Legislative Interests

Two key legislative efforts—Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)—forged unique bonds between women Members during this period. The emphasis on gender equality in these measures was echoed in a number of other legislative efforts, particularly those aimed at creating opportunities for women in education and the workplace. Women Members also continued to play a prominent part in legislation on diverse national concerns ranging from Cold War defense strategy and human rights to internal congressional reforms.

Central to this period was a group of federal reform programs known collectively as the Great Society. Initiated by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the mid-1960s, these measures were in many ways an extension of the social programs created during the New Deal. Great Society legislation marked the zenith of postwar federal activism, addressing civil rights, urban development, the environment, health care, education, housing, consumer protection, and poverty. Legislation during this era ranged from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited discrimination and disenfranchisement, respectively, to the enactment of a Medicare program for the elderly and a Medicaid program for the poor that provided access to health care.21 Women lawmakers on Capitol Hill helped shape these policies, often with a conscious eye toward improving the welfare of all American women.

Congresswoman Martha Griffiths of Michigan stands outside the House wing of the Capitol shortly after the House passed the Equal Rights Amendment in August 1970. Griffiths used a long-shot parliamentary maneuver to dislodge ERA from the Judiciary Committee, where it had languished for years. Eventually, ERA passed the Senate and went to the states for ratification in 1972, where it failed to muster the necessary support to become a constitutional amendment./tiles/non-collection/w/wic_cont3_6_griffiths_lc.xml Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Martha Wright Griffiths of Michigan stands outside the House wing of the Capitol shortly after the House passed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in August 1970. Griffiths used a long-shot parliamentary maneuver to dislodge the ERA from the Judiciary Committee. Eventually, the ERA passed the Senate and went to the states for ratification in 1972, but it failed to muster the necessary support to become a constitutional amendment.
Representative Martha Griffiths was the prototype for many young activists of the 1970s. One of the first women elected to Congress with a long, pre-House career, Griffiths had practiced law, served in the state legislature, and presided as a judge in her home state of Michigan. In the U.S. House, she homed in on gender discrimination in the workplace. While Griffiths believed initially that taking cases to the Supreme Court could result in equality for women, she became so disillusioned with the high court’s rulings that she decided only gender-specific legislation could give women access to education, job security, and equal pay for equal work.22

As the Civil Rights Act of 1964 moved through committee and onto the House Floor for debate, Griffiths, joined by May, Kelly, Frances Payne Bolton of Ohio, and Katharine St. George of New York, resolved that Title VII, which contained language banning employers from discrimination in hiring on the basis of race, color, religion, and national origin, should also contain language banning discrimination based on a person’s sex. The Congresswomen believed this language was necessary to protect women, reasoning that, without it, they would continue to be especially vulnerable to sex discrimination in hiring.23

In a parliamentary maneuver designed to derail the entire Civil Rights Act, powerful Rules Committee Chairman Howard Worth Smith of Virginia loaded the bill with provisions he felt were controversial, including a proposal to extend protection against discrimination to women. Griffiths supported civil rights; Smith did not. But Griffiths realized that Smith could get more than 100 southern votes for the amendment, and she did not oppose the chairman when he introduced it on February 8, 1964. Congressmen on the House Floor erupted into guffaws that grew louder as the women Members rose to speak on behalf of the bill.

Debate on the amendment forged strange coalitions. Conservatives and segregationists, who wanted the amendment to pass with the hope that the full civil rights bill would die, lined up with progressive women, who wanted the amendment to pass but believed the civil rights bill would succeed regardless. Opposing these unlikely allies were moderate and liberal northern Representatives who feared that the entire bill would be defeated if the amendment passed. Griffiths stood in the well of the House and criticized those opposed to the amendment, saying, “I suppose that if there had been any necessity to have pointed out that women were a second-class sex, the laughter would have proved it.” She touched on the history of enfranchisement for African-American men in the nineteenth century, noting that women—white and Black—were denied the basic rights of citizenship guaranteed under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. “A vote against this amendment” by a male Representative, she warned, “is a vote against his wife, or his widow, or his daughter, or his sister.” Other Congresswomen followed her lead. Only Edith Green objected to the amendment, noting that it was more important to first secure African-American civil rights: “For every discrimination I have suffered, I firmly believe that the Negro woman has suffered 10 times that amount of discrimination,” Green said. “She has a double discrimination. She was born as a woman and she was born as a Negro.”24

The debates were followed by an unrecorded teller vote, in which Members filed down the aisles of the chamber to cast their votes. Griffiths was chosen to count those in favor. With many Members absenting themselves from the vote, the amendment passed. When the result was announced, a woman in the House Gallery cried out, “We made it! We are human!”25 Howard Smith’s tactic to sink the bill ultimately backfired; the House and the Senate voted the full civil rights measure into law later that summer. Griffiths worked feverishly behind the scenes to ensure that the amended version of Title VII was left intact. Years later, after Smith had retired and was visiting the House Chamber, Griffiths greeted him with a hug, saying, “We will always be known for our amendment!” Smith replied, “Well, of course, you know, I offered it as a joke.”26

