Preserving the Right to Run

October 05, 2016
An old photo of women marching down the street with American flags

Women on the picket line, 1917. Image via Library of Congress

 

AAUW has a long history of supporting female candidates for both elective and appointive office. In November 1920, only three months after women won the right to vote, the Journal of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (a publication of AAUW’s predecessor organization) encouraged women to pursue politics as a profession. In her article, Marguerite Arnold referenced the 19th Amendment, commonly nicknamed for one of its staunchest champions: “With the passage of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, 26 million women became voters and citizens. Yet few women, engrossed in the question of to vote or not to vote, realize the enormous professional field open to them thus automatically — the field of practical politics.”

Arnold described the variety of positions in politics at all levels — local, state, and national — and noted that although a woman had yet to run for president at the time of her writing, a woman had already been elected to Congress. She also alerted readers that there were 531 congressional positions open for which women could become “increasingly and rightly eligible.” Offering advice on finding training grounds for political office, she wrote about the political science courses then being taught at universities and urged women to seek out internships and field studies in order to gain practical experience they would not get from a classroom. “A movement,” she wrote, “has begun to coordinate the theoretical work of universities with the actual work in government.”

Alison Turnbull Hopkins picketing at the White House in 1917

Alison Turnbull Hopkins picketing at the White House in 1917. Image via Library of Congress

Throughout the following decades, AAUW continued to support women’s entry into politics. In the 1930s, under the direction of the Committee on the Economic and Legal Status of Women, AAUW implemented a roster program wherein members created and distributed rosters of women who were qualified for public office to Republicans, Democrats, and administrative officials looking to appoint women to local and national positions. In 1947, AAUW passed a resolution that officially added “seeking out and supporting women for office” to our bylaws.

After the resolution was passed, AAUW leadership urged members to spring into action. One letter from the AAUW general director in 1947 referenced the roster program: “In many states, new governors will be going into office in 1947. The new governors will be making new appointments. See or write to these men at an early date laying before them the Association’s wish to have able women appointed and giving them your rosters and recommendations on women qualified for state office.”

Similarly, AAUW’s national leaders wrote to presidential candidates and incumbents reminding them of qualified women who would make excellent choices for the cabinet and other appointive positions. These letters are in AAUW’s archives. In a 1952 letter to General Dwight Eisenhower, Rosamond Ramsay Boyd, chair of the AAUW Status of Women Committee, urged Eisenhower to make “full use of qualified women” during his first campaign for the presidency. Following Eisenhower’s election, she continued to correspond with him and recommended several women for him to appoint.

AAUW member Bertha Adkins was appointed as President Dwight Eisenhower's undersecretary of health education and welfare.

AAUW member Bertha Adkins was appointed as President Dwight Eisenhower’s undersecretary of health education and welfare.

Apparently, Eisenhower listened to AAUW’s advice. Not only did he hold well-publicized breakfasts with women leaders from the Republican party and civic organizations throughout his two terms, but he also appointed the country’s first female White House press secretary, Anne Williams Wheaton. Throughout his presidency he appointed 175 women to high-level positions in areas of diplomatic service as well as policy making committees and commissions. Unsurprisingly, many AAUW members were among the appointees, including Bertha Sheppard Adkins, who was appointed as undersecretary of health education and welfare, and AAUW President Anna Rose Hawkes, who was appointed to the U.S. Advisory Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Thankfully, AAUW leaders did not rest there. They remained at work even after a women successfully won government offices. An AAUW general director’s letter in 1950 urged members to “keep alert — don’t let a woman officer’s term expire without having laid plans for her return to office or for the appointment or election of another woman to that position. Eternal vigilance is needed!”

The work of ensuring that women have a seat at the table was never done in their eyes, just as it should never be in ours today.

 


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