Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Elisabeth Randolph Shirley Enochs (15 August 1890–23 January 1992), reformer, was born in Indian Territory, which later became part of Oklahoma. Her father, John Carter Shirley, died in an accident about the time of her birth. By 1896 she and her mother, George Surratt–de Sayve Shirley, a native of France, had moved to Florida, where in February of that year the latter married Thomas Edward Barron Kernan, a Saint Augustine pharmacist who had been married previously. Following his death in 1902, Kernan took her daughter abroad, where Shirley studied in England, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia.

They returned to the United States in 1914. Her mother purchased Mount Air, a 117-acre estate in Fairfax County. After working as a linguist in the War Department during World War I, Shirley in 1921 became a foreign news writer for the National Catholic Welfare Council News Service (later the National Catholic Welfare Conference News Service). Later in the decade she also worked as a special correspondent for the New York Times and the Saint Paul Pioneer Press-Dispatch.

Children's Bureau
In 1927 Shirley began a long career with the Children's Bureau of the United States Department of Labor as an economic analyst. On 30 October 1930 at the American embassy in Rio de Janeiro, she married John Matt Enochs, a United States naval officer later assigned to command the battleship Pennsylvania. He died in San Diego, California, on 7 April 1932. They had no children. By early in the 1930s Enochs had become a special writer for the Children's Bureau; she served as director of publicity in 1934 and as an associate editor beginning in 1935. During the decade, articles she wrote appeared in the Washington Post on topics relating to diplomacy in Central and South America and conditions in Europe. Enochs remained focused on child-welfare issues, however, and in 1935 she served as the secretary to the United States delegation at the Seventh Pan American Child Congress, in Mexico.

In the spring of 1936 Enochs began attending the George Washington University. After receiving a certificate from the Junior College in 1937, she undertook law studies during the 1937–1938 and 1938–1939 academic years. A guest at the White House several times during the decade, in 1938 she became a director of the Women's National Press Club and that December attended the Eighth International Conference of American States in Peru as the only female commentator covering the event. In 1939 Enochs attended the annual conference of the Women's Trade Union League of the District of Columbia. The following year she spoke at the Women's National Democratic Club about the adoption of progressive labor and child-welfare legislation in the republics of Central and South America.

In 1943 Enochs became chief of the Division of International Cooperation for the Children's Bureau. The division's staff of medical, nursing, nutrition, and social service consultants provided maternal and child-welfare agencies in Central and South America with training programs and the opportunity to observe United States programs in those areas. The division also helped other countries establish and develop their own programs and agencies for children's welfare. In conjunction with her position, which she held until 1951, Enochs often traveled in Central and South America to observe and advise on the social welfare of mothers and children. In October 1945 she headed the United States delegation at the first Pan-American Congress of Social Service, in Chile. The delegates called for higher standards for training social workers, the creation of a social welfare organization under the auspices of the United Nations, and the development of social services to help make Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" a reality around the world. In 1951 Enochs was named the chief of international technical missions in the Social Security Administration under the Federal Security Agency (after 1953, part of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare).

Inter-American Children's Institute
For more than thirty years Enochs worked with the American International Institute for the Protection of Childhood, organized in Uruguay in 1927 to improve the quality of children's lives in the Americas. She attended its organizational meeting as an observer for the Children's Bureau and later attended some of the meetings of its directing council. Enochs served as the United States alternate representative to the council in 1947 and in 1952 and was appointed technical delegate, or representative, in 1953. Elected president of the council in 1955 (the first American citizen to serve in that office), she publicized some of the organization's goals: to encourage universal registration of births, to plan ways to reduce infant mortality and combat malaria, and to conduct studies on topics including juvenile delinquency, the effect of television on children, and school safety. Her term lasted until 1957, the same year the organization became known as the Inter-American Children's Institute. Reappointed the United States representative to the council in 1961, she continued to serve until 1970.

During these years Enochs received many honors and awards, including an honorary law degree from Western College for Women (1953); the Distinguished Service Award from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare for her work to improve conditions around the world (1957); the Order of Francisco de Miranda from the government of Venezuela (1958); and an award for outstanding service to social welfare from the National Conference of Social Welfare (1959). In 1978 she received the first Outstanding Achievement Award from the Society of Woman Geographers for her work in raising the health standards of children worldwide. Throughout her career she published numerous articles dealing with child welfare in Latin America.

Later Career
In 1962 Enochs transferred to the Agency for International Development and in August 1965 retired as one of its special advisers on welfare programs. She continued to work as a consultant for AID (later USAID) and in that capacity traveled to Vietnam in September 1965. In 1967 she retired to Mount Air, which she had inherited after her mother died in 1962.

Elisabeth Randolph Shirley Enochs, who had developed Parkinson's disease, died at the army hospital at Fort Belvoir, in Fairfax County, on 23 January 1992. She was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where her husband had been interred. Her legacy of advocating child welfare continued at George Mason University through an endowed chair; the Center for Child Welfare, which the Elisabeth Shirley Enochs endowment funded for a time in the Social Work Program; and the Elisabeth Shirley Enochs Technical Assistance Program, established to maintain an exchange of child-welfare experts between Latin America and the United States.

Sources Consulted:
Biographies in Who's Who in the Nation's Capital (1938/1939), 272, Who's Who of American Women (1961/1962), 2:303 (with variant birth date of 15 Aug. 1895), and Edith Moore Sprouse, Mount Air: Fairfax County, Virginia (1970), 46–58, with information provided by Enochs; self-reported birth date of 15 Aug. 1890 and birthplace of Indian Territory in passport application, 24 July 1913, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, and variant birth date of Aug. 1892 in United States Census Schedules, St. Augustine, Fla., 1900, Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29, both in National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; Enochs correspondence in Bess Furman Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; publications include Enochs, "The First Pan American Congress of Social Service," Bulletin of the Pan American Union 79 (Dec. 1945): 681–685, "Promotion of Child Welfare in the American Republics," Department of State Bulletin, 17 Mar. 1946, and "A Mass Attack on a Basic Problem: A Child Nutrition Project in Latin America," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 329 (May 1960): 115–122; New York Times, 31 Oct. 1930, 12 Apr. 1957 (portrait); Washington Post, 31 Oct. 1930, 30 Aug. 1961; Bess Furman, Washington By-Line: The Personal History of a Newspaperwoman (1949); death notice and obituary in Washington Post, 27, 28 Jan. 1992.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Alyssa Toby Fahringer.

How to cite this page:
Alyssa Toby Fahringer,"Elisabeth Randolph Shirley Enochs (1890–1992)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2015 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Enochs_Elisabeth_Randolph_Shirley, accessed [today's date]).

Return to the Dictionary of Virginia Biography Search page.

facebook twitter youtube instagram view more