Printed on grayed, aging paper, a black-and-white photo of Marjory Hankins holding an FBI shooting club trophy with former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sat Thursday on her dining room table.
Warmed by the afternoon sun, Hankins’ dining room was filled with the pleasant aroma of blooming flowers as the 90-year-old Albany County District Court bailiff described living in up-state New York, then working for the FBI.
“I moved to Plattsburgh, New York, to be a telephone operator, and apparently the supervisor there just didn’t care for me,” she said. “I just got mad, and I went down to the FBI office and said, ‘I want to work for the FBI.’”
After taking an exam and submitting to an investigation, Hankins was hired in 1950 as a FBI clerk and moved to Washington, D.C., at the age of 20.
“I was on a plane the next day for Albany, New York, I took a test, and four months later, after they investigated me, I was part of the FBI,” Hankins said. “I typed personal letters for Hoover. They were form letters, but that is about all I can say I did.”
During her time at the bureau, the FBI assisted in the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenburg, David Greenglass and Morton Sobell, all of whom were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage in 1951.
Soon after she went to Washington, D.C., Hankins said she joined a shooting club within the FBI.
“I bought my first pistol in Quantico, (Virginia), and started shooting every Tuesday down in the lower levels,” Hankins said. “We had (a) contest — I beat out some of the guys, and I didn’t know we were going to get a trophy, but I did know we were going to meet with Hoover.”
When the time came to take a picture with her shooting trophy and Hoover, Hankins blinked, she recalled chuckling. She said Hoover turned to her and told her, “It will be OK.”
Hankins also ran into the director on several other occasions. Sometimes, she and other women from her office would use Hoover’s personal elevator to avoid problems with the bureau’s main elevators.
The only FBI job African Americans could apply for at that time was as an elevator operator, and Hoover didn’t hire African Americans, she said. Because there weren’t elevator operators, lunchtime elevator usage could be a struggle.
“If you wanted to go to lunch — which was a half-hour lunch — you didn’t take the front elevators because you would never get down there in time,” Hankins said. “We would run around to the back of the FBI and get the elevator Hoover used. We would ride the elevator with him. He didn’t speak to us. He was just in the elevator with a couple of giggling girls.”
The aging photo of her and Hoover crinkled as she set it back on the table.
While working at the bureau, a friend introduced Hankins to a man stationed at Joint Base Andrews, an Air Force Base in Maryland.
“He came to the apartment door with a ukulele singing to me, so that was the beginning,” Hankins remembered.
After five years at the FBI, Hankins submitted her letter of resignation and said goodbye to her coworkers, she said.
She married the man with the ukulele, and the two moved to Colorado, where he perused a medical education. A few years later, they moved to Wyoming.
“I loved working (at) the FBI and I tried to get (my husband) to stay and go to school (near Washington, D.C.), but he wanted to go back to Colorado,” Hankins said. “When he graduated, we toured Wyoming to see where he wanted to settle and there was a space in Gillette.”
In April 1962, the couple and their 2-year-old son moved to Laramie. In time, Hankins rejoined the criminal justice system again as a bailiff.
“I wished — and this was an afterthought — I had gone to college and taken up criminal justice,” Hankins said. “Working in District Court is really fascinating. The cases and the way the lawyers did their job has taught me a lot.”
Albany County Clerk of District Court Janice Sexton said she and Hankins have worked together for several years.
“She is a joy to be around, and is always in such a good mood and the jurors just always love her,” Sexton said. “Of course, in a town this size, a lot of the bailiffs know a lot of the jury, but she is very good at not talking about the cases.”