Fifty Years Ago: Cynthia Rosenwald and the Newspapers’ Image of a Female Speechwriter

 Twenty years before Peggy Noonan and Mary Kate Cary – speechwriters for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, respectively – there was Cynthia Rosenwald. From 1966 to 1970, she formed a speechwriting partnership with Spiro T. Agnew, whose papers are housed within the Maryland and Historical Collections unit in Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland libraries. Contained with the Agnew papers are manuscript speeches – some never delivered – which help illuminate the work of Rosenwald. She served as Agnew’s main speechwriter, throughout his years as Maryland’s Governor (1967-1968) and during the first year in which he served as Vice President (1969-1973). Entering the national political arena during an era when men dominated both the elected and non-elected offices in the executive branch, Rosenwald commanded respect for her tireless energy, ability to write succinct speeches, and an ear for listening to the modes of speaking most comfortable to her client and friend, Agnew. Though largely forgotten today, Rosenwald became something of a public figure herself, featured in the local and national press between 1969 and 1973. [1]

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Rosenwald, born in 1937, attended Wellesley College as an undergraduate and started a degree in political science at Goucher College. (The latter she seems to have finished in 2004). A daughter of a Hecht department store executive, J. Jefferson Miller, she married in 1956 and had three children by 1965. While raising her children, she served on several boards and councils, including the Campaign Division of the Association of Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund. [2] Her brother, Milton H. Mickey Miller, became a Democratic member of the Baltimore County Council in 1966. [3] She volunteered for the Agnew campaign, and then met Jerome Wolff, State Roads Commissioner, who apparently introduced her to Agnew. [4] During Agnew’s term as Governor of Maryland from 1967 to late 1968, Cynthia Rosenwald served as an “Administrative Assistant” to the Governor, for whom she likely prepared a speaking schedule, researched topics, and wrote memos. [5]

For most of the time that Cynthia Rosenwald worked for Agnew as Governor of Maryland, starting in June 1966, her name was not identified in either the local or national newspapers – such as the Baltimore Sun or New York Times. This anonymity may have been deliberate, or was achieved without much effort, perhaps because the Governor of Maryland was not expected to be a full-time orator. Besides, Rosenwald served just three days a week as an Administrative Assistant to an executive office that counted a handful of people. She also flew with vice-presidential candidate Agnew during the 1968 campaign. [6]

The job of writing speeches for major American political figures, particularly presidential candidates, drew in professionals from other disciplines, but only rarely women. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., had been a professor at Harvard when he became Governor Adlai Stevenson’s campaign adviser and writer. Richard Goodwin and Ted Sorensen – speechwriters for President Kennedy – were trained as lawyers. Thus, Rosenwald’s lack of formal training in rhetorical expression may have stood out less than the fact that she was a woman, one who could influence the rhetoric of the nation’s Vice President.

Still, speechwriting for a Vice President was under-recognized, in part because the work was not only supposed to be anonymous, but without attribution. As journalist Colman McCarthy wrote in the Los Angeles Times in late 1969 in an article about Cynthia Rosenwald, “Although it is disputed whether a speechwriter is allowed to work in the open – the way a ghostwriter would never be allowed to – no politician has ever been heard to proclaim, ‘As my esteemed speechwriter says,’ before reading his text. Politicians know that a speechwriter should be kept in the back office when the speech is written and in the back row when delivered. They recall the scorn of Walter Lippmann, who believed that a politician who has his speeches written for him is as low as the man who lets someone else write his love letters or say his prayers.” [7]

However, on January 22, 1969, two days after Nixon and Agnew were inaugurated, Rosenwald was named in the Baltimore Sun as “a speech writer and researcher for Mr. Agnew,” along with eleven other staff appointees, many of whom, like Rosenwald, Agnew had known from state politics. [8] By the end of Agnew’s first month in office, the Vice President’s staff numbered 25 (of whom 9 were women). Numbers rose to upwards of 40 staff members by February 1969. In March, a new order was established for staff meetings, to which only “principal” staff members were required to attend and report. Of the “principals” in early 1969, only two of the thirteen were women – Cynthia Rosenwald and Dr. Jean Spencer, whose papers are also housed in UMD’s Special Collections. Also, in those early months, the function of Rosenwald’s job expanded. She was to “maintain a file of speeches, newspaper clippings and statements involving or relating to the Vice President.” [9]