Griffiths also played a key role in the passage of another piece of landmark legislation: the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA, drafted by suffragist Alice Paul and supported by the National Woman’s Party, was introduced in Congress in 1923 to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. The original language of the ERA stated that “men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and in every place subject to its jurisdiction.”27

For decades the ERA languished in the House Judiciary Committee and was a deeply divisive issue for many former suffragists and feminists.28 Advocates believed it would equalize conditions for women. Opponents insisted it would erode an accumulation of existing laws that protected working women. Earlier Congresswomen, such as Mary T. Norton of New Jersey and Caroline O’Day of New York, refused to endorse the ERA on the grounds that it would adversely affect labor laws. Ahead of the 1940 presidential election, the GOP adopted the ERA as part of its platform and Winifred Claire Stanley of New York and Margaret Chase Smith sponsored measures to bring it up for a vote on the twentieth anniversary of the introduction of the original amendment. But passing the ERA out of committee in the House was especially difficult, since the longtime chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Emanuel Celler of New York (1949–1953 and 1955–1973), opposed the measure on the traditional grounds that it would undermine labor protections. During this period, the language of the ERA was modified, making it less a campaign for change than an affirmation of existing constitutional guarantees. The amendment’s new wording stipulated that “equal rights under the law shall not be abridged or denied. . . on account of sex.”

Proposing an Equal Rights Amendment/tiles/non-collection/W/WIC_Essay3_13_ProposinganEqualRightsAmendment_NARA.xml Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
About this record
The first iteration of the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in 1923 as House Joint Resolution 75 by Representative Daniel Read Anthony Jr. of Kansas. The amendment, which guaranteed women the same rights as men, languished for nearly 50 years. A version of the amendment cleared both chambers in 1972, but it failed to achieve ratification by three-fourths of the states before the 1982 deadline.
In 1970 Martha Griffiths of Michigan changed tactics. Using a parliamentary maneuver called a discharge petition—which required her to obtain the signatures of 218 Representatives (a majority of the 435 House Members) in order to force the bill out of committee and onto the floor for general debate—Griffiths succeeded in bringing the ERA before the full House on August 10, 1970; ultimately, the amendment passed by a wide margin.29 Later that fall the Senate voted to amend the ERA with a clause exempting women from the draft. But the House and the Senate failed to work out their differences in conference committee before they adjourned for the year, forcing Griffiths to begin anew when the next Congress opened.

Throughout this legislative battle, Griffiths received nearly unanimous backing of liberal and conservative women Members. Congresswoman Louise Day Hicks of Massachusetts dismissed critics who suggested the law would force women into direct combat roles in places like Vietnam.30 “There is no reason why women should not carry equally the burdens as well as the rights of full citizenship,” she responded. “Indeed, most are willing or eager to do so.” The ERA was necessary, Hicks argued, because, “discrimination against women—on the job, in education, in civil and criminal law—is a disgrace to a nation which has long proclaimed its belief in equality before the law and individual dignity for all citizens.”31 After Representative Griffiths again successfully maneuvered the ERA onto the House Floor, it won wide approval. The Senate accepted it without revisions in March 1972. Congress then sent it to the states for ratification.

The battle over the ERA, however, would continue into the early 1980s. As written, the constitutional amendment required the approval of three-quarters of the state legislatures within seven years. By the end of 1973, 30 states had ratified it. Five more states approved the amendment between 1974 and 1976. But “Stop ERA,” a grassroots movement led by conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, organized opposition and several states that had already approved the amendment considered rescinding their support. Schlafly portrayed herself as a defender of women’s traditional roles as mothers and homemakers. During the 1970s, Schlafly, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Republican in 1952 and 1970, declared that the small number of women in Congress “does not prove discrimination at all.” Rather, she said, it “proves only that most women do not want to do the things that must be done to win elections.”32 Schlafly argued that the ERA would destroy protections for women in divorce law and child custody law, weaken laws for sexual crimes against women, make women eligible to be drafted into the military, and undermine the institution of marriage. In a televised debate in 1976, Millicent Fenwick argued with Schlafly and her allies who wanted the ERA stripped from the Republican Party platform.33 Fenwick’s frustration was palpable: “I think it is sad and a little comic … in the Bicentennial year to be wondering about whether we ought to admit that 51%–52% of the citizens of America are really citizens.”34 By 1977 the ERA was still three states shy of the 38 it needed for ratification. The debate over the amendment later provided crucial momentum in Congress for women Members to organize themselves as a formal caucus.

