwinds, Dole’s committee struggled to match the fundraising numbers put up by Senate Democrats and Republicans lost the Senate majority in 2007. A year later, during her own re-election bid in 2008, Dole faced Democratic state senator Kay Hagan in the general election. Amid a collapse in the financial services industry and the onset of a recession, Dole’s positions on free trade and the banking industry came under fire. On Election Day, Hagan rode a wave of Democratic support, defeating Dole 53 to 44 percent.16

In 2012 Dole, whose husband Robert suffered grave injuries during combat in World War II, founded the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which supports caregivers and family members of wounded veterans.17


1Jim Morrill et al., “From End to End, N.C. Elects Its First Woman to the U.S. Senate After Bruising, Costly Campaign,” 6 November 2002, Charlotte Observer: 1A.

2Quotation from “Dole, Elizabeth,” Current Biography, 1997 (New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1997): 146; David Von Drehle, “Dole Campaign’s Role: Bridging Past, Future,” 13 October 1999, Washington Post: A1; “Elizabeth Hanford Dole,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–Present,; Congressional Record, Senate, 110th Cong., 2nd sess. (12 December 2008): S10959.

3Marlene Cimons, “Elizabeth Hanford Dole: Reagan White House’s Link to the Public,” 1 January 1981, Los Angeles Times: F1.

4Von Drehle, “Dole Campaign’s Role: Bridging Past, Future.”

5Current Biography, 1997: 146–147.

6Current Biography, 1997: 146–148; Von Drehle, “Dole Campaign’s Role: Bridging Past, Future.”

7Current Biography, 1997: 148.

8Politics in America, 2004 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2003): 744–745.

9Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present”; North Carolina state board of elections, “2002 Primary Election Results,” 10 September 2002,; John Morrill and Mark Johnson, “Dole Beats Bowles to Take Helms’ Seat in the U.S. Senate,” 6 November 2002, Charlotte Observer: 1; Politics in America, 2004: 745.

10Politics in America, 2004: 745; Congressional Directory, 108th Cong. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2003): 333, 340, 344, 372; Congressional Directory, 109th Cong. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2005): 342, 346, 376; Congressional Directory, 110th Cong. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2007): 340, 345, 371, 374.

11A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to the line item veto, S.J. Res. 25, 108th Cong. (2003); Politics in America, 2004: 744; Klaus Marre, “Line-Item Veto may be Revived,” 10 February 2004, The Hill: 1.

12Hunger Relief Trucking Tax Credit Act, S. 1540, 110th Cong. (2007); A bill to amend the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act, S. 1549, 108th Cong. (2003); A concurrent resolution concerning the importance of the distribution of food in schools to hungry or malnourished children around the world, S. Con. Res. 114, 108th Cong. (2004).

13Gary D. Robertson, “Hallelujah; Buyout Hailed,” 12 October 2004, Herald-Sun (Durham, NC): A1; Jasper Womach, “Tobacco Quota Buyout Proposals in the 108th Congress,” Report RL31790, 10 June 2004, Congressional Research Service: 1–2; Tobacco Market Transition Act of 2003, S. 1490, 108th Cong. (2003); American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, PL 108-357, 118 Stat. 1418 (2004).

14David J. Lynch, “Vietnam Trade Plan Upsets Some Retailers,” 9 October 2006, USA Today: B1; Alan M. Field, “Vietnam’s Textile Exports Threatened by Commerce Program,” 25 May 2007, Pacific Shipper: n.p.; Corey Boles, “In North Carolina, Democrats Eye an Upset of Sen. Dole,” 27 October 2008, Dow Jones Institutional News: n.p.; Politics in America, 2004: 745.

15Higher Education Affordability, Access, and Opportunity Act of 2007, S. 1360, 110th Cong. (2007).

16“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present”; David D. Kirkpatrick, “G.O.P. Draws Fire on Senate Race Spending,” 9 December 2006, New York Times: A13; Boles, “In North Carolina, Democrats Eye an Upset of Sen. Dole.”

17“About Us,” Elizabeth Dole Foundation, accessed 5 March 2020,

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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External Research Collections

University of Kansas
Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics

Lawrence, KS
Papers: Career papers, including senatorial service, Commissioner on Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, U.S. Secretary of Labor, president of the American Red Cross.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

Dole, Elizabeth. Hearts Touched with Fire: My 500 Favorite Inspirational Quotations. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2004.

"Elizabeth Dole," in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2006.

Dole, Elizabeth and Bob Dole. Unlimited Partners: Our American Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

U.S. Congress. Tributes Delivered in Congress: Elizabeth Dole, United States Senator, 2003-2009. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2010.

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