Then, in April 1969, Rosenwald was featured in a gossip column (with a photograph) by Maxine Cheshire of the Washington Post. Cheshire’s description suggests one of the ways that a woman with the capacity to influence public policy was depicted in the press during the late 1960s: “Vice President Spiro T. Agnew’s speechwriter is a Baltimore housewife who usually works at her dining room table and laboriously prints her first drafts because she can’t type. Pert, mini-skirted Cynthia Rosenwall [sic] is 32….a college drop-out who still needs ‘a third of a year’ to get her degree in political science from Goucher College….Cynthia first got a job on Agnew’s staff at a cocktail party, where she met and impressed an earlier Agnew advisor who was working on the gubernatorial campaign.” Rosenwald eschewed the claim that she contributed to Agnew’s ideas, indicating that she was simply a “wordsmith,” rather than a “speechwriter…like Ted Sorensen for JFK. I don’t help make policy.” [10]

Still, for the first eight months of Agnew’s service as Vice President, Cynthia Rosenwald appeared in the local and national news. Some of this publicity must have been a matter of choice. Baltimore journalist Adam Kline interviewed her in her own home for a long Baltimore Sun article pointedly entitled “Who Writes the Agnew Speeches?” – the thrust of which was to suggest that Rosenwald was in fact both more important and less important to Agnew’s choice of rhetoric. Describing her work for Governor Agnew in self-deprecating tones, “I was a speech writer, not an idea-man. He always decided what to say, I just wrote it up for him. That’s the way it is now, too.” The bulk of her time was likely spent in research. Agnew was delivering “an average of about three speeches [e]very two weeks;” the exponential increase in the production of speeches marked Agnew’s transition from Annapolis to the Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. [11]

During the middle of the twentieth century, the question of who authored political speeches of United States presidents had become a subject of discussion in the press; however, this scrutiny usually did not extend to vice presidents. Agnew’s speeches in late 1969 made the public take notice.  National journalists questioned the authorship of Vice President Agnew’s increasingly trenchant criticism, which became evident in two speeches given in October and November 1969. The speech which Agnew gave on October 19 in New Orleans skewered college students and other anti-war demonstrators for protesting Nixon’s Vietnam policy and labeled an indeterminate group as “an effete corps of impudent snobs.” Then, Agnew’s speech of November 13, 1969, blasted the major television news commentators as uniquely positioned to promote biased reporting against President Nixon and his policies.

Looking closely at the speech files in the Agnew papers, some of the mystery over authorship begins to dissipate. For the October speech in New Orleans, Rosenwald prepared many paragraphs for at least two drafts, one copy was labeled “unused,” while the other runs ten pages and is composed of a mixture of typed and pencil-written pages of yellow legal paper.  Yet, almost none of Rosenwald’s words in these drafts appear in the copy that Agnew gave from the podium, nor in the transcript made from the audiotape of the event. Agnew appears to have been the author, or at least he claimed to have been in a letter written to William F. Buckley, Jr.; in that letter of October 29, 1969, Agnew “enclosed a copy of a speech I delivered to a group of Negro leaders after the Baltimore riot and the controversial New Orleans speech. I selected these because they are my product, not that of a speech writer.” [12]

