Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Robert Donmoyer, PhD; Theresa M. Monroe, EdD; Kenneth P. Gonzalez, PhD


Leadership studies, Missing In Action--MIA, oral history, power dynamics, Prisoners of War--POWs, public policy, Vietnam War, wives, women


Increasingly, political action committees and special interest groups dominate the national policy-making process. Critics charge that campaign contributions buy access to and influence with policy makers, and that the differential ability to make such contributions results in disproportional representation. The question then becomes: how do ordinary citizens who are unable to use substantial financial contributions to "purchase" access to power mobilize people to influence public policy. To state the question another way: how can people provide leadership when they possess neither positional power nor the means commonly used to influence those with positional power? This historical study examines these questions via oral history data gathered from a group of military wives who had a significant impact in both the national and international policy arenas after their husbands became prisoners of war (POWs) or were declared missing in action (MIA) in North Vietnam between 1965 and 1973. Data from documents and letters retained by the wives also were employed to extend and triangulate interview data. In addition, the study entailed interviewing former governmental officials, including high-ranking officials of the Nixon administration, and analyzing presidential papers held by the National Archives and accessed through the Freedom of Information Act. The major purpose of this second round of data collection and analysis was to explore linkages between the wives' actions, on the one hand, and governmental policy shifts, on the other. The data demonstrate that the wives had a significant impact on reversing the State Department's policy of "Quiet Diplomacy" and on keeping the POW and MIA issue front-and-center during the Nixon Administration's peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese. The study also reveals a number of strategies that the wives used to influence public officials and that others who wish to provide leadership in the absence of formal power might employ heuristically. These strategies can be characterized as seven "lessons learned": (a) do your homework; (b) resist the organizational urge to be big; (c) tell a compelling story; (d) nothing is more important than a personal visit; (e) stay focused and remain non-partisan; (f) form partnerships, but keep partners at arms-length; and, (g) don't get "slick"/avoid public relations professionals.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access