Frances G. Knight

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Frances Gladys Parrish (Knight)

Birthplace: Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, United States
Death: September 11, 1999 (94)
Bethesda, Montgomery County, Maryland, United States
Immediate Family:

Wife of Wayne William Parrish

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About Frances G. Knight

Frances Knight, 1905-1999, was a Newport native who was Director of Passport Service. An independent who ran her own show through many presidential administrations, Frances transformed an inefficient federal agency into a model of efficiency.


Frances Knight ran the United States Passport Office for 22 years with efficiency and conservative zeal, denying passports and entrance visas to those she regarded as enemies of the nation and surviving efforts to remove her and even mandatory retirement at 70. She died on Sept. 11, 1999 in a hospital in Bethesda, Md. She was 94.

Frances Knight Parrish, who used her maiden name of Knight while working at the State Department rather than her married name, lived at the Carriage Hill Bethesda nursing home in Bethesda, Md., for the last three years.

The conviction that guided Ms. Knight as she supervised the Passport Office was that the Government had a legal right and moral responsibility to protect American citizens from ideas and philosophies she found abhorrent, especially Communism. To people who represented such forces, she denied passports and visas, and sometimes, when she was not permitted to do so by her superiors in the State Department, she went over their heads and complained to Congress.

Ms. Knight inherited her sense of mission, she said, from her predecessor, Ruth Shipley, a staunch conservative who ran the office with unchallenged authority and who hand-picked Ms. Knight as her successor in 1955. She served until 1977, when she was 72.

Ms. Knight's convictions and fearlessness attracted powerful friends and allies like J. Edgar Hoover, the F.B.I. Director, and powerful members of Congress like Representative Francis E. Walter of Pennsylvania, who headed the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Subcommittee on Immigration and Naturalization.

She drew fire from liberals who accused her of practicing thought control and perpetuating many of the strict travel regulations imposed in the most bitter days of the cold war.

But Ms. Knight won praise from both conservatives and liberals for running a highly efficient agency at a time when Americans were traveling overseas in previously unimaginable numbers.

In a 1960 interview, she said, I was determined to prove that a Government agency could be made efficient; that business management and standards could be instituted and sustained; that Government employees could provide the public with interested, friendly and personalized public service.

Ms. Knight was also outspoken on equal rights for women. She often complained about the lack of women in high-ranking management positions in the State Department.

She raised a furor in Congress in 1963 when it came to light that she had told a closed meeting of the Senate Internal Security subcommittee that she had been ordered by Secretary of State Dean Rusk to approve passport applications by dangerous undercover Communists engaged in espionage, sabotage and sedition.

She testified that Mr. Rusk's order and departmental regulations in effect forbids us to protect ourselves, and she questioned whether there exists the will to defend the country from the inroads of Communism.

In 1966, Abba P. Schwartz, the liberal-minded head of the Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs, a Kennedy appointee, tried unsuccessfully to force her to resign because of their political differences.

Ms. Knight called a news conference in which she declared: Some creeps are out to get me.

She also sought the help of J. Edgar Hoover and powerful members of Congress, and in the end it was Mr. Schwartz who was forced to resign.

After that, her critics in Congress referred to her as the ogress and the columnist Mary McGrory likened Ms. Knight to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.

But her friends in Congress twice permitted her to remain on the job at the Passport Office after she had reached mandatory retirement age.

Ms. Knight was born in Newport, R.I., and grew up in New York City. She attended Hunter College and New York University. She moved to Washington when her husband, Wayne Parrish, a magazine publisher, was offered the editorship of a Washington-based aviation magazine.

Mr. Parrish soon became a multimillionaire and the couple lived on Embassy Row in Washington.

He later started his own publication, with his wife dealing with the bookkeeping and circulation.

Mr. Parrish died in 1984. There are no immediate survivors.

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Frances G. Knight's Timeline

July 22, 1905
Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, United States
September 11, 1999
Age 94
Bethesda, Montgomery County, Maryland, United States