For the November speech in Des Moines, Rosenwald prepared at least six paragraphs on three handwritten yellow sheets, all of which were reworked and later spoken by Agnew. These include Rosenwald’s statement, “This is one case where the people must defend themselves…where the citizen – not government – must be the crusaders and the reformers….where the consumer can be the most effective crusader,” which Agnew ultimately delivered as: “This is one case where the people must defend themselves…where the citizen – not government – must be the reformer….where the consumer can be the most effective crusader.” However, the bulk of the Des Moines speech seems to have been written by Pat Buchanan, as later scholars have agreed. This attribution is supported by a “Memorandum for Cynnie Rosenwald” typed the day before the speech by C. Stanley Blair, Agnew’s Chief of Staff. Blair started immediately: “This refers to the Des Moines speech. I have great respect and affection for Pat Buchanan and you. Neither of these, however, can keep me from saying that I think the DeMoines [sic] speech is basically unsound, not in its idea, but in its development….” To this memo is affixed a note in Rosenwald’s usual pencil: “Stan – I agree. What is more I would play it even more conservatively than you! And I am willing to do anything to aid and abet your o[pinions]! & right views  CMR.” Time for revisions had run out, however, and the speech that Agnew gave the following day was essentially the one prepared by Buchanan. [13]

As a result of these two speeches, some pondered whether the Nixon White House had approved or instigated the content of the speeches and speculated whether Agnew had been the main author, but it was Rosenwald’s presence that had been normalized by her press coverage. Getting the attribution to the New Orleans’ speech largely right, Ward Just’s lengthy piece in the Washington Post repeated some individuals who “say that Spiro Agnew needs no encouragement – not from [John] Mitchell or from the President. He is his own man, and the speeches come first from Cynthia Rosenwald, a Baltimore housewife…and then are closely gone over by the Vice President himself.” [14]

The main problem for the press was not that Rosenwald had become too influential, but rather that Rosenwald had been publicly named as Agnew’s speechwriter, or that Agnew was simply a mouthpiece for Nixon. It seems that in the major newspapers’ view, it would be all right for Agnew to be speaking rhetoric written by a female speechwriter. Even though Time magazine and others correctly cited Buchanan as the main author of the Des Moines’ speech, Nixon’s director of communications, Herbert Klein, was said to have “characterized the speech as ‘an Agnew staff production’ that was probably written by his chief speech writer, Cynthia Rosenwald.” Klein would have been wrong to credit Rosenwald with more than just six paragraphs of the Des Moines’ speech. Yet that storyline – that Rosenwald was the female speechwriter behind Agnew – had taken on a life of its own. That is, until Herb Thompson clarified things at the end of November, when he revealed to the press that Agnew had written the New Orleans speech by himself. [15]

Rosenwald resigned from her position as speechwriter in February 1970 for a variety of possible reasons, some of them personal and others quite public. These included the distance of commuting from Baltimore to the Executive Office Building, or the difficulty of keeping in touch with the Vice President, while flying around the country and world so frequently. In March, columnist Judith Martin reported that Rosenwald was leaving to taking care of family and to pursue a career as a creative writer and that she already had written eight chapters of a novel about a presidential candidate. The claim that Nixon pressman, Herb Klein, made in his 1980 memoir that “Agnew’s own speech writer, Mrs. Cynthia Rosenwald, resigned in protest” as a result of the increasingly vitriolic tone of Agnew’s attacks on the media seems hard to square with the chronology and documents in the Agnew papers, especially since she was officially on the staff through mid-Feburary 1970. [16]

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Notwithstanding her resignation, her name continued to appear in print. For instance, Rosenwald had time to help Public Affairs Press prepare Frankly Speaking: A Collection of Extraordinary Speeches by Spiro T. Agnew, which included speeches from December 1969, for which the publisher thanked “the gracious cooperation of Mrs. Cynthia Rosenwald, Mr. Agnew’s talented wordsmith, and Herbert Thompson, the Vice President’s press secretary.” [17]  Rosenwald was even featured in Pageant magazine in May 1970, which a Kansas editor recapped pithily: “She has resigned, and, according to Pageant Magazine, it will take four college men to replace her.” This may have hit the mark, as Agnew’s press secretary, Herbert Thompson, eventually became Agnew’s chief speechwriter, with contributions from J.C. Helms, Pat Buchanan, and William Safire. [18]


Dr. Eric C. Stoykovich is the Historical Manuscripts Project Archivist in the University of Maryland’s Special Collections and University Archives in Hornbake Library, where he works under the Curator on collections which tell the story of political officials and civic groups in the state of Maryland. He received his MLS from UMD’s iSchool and a PhD in American history from the University of Virginia. His interests include archival history, political development, and institutional change.

