Copyright © 2002 Henrietta W. Hay
Women and Politics
December 6, 2002
Should women be allowed to be members of the Augusta National Golf
Club? Probably, but it is hardly an earth shattering issue. Should a
woman be Minority Leader of the U. S. House of Representatives? You
As feminists, we have to learn to pick our battles. It's a hard lesson
and requires a sense of humor and a lot of discretion. We need to fight
for equality of opportunity where we can make a difference, but both
sexes like and deserve their social privacy now and then. Hootie
Johnson will probably succeed in keeping women out of his good ole boys
club in Augusta, and we will continue to have strictly female social
But when it comes to political power, the battle is worth fighting.
Political power for women has been a very long time coming. In 1917,
three years before the ratification of the Women's Suffrage Amendment,
Jeannette Rankin of Montana, feminist and pacifist, became the first
woman to serve in Congress. Eighty-six years later there are only 13
women in the Senate and 60 in the House. Including Rankin, 185 women
have been elected to the House of Representatives.
Finally, however, a woman has achieved real power. Nancy Pelosi's
election as Minority Leader of the House of Representatives is a major
achievement for women. It puts her in a position of power and
influence. The Democrat from California is the first woman of either
party to serve in the top leadership position. She is the highest
ranking woman in Congressional history. That is progress. Even
Republican women should be proud of her.
Representative Pelosi has a sound political background and she is going
to need it. With both houses of Congress in Republican hands, she has a
very tough job ahead. She learned from her father, Thomas J.
D'Alesandro, Jr., mayor of Baltimore, a congressman and a political
power for 40 years. She is being criticized for being too "liberal,"
but of course I find that very comforting. She is a skilled
conciliator, but when the chips are down she says she is ready for
combat, "We cannot allow Republicans to pretend they share our values,
and then legislate against those values without consequences." It is
going to be an interesting two years.
Closer to home, when the Colorado constitutional convention met in
1875, suffrage was the major issue. The Pueblo Chieftain said of the
Suffragettes at the convention, "They were a very interesting lot of
females -- only one good looking woman among the twenty-five present.
The others were faded and awfully frigid." The men had to decide
whether to allow these pushy, frigid females to vote and, not
surprisingly, they said no. But the fight had just begun. Strong
minded women like Emily Griffith and Molly Brown and Carrie Nation with
her ax and Mattie Silk with her girls, all got into the battle. And on
November 7, 1893, the men of Colorado made our state the first in the
nation to give women the right to vote.
110 years later, when the Legislature meets in 2003, both parties in
both Houses will be led by women. The House of Representatives has
elected its first woman speaker, Lola Spradley. The Minority leader
will be Jennifer Veiga. Across the Capitol in the Senate chamber, Norma
Anderson will be the majority leader and Joan Fitz-Gerald will be the
minority leader. They face harder jobs than the males who have preceded
them, simply by being women.
As Gail Schoettler points out, "These new women leaders deserve neither
less nor more scrutiny than their male counterparts. Nevertheless, as
something of political oddities, they will be watched closely to see if
they succeed, if they're strong and forceful, and, of course, if they're
feminine at the same time. I want them to be recognized as strong
leaders, not just as women leaders." I wish success to them all.