Consumer activist Virginia Knauer dies at 96

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. ••