Notes:

Photographs by Harrison Gage.

[1]  Letter from Cynnie (Cynthia Rosenwald) to The Honorable Spiro T. Agnew, February 24, 1970, (signed on Office of the Vice President letterhead), in Spiro T. Agnew papers (Acc. 74-10), Series 3, Subseries 5: Subject Files-White House Central Files System, Box 18, Folder 5.

[2]  “Staff Biography Form: FG 38-1/Rosenwald,” Spiro T. Agnew papers (Acc. 74-10), Series 3, Subseries 5: Subject Files-White House Central Files System, Box 18, Folder 5; Adam Kline, “Who Writes the Agnew Speeches? Cynthia Rosenwald, a Young Mother whose Job Stemmed for a Party,” Baltimore Sun (July 20, 1969), accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers, March 27, 2018. For the completion of her Goucher degree in 2004, see Neil Hrab, “The Speechwriter’s Life,” from Vital Speeches of the Day website, specifically https://www.vsotd.com/news/speechwriters-life, accessed on April 6, 2018.

[3]  Jacques Kelly, “Milton H. ‘Mickey’ Miller, civic leader, dies,” Baltimore Sun (November 20, 2010), http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2010-11-20/news/bs-md-ob-milton-miller-20101119_1_baltimore-county-council-milton-h-baltimore-metro, accessed on March 27, 2018.

[4]  “Names in the News: Agnew’s Speechwriter,” Jewish Post and Opinion (December 5, 1969), accessed through the Hoosier State Chronicles, Indiana’s Digital Historic Newspaper Program, at https://newspapers.library.in.gov/cgi-bin/indiana?a=d&d=JPOST19691205-01.1.7 on March 28, 2018.

[5]  “Staff Biography Form: FG 38-1/Rosenwald,” Spiro T. Agnew papers (Acc. 74-10), Series 3, Subseries 5: Subject Files-White House Central Files System, Box 18, Folder 5.

[6]  The press announced that Rosenwald had flown with Agnew months after the fact: Adam Kline, “Who Writes the Agnew Speeches? Cynthia Rosenwald, a Young Mother whose Job Stemmed for a Party,” Baltimore Sun (July 20, 1969), accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers, March 27, 2018.

[7]  Colman McCarthy, “The Speechwriter Learns New Tricks,” Washington Post (November 5, 1969), also reprinted in Los Angeles Times (November 9, 1969), both accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers, March 27, 2018.

[8]  Joseph R. L. Sterne, “Agnew Confesses ‘1st-Day’ Tremor: Attributes Feeling to Great Honor of Heading Senate,” Baltimore Sun (January 22, 1969), accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers, March 28, 2018. Only two of the eleven mentioned in this article were women: Rosenwald, and Dr. Jean Spencer, identified as “an expert on government management.”

[9]  “Memorandum to Members of the Vice President’s Staff Listed Below,” from Stan Blair, undated; “Memorandum of the VP Staff Listed Below,” from C. Stanley Blair, February 14, 1969; “Memorandum for V.P. Staff Members Indicated in Distribution Below,” all in Spiro T. Agnew papers (Acc. 74-10), Series III, Subseries 14, Box 3, Folder labeled “VP, Office of…Staff Meetings (1969)”.   Jean Spencer was charged with creating “a general reference library of unclassified material received by the Vice President or by staff personnel.”

[10]  Maxine Cheshire, “Agnew’s Speechwriter,” Washington Post (April 8, 1969), accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers, March 28, 2018.

