Skip to main content

Sandage, Shirley M., 1927-2012



  • Existence: 1927-2012

Shirley Sandage, born in Mason City, Iowa, in 1927, was a homemaker and mother of three when she began her career as a social activist and "professional agitator." Her church's involvement with migrant farm workers in the late 1960's inspired Sandage to start and direct the Migrant Action Program in Mason City. This program provided daycare, education, vocational training, food, and medical services to migrant families. Sandage's experiences with migrant laborers led her to collaborate with photographer Jo Moore Stewart to create Child of Hope, a book about the plight of migrant workers. During this time Sandage helped author a migrant child labor bill, which was passed into Iowa law in 1967. In 1969 Sandage began dividing her time between Mason City and Washington, D.C., where she conducted the first national study of the social, economic and demographic conditions of migrant farm workers. Sandage then went to work for the United States Department of Labor. There she redesigned a welfare program for rural families and led a task force to implement court orders that resulted from a civil suit against the Secretary of Labor. She authored the guidelines which reorganized the United States Employment Service and integrated the US Rural Manpower Service.

In 1975 Sandage returned to Iowa full-time, where she and her associate Margaret Garrity conducted a groundbreaking study on industrial hazardous waste in the state. The study led to the passage of legislation to regulate hazardous waste disposal in Iowa. In 1977 Sandage helped to establish and became the director of The Door Opener, a resource center for women. The Door Opener staff provided services such as vocational rehabilitation, counseling, job placement, and crisis intervention for displaced homemakers and women of all ages in the Mason City area. In 1980 the founders of the national Displaced Homemakers Network, Tish Sommers and Laurie Shields, asked Sandage to organize the first White House Mini-Conference on Older Women, which was held in Des Moines. Sommers and Shields, along with Sandage and other conference participants, then formed the Older Women's League (OWL), which became a national organization dedicated to the awareness and resolution of older women's issues. In 1983 Sandage left Iowa to become the executive director of the Older Women's League and to establish its national office in Washington, D.C.

In1986 Sandage became the United States field representative of the Christian Children's Fund (CCF), an international sponsorship program for needy children. She ran the United States program, which provided aid mainly to Native American children. She also completed a study of child poverty in the United States, determining the counties in which children were at extreme risk.

From1988 until her retirement in 1996, Sandage served as the director of program development for the National Organization on Disability (NOD) in Washington, D.C. She directed the office of former White House Press Secretary James Brady, who served as NOD's vice-chairman. This position involved directing Brady's Calling on America campaign, which promoted the full inclusion of people with disabilities into community life. It also included writing Brady's speeches, as well as numerous brochures, newsletters, and manuals. After her retirement from NOD, Sandage continued to collaborate with Brady, establishing the James S. Brady Center for Fellows in Public Policy.

Sandage's volunteer activities since her retirement have included serving as the chair of the Frederick County (Maryland) Human Relations Commission. In this position she monitored the Frederick Police Department's affirmative action procedures, and planned and implemented events and programs to promote the celebration of diversity in Frederick County.

In 1998 Sandage served as a member of the Frederick Community College curriculum committee to establish the Institute for Learning in Retirement. She designed and teaches a "Tales for Grandchildren" course at the college.

Shirley Sandage, born in Mason City in 1927,began her lifelong career as an activist and "professional agitator" when she was a housewife and mother of three sons. She served as president of the local League of Women Voters and of Church Women United. Her church's work with local migrant farm workers led her to establish and head the Migrant Action Program in Mason City, which provided services such as schooling, daycare, adult education, vocational training, and medical care to migrant families. During this time she drafted legislation which limited migrant child labor. It was passed into Iowa law in1967. Her work for local migrant services led her to Washington, D. C., where she conducted the first national demographic, social, and economic study of migrant workers in the United States. In the early seventies she worked for the U S. Department of Labor, redesigning welfare programs for rural families and supervising a special task force to implement court orders resulting from a civil suit against the U S Secretary of Labor. In 1975 to 1976, Sandage and business partner Margaret Garrity conducted a groundbreaking study of industrial hazardous waste in Iowa, which led to the passage of state legislation to regulate waste disposal.

In 1976 Sandage established and directed The Door Opener, a drop-in resource center for women. This was the state's first independent women's center and provided vocational rehabilitation and training, counseling, and a range of other services to displaced homemakers and women ofall ages and circumstances. In 1983 she became the Executive Director of The Older Women's League, a national feminist organization which sought to provide awareness of and resolution to the problems of older women in the United States, which included social security reform.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Shirley M. Sandage papers

Identifier: IWA0318
Abstract Mason City, Iowa-born civil rights activist, United States field representative for the Christian Children's Fund and director of program development for the National Organization on Disability.
Dates: 1927-2012