Economic Equality

The efforts associated with Title VII and the ERA were only the tip of the iceberg; legislation affecting women extended into every facet of American life. A major goal was to achieve economic equality. Since World War II, Congresswomen had been promoting legislation to require equity in pay for men and women in similar jobs. Winifred Stanley introduced such a measure in 1943, but it failed to pass the House. Later, Edna Kelly, Florence Dwyer, Katharine St. George, and Kathryn Granahan introduced equal-pay bills. Granahan had introduced her measure to end gender-based wage discrimination in the 85th Congress (1957–1959). “When two workers, side by side, performing the same sort of work are doing it equally well, there is no justification under law or moral justice that they should not be accorded an equal opportunity for equal pay,” she said in a floor speech.35 But each of these efforts, despite support from Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, met with similar outcomes largely because of opposition from big business and its congressional allies.

Women Members persisted. With Edna Kelly and Edith Green taking the lead, equal pay legislation passed the House in 1962 and eventually became law in 1963 when the House and the Senate agreed on a revised bill. The Equal Pay Act, which built on the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, decreed that no employer could pay a woman “at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex … on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.” The law allowed wage differences based on factors such as seniority and merit.36

Ink blotter campaign material for re-electing Edna F. Kelly/tiles/non-collection/E/Essay3_8_Kelly_blotter_2005_180_000a-1.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
During her long career in the House, Edna Flannery Kelly of New York made her mark supporting an array of Cold War policies that took a hardline approach against the Soviet Union. However, this ink blotter from Kelly’s 1956 campaign emphasized her commitment to civil liberties and community affairs.
Economic opportunity had a racial component as well. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to investigate unlawful employment practices and to report findings to Congress and the President. It also authorized the attorney general to file a civil suit when employers showed a pattern of discrimination.37 The EEOC became an important recourse for women and people of color. Yvonne Burke, who represented a large constituency of African Americans in the Los Angeles area, insisted that civil rights include economic equality as well as political equality. “True dignity, true freedom, are economic in 1974,” she said.38 Congresswoman Burke championed the cause of minority women, eventually authoring the Displaced Homemakers Act in 1977 to provide financial assistance and job training for divorced women and single mothers entering the job market.

For decades prevailing gender roles had connected women with household spending. Because they often managed the family budget and did most of the shopping, women often had a strong interest in consumer issues. Women in Congress leveraged this gender norm to act on consumer legislation. Representative Leonor Sullivan was the leading advocate for consumer protection in the House. Sullivan’s signal piece of legislation was the 1968 Consumer Credit Protection Act, which established truth in lending provisions, requiring financial institutions to fully disclose the conditions and costs of borrowing. Similarly, Oregon Senator Maurine B. Neuberger advocated honest labeling on consumer items. She challenged the meat-packing industry regarding its additives and criticized bedding manufacturers that sold flammable blankets. Neuberger also led the fight to regulate tobacco advertising and to require health warning labels on cigarette packaging.

Women Members and Senators also worked to open access to credit, loans, and other financial services. Lindy Boggs insisted that, while economic issues might not grab headlines, they still were central to women’s equality. “Almost all women’s issues are economic issues, a stunning idea to those persons who want to hear about ‘Great Women’s Issues’ and expect us to be preoccupied with the ERA or abortion or sexual harassment,” Boggs observed.39 When the Banking and Currency Committee considered the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, Boggs noted that it safeguarded people from discrimination on the basis of “race and age, and their status as veterans,” but did nothing to protect women. Her experience as a new widow seeking credit and managing her own finances convinced her that the words “or sex or marital status” should be added. As the nearly all-male Banking and Currency Committee met to mark up the bill, Boggs quietly inserted that phrase and distributed copies of the amended bill to her colleagues. “Knowing the Members composing this committee as well as I do, I’m sure it was just an oversight that we didn’t have ‘sex’ or ‘marital status’ included,” Boggs said. “I’ve taken care of that, and I trust it meets with the committee’s approval.” It passed unanimously.40


Education policy was another arena in which women, long considered authorities on the issue, wrote and shepherded major measures through Congress. Coya Knutson and Edith Green were instrumental in developing the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) of 1958, which passed just one year after Russia’s successful launch of the Sputnik satellite and sparked concern that American students lagged behind those in communist countries in critical subject areas. The NDEA provided $1 billion in federal loans and grants to subsidize science, mathematics, and foreign language study in U.S. universities and created the first federal college loans based on student need.