[11]  Adam Kline, “Who Writes the Agnew Speeches? Cynthia Rosenwald, a Young Mother whose Job Stemmed from a Party,” Baltimore Sun (July 20, 1969), accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers, March 27, 2018.

[12]  Spiro T. Agnew Papers, Series 3.5, Box 2, Folder 27: Speeches — Citizens Testimonial Dinner, New Orleans, Lousiana, October 19, 1969, University of Maryland libraries; Spiro T. Agnew Papers, Series 3.5, Box 127, Folder 116: SP Speeches — SP 3-69 — Louisiana Fund Raiser, October 19, 1969 — [Executive], [1969], University of Maryland libraries.

[13]  Spiro T. Agnew Papers, Series 3.7, Box 2, Folder 40: Speeches — Mid-West Regional GOP Committee Meeting Des Moines, Iowa, November 13, 1969

[14]  Ward Just, “He’s a Typical Veep—Except That He Talks,” Washington Post (November 2, 1969), accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers, April 9, 2018.

[15]  Colman McCarthy, “The Speechwriter Learns New Tricks,” Washington Post (November 5, 1969), also reprinted in Los Angeles Times (November 9, 1969), both accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers, March 27, 2018; Judith Martin, “Agnew’s Idealist,” Washington Post (Nov. 16, 1969), accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers; “Nixon Aides Differ on Agnew’s Speech Origins,” Boston Globe (Nov. 17, 1969), accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers, April 10, 2018; James Doyle, “Housewife puts words in Agnew’s Mouth,” Boston Globe (November 27, 1969), accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers, March 28, 2018.  Frederick N. Rasmussen, “Herbert L. “Herb” Thompson, Agnew press secretary, dies,” Baltimore Sun (June 10, 2011), accessed on April 10, 2018, at http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2011-06-10/iphone/bs-md-ob-iphone-herbert-thompson-20110610_1_press-secretary-maryland-governor-herbert-g-klein.

[16]  Judith Martin, “Political Booking,” Washington Post (March 7, 1970), accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers, March 28, 2018; Herbert G. Klein, Making it Perfectly Clear (Doubleday: New York, 1980), 175. For Rosenwald’s resignation, see Letter from Cynnie (Cynthia Rosenwald) to The Honorable Spiro T. Agnew, February 24, 1970, (signed on Office of the Vice President letterhead), in Spiro T. Agnew papers (Acc. 74-10), Series 3, Subseries 5: Subject Files-White House Central Files System, Box 18, Folder 5.

[17]  Spiro T. Agnew, Frankly Speaking (Public Affairs Press: Washington, DC, 1970), “Publisher’s Note.

[18]  “Gardening with the Editor,” Garden City Telegram (May 6, 1970), accessed through NewspaperArchive (public), https://newspaperarchive.com/garden-city-telegram-may-06-1970-p-1/, March 28, 2018. For Pat Buchanan and William Safire’s roles as speechwriters, see “Spiro Agnew,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiro_Agnew, accessed on March 28, 2018. For J. C. Helms, see “Harvard Ph.D. Will Become Agnew’s New Speech Writer,” New York Times (June 11, 1970), accessed on April 11, 2018, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.  By 1973, the press had largely stopped following Rosenwald, though she apparently had continued her freelance speechwriting. Columnist Maxine Cheshire reminded readers of the Washington Post weeks before Agnew resigned that “Cynthia Rosenwald, the Baltimore housewife who used to write Vice President Spiro T. Agnew’s speeches, now works for Jerome Wolff at Greiner Environmental Systems.” As a representative of Grenier, Rosenwald attended the “Public Meeting for the Social Security Administration Expansion: Baltimore City and Baltimore County, Maryland” on June 18, 1973. See Appendix, Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Social Security Administrration Administrative Headquarters Expansion (GSA and Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare, December 1973), III-49), accessed through GoogleBooks, April 9, 2018, and Maxine Cheshire, “Noncommittal?” Washington Post (Sept. 27, 1973), accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers, April 9, 2018.

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