Consumer activist Virginia Knauer dies at 96

The former Tor­res­dale res­id­ent rose from the ranks of Philly polit­ics to serve in three pres­id­en­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions.

A me­mori­al ser­vice is tent­at­ively sched­uled for Decem­ber in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., for Vir­gin­ia H. Knauer, a former Phil­adelphia City Coun­cil mem­ber from Tor­res­dale who went on to serve in three pres­id­en­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Knauer was 96. She died on Oct. 16 at her Wash­ing­ton home.

Vir­gin­ia Wright was a 1933 gradu­ate of Phil­adelphia High School for Girls and went on to earn a de­gree in art his­tory in 1937 from the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania and a de­gree in fine arts from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  She stud­ied por­trait­ure in Italy but re­turned to this coun­try in 1939, at the start of World War II.

In 1940, she mar­ried Wil­helm F. Knauer, a law­yer who later be­came a deputy state at­tor­ney gen­er­al.

In 1948, the Knauers bought and re­stored a home on Mil­nor Street that had been on the grounds of the former Mo­relton Inn, a re­sort and casino. 

They later foun­ded the Knauer Found­a­tion for His­tor­ic Pre­ser­va­tion, which ran a mu­seum of 18th-cen­tury dec­or­at­ive arts, The Man Full of Trouble Tav­ern, in So­ci­ety Hill.

In the 1950s, she be­came act­ive polit­ic­ally, or­gan­iz­ing wo­men’s groups to sup­port Pres­id­ent Dwight D. Eis­en­hower.

A Re­pub­lic­an, she served two terms as an at-large Phil­adelphia coun­cil­wo­man in the 1960s.

In 1968, Gov. Ray­mond P. Shafer ap­poin­ted her dir­ect­or of the Pennsylvania Bur­eau of Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion.

On April 19, 1969, she served the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment when sworn in to the new po­s­i­tion of spe­cial as­sist­ant to the pres­id­ent for con­sumer af­fairs.

Pres­id­ent Richard Nix­on lauded her cap­ab­il­it­ies.

ldquo;Of all the people in the United States who are ex­pert in the field of con­sumer af­fairs, she had the ex­per­i­ence, the back­ground and the ded­ic­a­tion in this sub­ject that we thought qual­i­fied her for the top po­s­i­tion in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment on con­sumer af­fairs,” Nix­on said at the time in a Rose Garden ad­dress.

“As head of the Pennsylvania Bur­eau of Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion, she set a re­cord that won her ac­claim throughout Amer­ica at the state level. Sen. (Hugh) Scott and oth­ers from the state of Pennsylvania will back me up when I make that state­ment.”

Nix­on, who also ap­poin­ted Knauer to a num­ber of do­mest­ic policy com­mit­tees, de­scribed her as a “very at­tract­ive wo­man” and cred­ited her with re­veal­ing her age at an earli­er news con­fer­ence.

“Any wo­man who would very hon­estly give her age cer­tainly will be able to get man­u­fac­tur­ers in this coun­try to tell the truth about their products,” the pres­id­ent said.

Knauer went on serve in the same ca­pa­city un­der Pres­id­ent Ger­ald Ford.

After Demo­crat Jimmy Carter took of­fice in 1977, Knauer formed a con­sumer-con­sult­ing firm.

In 1980, she served as a con­sumer ad­viser to the Re­agan-Bush cam­paign and trans­ition team. She re­turned to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment as spe­cial as­sist­ant to the pres­id­ent for Pub­lic Li­ais­on in both terms of the Re­agan ad­min­is­tra­tion. Her re­spons­ib­il­it­ies were con­sumer, aging, health care and dis­abled is­sues.

Among Knauer’s ac­com­plish­ments was cre­at­ing the Con­sumer In­form­a­tion Cen­ter, which dis­trib­uted more than 20 mil­lion pamph­lets a year out of its base in Pueblo, Colo., and pro­duced some mem­or­able tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials.

In ad­di­tion, she fought to have in­gredi­ent in­form­a­tion for hot dogs and oth­er products made avail­able to the pub­lic.

In all, she re­ceived nine hon­or­ary doc­tor­ates and nu­mer­ous civic and in­dustry awards for her pub­lic ser­vice and work on be­half of the con­sumer move­ment.

In the Nix­on ad­min­is­tra­tion, Knauer’s deputy and good friend was Eliza­beth Han­ford. She in­tro­duced Han­ford to her fu­ture hus­band — Bob Dole. 

Her hob­bies in­cluded rais­ing cham­pi­on Dober­man pinsch­ers, and at one time she was pres­id­ent of the Dober­man Pinsch­er Club of Amer­ica.

Knauer was pre­de­ceased by her hus­band and also her son, Wil­helm Jr., a Com­mon Pleas Court judge. She is sur­vived by a daugh­ter, Valer­ie Bur­den; three grand­daugh­ters, Nancy J. Knauer, Frances F. Bur­den and Vir­gin­ia B. Hart; and a great-grand­son, Charles F. Hart.

A private buri­al was planned for this week at Tor­res­dale’s All Saints Epis­copal Church cemetery, where her hus­band and son are bur­ied. ••

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