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Government and Politics

Women in Politics: One of Anything is Never Enough

By Adrienne Frank

Left, centrist, right. Wherever you are on the political continuum, you’re not likely to forget election 2008.

“The implications for the future of women’s political leadership are immense,” notes Lucy Gettman, a graduate certificate student in AU’s Women and Politics Institute. “Millions of girls and young women will think about their options differently because they saw viable woman candidates for president and vice president.”

This year, New York Democratic senator Hillary Clinton won more than 18 million votes in her presidential bid, while Alaska governor Sarah Palin picked up the Republican nomination for vice president. They also threw phrases like “hockey mom” and “first husband” into the national dialogue, sparking important conversations about gender and politics—and whether one woman can be good for all women.

“We’re a very visually oriented society. It’s all about the television image,” offers Barbara Palmer, interim Women and Politics Institute director. “The visual of a woman running, whether it’s for vice president or president, affects us in ways that we’re not even aware of.”

Case in point, Norah O’Donnell, MSNBC chief Washington correspondent, told an AU crowd in September that “there is a real interest in the country to see different people in politics, which [showed] itself in this support for Sarah Palin. Across the board, whether it’s business, journalism, or politics, women are still not at the top echelons of power. There is still an inequality, but it’s changing slowly.”

Gettman notes that “one of anything is never enough. One woman can’t carry the entire burden or mantle for an entire group. Our challenge is to think not only about the White House, but achieving parity in the Congress and all other law-making bodies.”

Karen O’Connor founded AU’s Women and Politics Institute with precisely that goal. Since 2001, the institute has helped train hundreds of future woman leaders who will literally change the face of politics. With Capitol Hill as their classroom, students learn from and work with successful female journalists, military and business leaders, scholars, and politicians on both sides of the aisle.

And while election 2008 was energizing, Palmer says it doesn’t change the institute’s mission. “The integration of women into our political system has not been a nice, neat, steady march of progress. There are fits and starts along the way; it’s never going to be like, ‘Ta da! We did it, we’ve arrived.’

“There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

WPI faculty and staff

  • Karen O’Connor
    founder, WPI; Jonathan N. Helfat Distinguished Professor of Political Science
  • Barbara Palmer
    interim director, WPI; coauthor, Breaking the Political Glass Ceiling: Women and Congressional Elections
  • Julia Piscitelli
    interim assistant director, WPI; political and communications strategist and media trainer
  • Eleanor Clift                                                                                                contributing editor, Newsweek; commentator on the McLaughlin Group; WPI journalist in residence
  • Susan Wood
    former assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration, taught course on political theories behind reproductive rights
  • Maureen McTeer                                                                                                former first lady of Canada; WPI distinguished scholar in residence

WPI guests and lecturers

  • Helen Thomas                                                                                                    Hearst Newspaper columnist and author; spoke at WPI’s seminar on women, politics, and the media
  • Donna Brazile                                                                                                  Democratic political strategist and author; WPI lecturer
  • Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy (Ret.)                                                    U.S. Army’s first female three-star general; WPI lecturer
  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
    Met with students in Karen O’Connor’s honors course, Documenting the ERA
  • Governor Jennifer Granholm                                                                        Governor of Michigan; spoke at WPI event Women and the Courage to Lead in the Company of Men
  •  Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas)
    WPI hosted book signing and discussion of her book, American Heroines: The Spirited Women Who Shaped Our Country
  •  Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)                                                                 Speaker of the House; spoke at WPI’s premiere of the PBS documentary If Women Ruled the World
  •  Gillian Martin Sorensen                                                                                     senior advisor at the United Nations Foundation; lectured about the Millennium Development Goals at event hosted by WPI
  • Rosie Mauk                                                                                                      director of AmeriCorps, lectured about women’s leadership and community service at event hosted by WPI
  • Nan Aron                                                                                                         founder and president, Alliance for Justice; civil rights activist; WPI lecturer

AU alumnae

  • Alice Paul author of the Equal Rights Amendment; earned three degrees from AU: bachelor of laws from WCL in 1922, master of laws in 1927, and a PhD in law in 1928
  • Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) Kogod/MBA ’84  
  • Pamela Lorio SPA/BA ’81; mayor of Tampa, Florida
  • Sarah Simmons SPA/BA ’95, SPA/MA ’97; campaign strategist for Senator John McCain, named one of Campaign & Election’s Rising Stars of 2007
  • Betsy Fischer SPA/BA ’92, SOC/MA ’96, executive producer, Meet the Press
  • Betsy Markey SPA/MPA ’83, congresswoman elect (D), Fourth District, Colorado
  • Jessica Grounds President, Women Under Forty Political Action Committee; vice president, Stones’ Phones, campaign consulting firm; graduate, WPI certificate program
  •  Sarah Brewer SPA/MA ’01, SPA/PhD ’03; senior evaluation officer in Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Department of State
  • Frances Fragos Townsend SPA/BA ’82, former assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism

WPI Honorary Advisory Board


U.S. Senate

  • Senator Barbara Boxer
  • Senator Susan Collins
  • Senator Elizabeth Dole
  • Senator Dianne Feinstein
  • Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
  • Senator Mary Landrieu
  • Senator Blanche Lincoln
  • Senator Claire McCaskill
  • Senator Barbara A. Mikulski
  • Senator Lisa Murkowski
  • Senator Patty Murray
  • Senator Olympia Snowe
  • Senator Debbie Stabenow

U.S. House of Representatives

  • Rep. Michele Bachmann
  • Rep. Tammy Baldwin
  • Rep. Melissa Bean
  • Rep. Shelley Berkley
  • Rep. Judy Biggert
  • Rep. Marsha Blackburn
  • Rep. Madeleine Bordallo
  • Rep. Corrine Brown
  • Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite
  • Rep. Shelley Moore Capito
  • Rep. Lois Capps
  • Rep. Kathy Castor
  • Del. Donna Christian-Christensen
  • Rep. Barbara Cubin
  • Rep. Susan Davis
  • Rep. Diana DeGette
  • Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro
  • Rep. Thelma Drake
  • Rep. Jo Ann Emerson
  • Rep. Anna G. Eshoo
  • Rep. Virginia Foxx
  • Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
  • Rep. Carol Shea-Porter
  • Rep. Kay Granger
  • Rep. Jane Harman
  • Rep. Darlene Hooley
  • Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson
  • Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones
  • Rep. Marcy Kaptur
  • Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick
  • Rep. Barbara Lee
  • Rep. Zoe Lofgren
  • Rep. Nita M. Lowey
  • Rep. Mary Bono Mack
  • Rep. Sheila Lee
  • Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney
  • Rep. Doris Matsui
  • Rep. Carolyn McCarthy
  • Rep. Betty McCollum
  • Rep. Candice Miller
  • Rep. Sue Myrick
  • Rep. Grace F. Napolitano
  • Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton
  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi
  • Rep. Deborah Pryce
  • Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
  • Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard
  • Rep. Linda Sanchez
  • Rep. Loretta Sanchez
  • Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin
  • Rep. Jan Schakowsky
  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz
  • Rep. Allyson Schwartz
  • Rep. Louise M. Slaughter
  • Rep. Hilda Solis
  • Rep. Betty Sutton
  • Rep. Ellen Tauscher
  • Rep. Nydia Velazquez
  • Rep. Maxine Waters
  • Rep. Diane Watson
  • Rep. Lynn Woolsey