THE MYSTERY OF FBI SPECIAL AGENT LENORE HOUSTON

December 23, 2015

Why Did FBI Director Hire Lenore Houston in 1924 ~
The Only Female FBI Special Agent Ever Hired By Famed FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover?

 

Part 1 of 2

In March of 2015, I had the honor of delivering a presentation to a group of people attending a Ladies’ Tea sponsored by the New Providence, New Jersey Diversity Club in celebration of Women’s History Month.  I chose to write about the first five female FBI Special Agents.  These five women are true female trailblazers in the world of federal law enforcement.  I stopped at five because I needed a finite group of females to highlight and because this number fit well with the timeline of the earliest females in the ranks of Special Agents at the FBI.  This number also made sense to me because of the machinations of legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.  Hoover created the premier federal law enforcement agency in the country, but he was resolute in his views on females as Special Agents. 

The first two female Special Agents, Alaska Donovan and Jesse Duckstein, were hired by Hoover’s predecessor, Director William Burns, in the early 1920’s.  They both retired two weeks after Hoover was appointed FBI Director in 1924.  A mystery occurred in late 1924, when Hoover appointed Lenore Houston as a Special Agent.  She was the first, last, and only female Special Agent Hoover ever hired.  I say this is a mystery because my research has not revealed any reason for Hoover to make this single appointment.  As with Donovan and Duckstein, Hoover asked for and received Lenore’s resignation.  Lenore resigned on November 7, 1928.  It wasn’t until two weeks after Hoover died in 1972, during his 48th year as FBI Director, that females were allowed to apply for the position of Special Agent.  In 1972, the first two female agents to attend New Agent’s Training Class were Susan Lynn Roley, a former U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant and Joanne Pierce, a former nun.

Here is a letter Hoover wrote in 1971 in response to a letter the FBI received from Colorado State University accusing the FBI of violating equal employment opportunity regulations by not hiring females as FBI agents.  Because the FBI refused to hire female Special Agents, Colorado State University banned the FBI from recruiting on their campus. 

 
 
 

Why Did FBI Director Hire Lenore Houston in 1924 ~

The Only Female FBI Special Agent Ever Hired By Famed FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover?

 

Part 2 of 2

What was it about Lenore Houston that caused J Edgar Hoover to hire her as a Special Agent?

Lenore Houston

Lenore Houston

J. Edgar Hoover

J. Edgar Hoover

Lenore Houston was born on August 12, 1878 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to Joseph and Esther (née Rakemore) Houston. Joseph was a doctor and Esther was a housewife from a large German family that had been settled in the area since the early 1700’s. Lenore was one of four children and was well-educated having spent three years studying at Swarthmore College. 

Swarthmore College

Swarthmore College

Although Lenore came from some degree of privilege, the amount of land her eldest brother inherited was not enough to entice him to stay in Pennsylvania. There is not much information about her middle brother and her youngest brother died when he was a toddler.

Perhaps the source of her recommendations to the position of Special Agent of the FBI holds a clue.

Director William J. Burns

Director William J. Burns

In June of 1922, at the age of 44, Lenore applied for the position of Special Agent. Both Pennsylvania Governor William Cameron Sproul and Beaver County, Pennsylvania District Attorney Louis E. Graham recommended her for this position on several occasions. She was initially hired as a Special Employee of the FBI hired by Director Burns on January 14th of 1924 and was assigned to investigate Mann Act violations (white slave trafficking) violations in the Philadelphia FBI office.

William Cameron Sproul served as the 27th Governor of Pennsylvania from January 21, 1919 to January 16, 1923.  Governor Sproul was born and spent much of his life in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In addition to the geographical connection, Governor Sproul also attended Swarthmore College, Lenore's alma mater.

William Cameron Sproul

William Cameron Sproul

Louis E. Graham

Louis E. Graham

Louis E. Graham was the District Attorney of Beaver County from 1912 through 1924.  Although District Attorney Graham had no particular connection to Lenore or to Lancaster County, Graham seemed to be the more ardent advocate for Lenore later in her career. Graham continued to recommend Lenore to Hoover until, finally, on November 6, 1924, Hoover changed Lenore’s designation to Special Agent. Lenore's connection with Congressman Graham may be a story that is lost to the sands of time.