Class of 1931
Irene Gaston Samuel was born in Little Rock on March 21, 1915. She was the daughter of the former Grace Belle Whitley and Martin Luther Gaston. She attended Little Rock Public Schools throughout her childhood and was graduated from Little Rock Senior High School, now Central High School, in 1931.
As a student at Little Rock Senior High School, Irene Gaston Samuel took a commercial class, that qualified her as a stenographer. She took advantage of the training as a stenographer provided by Little Rock High to enter the world of government service. With this base, as well as her own initiative and considerable organizational skills, she has devoted many years to serving her government and community in numerous ways.
After graduation, Mrs. Samuel went to work for the Labor Commission, as a secretary to the Chief Boiler Inspector. In this capacity, she helped submit the first formal request for a Works Progress Administration program in Arkansas, which was administered through the Department of Labor. Mrs. Samuel also worked for a short time for the Revenue Department. She was later hired as a secretary for the Civilian Conservation Corps in Arkansas. She was the first woman hired by this organization in the state.
At the age of 23, Irene Samuel went to Washington, D.C., where she was employed by the U.S. Housing Authority. She also took night classes in public administration at American University. She returned to Little Rock briefly, to marry Dr. John Samuel. She also worked for the Bureau of Agriculture Economics during this time. In 1942, Dr. Samuel was sent overseas for military duty and Mrs. Samuel returned to Washington and the Housing Authority. As part of her duties, she traveled extensively and spoke to high school commercial classes to recruit young women for positions in the federal government. She received a meritorious promotion for her efforts. She was also active in early efforts to integrate the federal government. She recruited black women for her department and encouraged other departments to adhere to the regulations of the Federal Employment Practices Commission as well. Mrs. Samuel returned to Little Rock with her husband in 1947.
Irene Samuel was also active outside her employment activities. She was a charter member of the Little Rock chapter of the Pilot Club, a women's civic organization. She also helped organize a chapter in Washington in 1939. She helped organize a kindergarten for handicapped children. During the 1957 crisis at Central High School, Mrs. Samuel quickly joined the Women's Emergency Committee to Save Our Schools and opened and organized an office to help facilitate the orderly flow of information for the Committee.
In the 1970s, Mrs. Samuel worked to help elect Dale Bumpers governor of Arkansas. She served on his staff through his two terms as governor and his first term in the United States Senate. She retired at the age of 66, but continues her involvement in community activities.