After attending Dana for six years, Margaret Mahaney Rhoades 1958 thought that there was nothing that a woman could not handle. In the early 1960s, however, when she interviewed for a job in the foreign service after college, she was surprised to find that if she wanted to be posted to the same country as her husband she might have to take a job as his secretary if there was no position in her field. This was her first indication that women might not be able do anything they wanted. She realized that “Dana prepared [her] for all of life’s challenges, but not for all of life’s surprises” (Rhoades 33). Times have changed and after more than 25 years of working in Washington D.C., Rhoades has found increasingly more women involved in important policy-making positions.
At Dana, Rhoades was on the varsity lacrosse team for three years. She was a member of the Drama Club and a Service League Representative. Her ambition, as listed in the 1958 Focus, was to be in the diplomatic service and her ultimate destination was “to marry a thin spy.” In 1956, Rhoades was awarded the first Helen Temple Cooke Scholarship. As the unanimous choice of the trustees, she was the student who fulfilled the ideals that were characteristic of Helen Temple Cooke, “integrity, earnestness, generosity of spirit, loyalty, and cooperation” (Peggy Mahaney 8). She remembers that day fondly. “No one knew about it. It was a secret. My mother received a call from someone in the administration at Dana to be sure to come to the school assembly on a certain day in Bardwell. Mrs. J. [Johnston] stood up and announced this new scholarship; made available by funds Miss Cooke had left the school, and then the first recipient. I will never forget my surprise and amazement at this wonderful honor, given in the name of a woman I so admired!” (E-mail 18 April 2006).
After receiving a degree in political science from Wellesley College, Rhoades worked as a research analyst in the foreign policy field with the State Department in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. She then took time off from her career to have a baby and finish her doctorate. After becoming interested in making documentaries on foreign policy, Rhoades joined NBC as an associate producer of documentaries, traveled around the world, and produced 18 documentaries including The CIA’s Secret War on Laos and Africa’s Defiant White Tribe.
Because travel took too much time away from her family, Rhoades became the Public Affairs Director at the U.S. Office of Education. She found that work expectations for women had changed in Washington; Dr. Ernest Boyer, the U.S. Commissioner of Education, expected a woman be successful in her job. Later, she worked for the Social Security Administration with the task of setting up their Washington office, redoing all of their publications, and preparing new public service announcements.
Rhoades also worked at the Brookings Institution, starting a public affairs office for them. It was here that Rhoades discovered that she truly enjoyed initiating projects and effecting change. She believes that it often takes time to find out what you like to do and by working in the field that you like best, you will perform at a high level. In 1993, she became the chairperson of the National Leadership Coalition for Health Care Reform, the largest organization in the country calling for comprehensive reform of the health care system.
In 2004, Rhoades decided to stop working on national health care reform and focus on the work being done on cancer research. She made this choice because of the losses to cancer within her family and among friends and classmates. Rhoades presently serves as the Head of the Office of Media Relations and Public Affairs at the National Cancer Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. Rhoades finds it “tremendously rewarding to work on getting the word out on the progress being made in reducing the suffering and death due to cancer. In some areas, such as pediatric cancer and early stage breast cancer, the improvements in detection and treatment are just wonderful” (E-mail).
Rhoades believes that “Dana Hall gave her a strong start and that girls’ schools are uniquely positioned to prepare young women for the challenges they will face” (1993 Dana Hall 26). In 1993, Rhoades won the Dana Hall Distinguished Alumna Award.
“The 1993 Dana Hall Distinguished Alumna Award Recipient.” Dana Hall Bulletin54.2 (Fall 1993): 26.
“Peggy Mahaney, ’58, Named Recipient Of First Helen Temple Cooke Award.” Dana Hall Bulletin 18.2 (1956): 8.
Peggy Mahaney Rhoades, photograph. From Peggy Mahaney Rhoades.
Rhoades, Margaret Mahaney. “Margaret Mahaney Rhoades ’58.” Dana Hall Bulletin 52.2 (Fall 1991): 33.
Rhoades, Peggy Mahaney. E-mail interview. 6 April 2006.
Originally published as Person of the Week, May 1, 2006