Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

John W. Gardner (1965–1968): Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare

John William Gardner was born on October 8, 1912 in Los Angeles, California. He received his doctorate in psychology from the University of California. He also taught psychology at Connecticut College for Women (currently Connecticut College) and Mt. Holyoke College.

During World War II, Gardner served in the Office of Strategic Services. He joined the Carnegie Corporation after the war and became its president in 1955, working on the problem of maintaining standards of excellence in American education during a period of mass education. Gardner also served on a presidential task force organized to study federal aid for primary and secondary schools. The task force report suggested distributing federal funds based on the economic condition of an area; these suggestions became the basis for the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Also in 1964, Gardner was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to a civilian.

After Anthony J. Celebrezze resigned in 1965, President Johnson tapped Gardner as the new secretary of health, education, and welfare (HEW). Gardner, a liberal Republican, quickly faced challenges from liberal factions of Congress and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which accused HEW of dragging its feet on integrating schools and hospitals and in not enforcing parts of the Civil Rights Act prohibiting racial discrimination in federally assisted programs.

In answering those criticisms, Gardner, in March 1966, issued a new set of guidelines for federally funded schools and hospitals, laying out percentage rates for desegregation in the South between 1966 and 1967. The new guidelines also called for the closing of inadequate schools kept open for blacks and other minorities and the elimination of discriminatory hiring of teachers and hospital staff.

Gardner also announced the elimination of all federal aid to Alabama for refusing to comply with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which permanently integrated a state's welfare and mental health programs. Soon thereafter, he transferred power to enforce Title VI from HEW to a newly created Office of Civil Rights. As secretary of HEW, Gardner also planned, in 1966, for a reorganization of the department's public health division.

Later that year, Gardner also announced a major reorganization of HEW, condensing the department from eight subcabinet departments into three: health, education, and individual and family services. He also suggested new federal standards in order to reduce pollutants from car exhaust and supported a Federal Trade Commission initiative to put stronger warnings on cigarettes.

In 1968, after rumors of a clash with Johnson over Vietnam policy, Gardner announced his resignation. He went on that year to become chairman of the National Urban Coalition, an organization which fought poverty. Two years later, in 1970, Gardner created Common Cause, a nonpartisan citizen's lobby, which he went on to lead. John Gardner died on February 2, 2002.