The Honorable Helen Delich Bentley
"I mean, when I was coming through there was nobody I could reach out to because they weren’t there. They weren’t there. I had to bust my way myself."
—The Honorable Helen Delich Bentley, March 21, 2016
U.S. Representative from Maryland (January 3, 1985–January 3, 1995)
Helen Delich Bentley came to Congress in 1985 as a well-known figure in her Baltimore-based district. As a longtime journalist for the Baltimore Sun, a producer of a local television show, and an acknowledged expert on maritime affairs, Bentley had an impressive resume that also included government service as Federal Maritime Commissioner. Much of Bentley’s oral history focuses on her career before she won election to the House. (The former Congresswoman passed away before a second planned interview with the Office of the Historian transpired.) She discusses, for example, her first foray into politics as a volunteer for U.S. Representative Jim Scrugham’s successful run for one of Nevada's U.S. Senate seats in 1942. Bentley briefly worked for Senator Scrugham, but left Washington, D.C., for Maryland when offered a job with the Sun. Initially assigned to cover labor, she quickly switched to reporting on the Baltimore docks and maritime issues. Her work led her to cross paths with local and national political figures and influenced her decision to make the jump to public office.
In 1980, Bentley ran for Congress against the incumbent Representative, Clarence “Doc” Long. Bentley recalls her three campaigns against Long—she defeated him on her third try—and her defining issue of protecting the Baltimore Harbor. Throughout her decade in the House, she emphasized constituent service and focused on many local issues. In her interview, Bentley discusses the role of women in politics and the impact of gender discrimination on her public career. Bentley also talks about her women colleagues from Maryland and reflects on her role as a mentor and inspiration to younger women.
BENTLEY, Helen Delich, a Representative from Maryland; born in Ruth, White Pine County, Nev., November 28, 1923; attended the University of Nevada, and Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; B.A., University of Missouri, 1944; journalist; television producer; chair, Federal Maritime Commission, 1969–1975; international business consultant; unsuccessful candidate for election to the Ninety-seventh in 1980 and Ninety-eighth Congresses in 1982; elected as a Republican to the Ninety-ninth and to the four succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1985–January 3, 1995); was not a candidate for reelection to the One Hundred Fourth Congress in 1994, but was an unsuccessful candidate for nomination for Governor of Maryland; private advocate; unsuccessful candidate for election to the One Hundred Eighth Congress in 2002; died on August 6, 2016, in Timonium, Md.
Read full biography
First Political Experience: Part One
The Honorable Helen Delich Bentley describes working on Nevada Representative Jim Scrugham's U.S. Senate campaign.
First Political Experience: Part Two
The Honorable Helen Delich Bentley reflects on the nature of campaigning.
"The Port That Built a City"
The Honorable Helen Delich Bentley explains the intersection between politics and her television career.
Running for Congress
The Honorable Helen Delich Bentley describes her early campaigns for Congress against Representative Clarence Long of Maryland.
Experience, Not Gender
The Honorable Helen Delich Bentley describes how her experience as a journalist and knowledge of her district were more important than her gender in congressional campaigns.
"We Just Had to Out-Bentley Them"
The Honorable Helen Delich Bentley recalls a memorable re-election campaign.
The Honorable Helen Delich Bentley recalls her conversation with Congresswoman Margaret Heckler of Massachusetts about why she refused a high-ranking position on the Federal Maritime Commission.
Importance of Constituent Service
The Honorable Helen Delich Bentley recalls how her time as the Federal Maritime Commissioner (FMC) prepared her for being a Member of Congress and managing constituent service.
"Working Together as a Team"
The Honorable Helen Delich Bentley explains the importance of helping women candidates and hiring women in congressional offices.
About this object