Eleanor Schwartz, Mother of the Mission: Transforming the BLM through landmark legislation

The below story is part of a Women's History Month series, which tells the stories of some of the women who have helped shape the Bureau of Land Management's mission, vision and values for more than a century. This story profiles Eleanor Schwartz, an attorney who successfully ensured that the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 would pass and be enacted, thus fundamentally changing the BLM.  

“In light of its multiple responsibilities and the complexities of its programs, the bureau has long needed a Congressional statement of policy and a modern legislative mandate.”  — Eleanor Schwartz  

Eleanor Schwartz receives a Federal Women's Award from Boyd Rasmussen, Director of the BLM from 1966 to 1971.
Eleanor Schwartz receives a Federal Women's Award from Boyd Rasmussen, ​​​Director of the BLM from 1966 to 1971.

Thirty years after its formation, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was officially granted a mission when the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) was finally passed. Before this law was enacted, there was no comprehensive legal framework governing the management of public lands.  

As Chief of the Office of Legislation, Eleanor Schwartz was the driving force behind the drafting and passage of FLPMA, which fundamentally changed how the Bureau manages public lands, and it continues to guide public lands policies and practices today. This landmark legislation changed the way public lands were valued and managed by shifting the focus from resource extraction to the principles of multiple use and sustained yield. FLPMA granted the BLM new authorities and responsibilities, amended or repealed previous legislation, and prescribed specific management techniques, including land use planning and public participation. 

The road to FLPMA was long and arduous. The legislative process dragged on for years, and Schwartz spent numerous hours on Capitol Hill working with legislators to draft and redraft the bill. Without her determined efforts, the act would not have been passed.  

Schwartz was also a groundbreaking professional with a passion for women's rights and equal opportunity. Throughout her tenure, she remained active in the field of equal employment opportunity, serving as the Federal Women's Coordinator for the BLM. Schwartz became the first woman in BLM history to reach the highest possible pay grade (GS-15) for federal employees.  

Schwartz earned her Juris Doctor degree from the New York University School of Law and was admitted to the bar in New York in 1937, a time when women were not very welcome in the legal profession. One of Schwartz's favorite stories involved her attempts to find employment as a lawyer in New York City after she graduated from law school in the 1930s, recalled Barry Crowell, an attorney with the Office of the Solicitor and Schwartz’s co-worker for many years. 

"Eleanor related how she went into the office of a partner in a law firm for an employment interview," Crowell said. "After a cursory discussion regarding her credentials and background, the man looked at her, lit his cigar, leaned back, and put his feet up on the desk. He told her she could never be hired at his firm because she wore dresses and would never be able to put her feet on the desk like the other male lawyers who worked there." 

Under her leadership, the BLM’s Office of Legislation was viewed as one of the most responsive, timely, and technically competent offices in the department. She was honored twice with the Department of Interior's highest commendation, the Distinguished Service Award, which recognized, among other accomplishments, her work on FLPMA. 

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