Following in the footsteps of tenacious women leaders is something we should all aspire to, and the recent election has served as a rallying cry to women on both ends of the political spectrum to get involved. It has also encouraged people to recruit women to become candidates, especially women who are passionate about a specific issue. In fact, organizations that recruit and train women to run for office have reported unprecedented interest in their programs at every level nationwide.
Women who are passionate about a specific cause prove to be highly effective leaders and legislators, and it’s safe to say, we need more of them. Take the case of Rep. Edith Green, labeled the “Mother of Higher Education,” who authored the Higher Education Facilities Act (1963) and the Higher Education Act (1965). Her work improved college and university libraries, classrooms, and laboratories and authorized federal financial assistance for undergraduate students. She also fought for women’s equality and spent eight years persuading Congress to pass the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which mandated that women and men receive equal pay for equal work. Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin from Montana voted against the U.S. entry into World War I. Other women legislators have sought peaceful solutions to crises. Since her election in 1999, for example, Rep. Barbara Lee has taken on Rankin’s role as a staunch opponent to war.
Rankin also has the distinction of being the first female member of Congress. In the century since she began her service, hundreds of women have followed in her footsteps. After gaining the right to vote in 1920, progress was initially limited to an occasional woman ambassador or woman running for legislative office. However, we started to see an uptick when Margaret Chase Smith ran for the Republican ticket in 1964 against Barry Goldwater, and became the first woman ever to receive more than one vote at a major party convention. By the 1990s, women were elected in numbers to the U.S. Senate, and the millennium brought the first woman Speaker of the House, the first woman to win a presidential primary, and the first woman to win a major party nomination.
Rankin, and the women who have followed her generally enter public life because they are passionate about the issues, and want to work for change. Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics and a political science professor at Rutgers, has reached a conclusion that is backed by conversations with women in Congress: Women, far more than men, prize results over status. Referring to an often-cited 2001 survey of American members of Congress, the number one reason to run for office, according to female legislators, is the ability to effect change in society. The number one reason for men? They always wanted to be a politician.
“Women just want to get things done,” Dittmar said in The Atlantic. “They’re not in it for the show.”
We need to look to the women who have run, perhaps already won, already hold office, and are getting things done in their communities, states, and nation on every level and realize that any of us can make the leap of faith and give it a try. Whether it’s the school board, city government, state or national office, we need to run ourselves or lend our support to help another woman run. That is how we make our voices heard. We need to celebrate the women who have paved the way, and support those ready to follow their lead. It’s when women help women that we all win, and it is time to help one another and change the world for the better!