The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman
“I said, ‘The agenda of what we need to do is so huge, we can’t possibly accomplish everything anyway. So, let’s just focus on areas that we agree on. And first of all, it will make us stronger if all agree, and all agree to work on them.’ And that’s how we started. And also, it was critical, I think, to get people’s participation, the participation of women. Because I think since it was really early, there had been no caucus, to the best of my knowledge, before that. Women had not worked together. We were concerned about being ridiculed. We were concerned about negative press. We were concerned about how this was going to affect us in our district. I think we—this was a very important step to make people feel politically comfortable in joining with people of different political views. So, I think it worked. From my point of view, it worked.”
—The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman, March 10, 2016
U.S. Representative from New York (January 3, 1973–January 3, 1981)
Elizabeth (Liz) Holtzman pulled off a major upset when she defeated longtime Representative and Judiciary Committee Chairman, Emanuel Celler, to win a seat in the 93rd Congress (1973–1975). The youngest woman ever elected to Congress at the time (31)—a record that would stand for more than four decades—Holtzman’s grassroots campaign in her New York City district centered on her opposition to the Vietnam War. In her interview, Holtzman, a Harvard Law School graduate, speaks of how the civil rights movement influenced her decision to seek political office as an avenue to work for social justice. After her election, she recalls her efforts to differentiate herself from her predecessor. Despite her request for a different assignment, she received a spot on the Judiciary Committee. Ironically, the assignment put her at the center of one of the defining political moments of her generation since the panel oversaw the impeachment hearings for President Richard M. Nixon in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. Holtzman shares her memories of the tumultuous period, including the work of the Judiciary Committee, her questioning of President Gerald R. Ford, and the importance of having women on the panel.
A consistent and vocal supporter of women’s rights, Holtzman cofounded the Congresswomen’s Caucus in 1977. Holtzman describes the early years of the caucus as well as the intricate whip operation she and her women colleagues successfully organized to pass an extension of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1977. Known as a passionate and hard-working legislator, Holtzman’s interview provides a first-hand account of the changing role of women in Congress during the 1970s.
HOLTZMAN, Elizabeth, a Representative from New York; born in Brooklyn, N.Y., August 11, 1941; graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1958; B.A., Radcliffe College, 1962; J.D., Harvard Law School, 1965; admitted to the New York bar in 1966 and commenced practice in New York City; Democratic State committeewoman and district leader 1970–1972; assistant to Mayor John V. Lindsay, 1969–1970; founder, Brooklyn Women’s Political Caucus; delegate to Democratic National Convention, 1972; elected as a Democrat to the Ninety-third and to the three succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1973–January 3, 1981); was not a candidate for reelection in 1980 but was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the United States Senate; faculty, New York University Law School and Graduate School of Public Administration, 1981–1982; district attorney, Kings County, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1982–1989; New York City comptroller, 1990–1993; unsuccessful candidate in 1992 for nomination to the United States Senate; resumed the practice of law; is a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y.
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Inspiration to Run for Congress
The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman describes how her participation in the civil rights movement inspired her work to improve the country.
The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman recalls the importance of reaching voters directly through campaigning in her neighborhood.
The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman remembers campaign photos taken on the Brooklyn Bridge and writing campaign literature during her run for Congress in 1972.
Gender as an Advantage
The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman highlights some advantages to being a woman running for Congress in 1972.
The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman recalls her introduction to the House when discussing potential committee assignments.
Learning about the Press
The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman describes learning to work with the media when she arrived in Congress.
The Birth of the Women's Caucus
The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman describes the origins of the Congresswomen's Caucus.
The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman discusses the ways women Members overcame political divisions to collaborate on several significant issues.
Working Together for the ERA
The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman describes the process of building congressional support to extend the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Congressional Delegation to Cambodia
The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman recalls making a humanitarian visit to Cambodia with other women Members.
Encouraging Women to Run for Congress
The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman encourages women to run for public office.
Behind Closed Doors
The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman provides insight on the workings of the House Judiciary Committee during the investigation into the Watergate scandal.
"I Really Felt As Through I Were in Quicksand"
The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman remembers feeling overwhelmed by the extent of the Watergate scandal.
"I Never Thought That Women Could Play This Kind of a Role"
The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman emphasizes the importance of serving as a woman on the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate investigation.
Questioning President Ford
The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman recalls questioning President Ford on the pardon of Richard Nixon.
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