Edith Starrett Green Lapel Pin/tiles/non-collection/W/WIC_Essay3_17_GreenPin_HC.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
After nearly 20 years in the House, Edith Starrett Green of Oregon left a substantial legacy, demonstrating both her independence from party leaders and her devotion to education.
Almost a decade later, during the Great Society, the government dramatically expanded access to federal aid for education, and women again played prominent legislative roles in the process. Patsy Mink helped shape Head Start legislation, which provided federal money to help communities meet the needs of disadvantaged preschool-aged children. Administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, Head Start provided comprehensive child development programs for children up to age five and their families. Mink’s Women’s Educational Equity Act, which passed as part of a 1974 education bill, mandated the removal of gender stereotypes from school textbooks and provided federal incentives to educational programs that promoted gender equity.

Edith Green, a former teacher, became known as the Mother of Higher Education for her leadership on school issues during her two decades in the U.S. House. Among Green’s landmark legislative achievements was the Higher Education Act of 1965, which created the first federal financial aid program for undergraduates. In 1972 Congresswoman Green held the first hearings on discrimination against women in college sports programs. Both Green and Mink built critical support for Title IX, one of the 1972 federal education amendments, which declared that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Over the next several decades the number of girls and women participating in high school and college athletics programs increased exponentially, from several hundred thousand in 1971 to nearly 3 million in 2001.41

Foreign Policy

At the height of the Cold War—the global struggle that pitted the United States and its Western allies against communism—foreign policy dominated much of Congress’s work.42 Women in Congress were actively engaged in many international policy issues, including those related to the Vietnam War, human rights, and the exercise of U.S. military power in general.

Accompanied by U.S. Marine officers, Senator Margaret Chase Smith tours a U.S. military facility. Smith was the first woman to serve on the Armed Services Committee in both the House and the Senate./tiles/non-collection/w/wic_cont2_11_smith_korea_LC-USZ62-121467.xml Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Accompanied by United States Marine officers, Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine tours a United States military facility in 1963. Smith was the first woman to serve on the Armed Services Committees in both the House and the Senate.
By the 1950s, the Cold War had spread beyond its original epicenter in occupied Germany and Western Europe as the Soviets and Americans began to vie for the support of new, postcolonial governments in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Though careful not to challenge one another directly, the nuclear superpowers poured economic and military aid into these regions and underwrote “proxy wars” fought by indigenous peoples.43 Beginning in 1954, America became the primary benefactor of the Ngo Dinh Diem regime in South Vietnam in a civil war against the communist-controlled government of Ho Chi Minh in North Vietnam.

A decade later, in July 1965, the United States intervened directly against North Vietnamese forces and communist rebels after it became clear that South Vietnam could not win on its own. By late 1967, more than 485,000 U.S. troops were stationed in Vietnam. Eventually, some 2 million Americans served in Vietnam, and more than 58,000 died. Vietnamese losses were staggering; during the civil war from 1954 to 1975, more than 1.1 million North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet Cong rebels were killed and nearly 2 million North and South Vietnamese civilians perished. U.S. intervention spurred a massive antiwar protest movement at home that had spread by the late 1960s from college campuses to large cities, drawing Americans from all walks of life.44

The Vietnam War also divided women Members. Charlotte Reid and Edna Kelly were ardent supporters of military intervention. Edith Green, on the other hand, was one of a handful to oppose her party and the President when the Johnson administration sought funding for the initial American intervention. A number of women who entered Congress during this period, including Mink, Chisholm, Abzug, and Schroeder, won election as antiwar candidates. With much fanfare, Abzug introduced legislation to withdraw U.S. troops from South Vietnam and to impeach President Richard M. Nixon for his prosecution of the war.

In 1973 Elizabeth Holtzman filed a lawsuit to end U.S. military action in Cambodia on the grounds that Congress, as a coequal branch of government endowed by the Constitution with the nation’s war powers, had not approved it. A federal district court judge ruled in her favor, agreeing that, without congressional approval, the bombing was illegal. But, after a quick appeal by the Justice Department, a stay halting the legal proceedings was eventually ordered against the ruling.45 Holtzman later drafted an article of impeachment against Nixon for his conduct that read, in part, that the President “authorized, ordered, and ratified the concealment from the Congress of false and misleading statements concerning the existence, scope and nature of American bombing operations in Cambodia in derogation of the power of the Congress to declare war, to make appropriations and to raise and support armies.” The Judiciary Committee, however, rejected her measure. Years later, Holtzman insisted that it was a lost opportunity to rein in presidential overreach at the expense of Congress’s constitutional prerogatives. “And how can Congress exercise its constitutional responsibility of war-making,” she asked, “if it’s been lied to?”46

Pat Schroeder Supersisters Card/tiles/non-collection/W/WIC_Essay3_19_SchroederSupersistersCard_HC.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Patricia Schroeder of Colorado and other notable Congresswomen appeared in a series of trading cards issued in 1979. During her 24-year House career, Schroeder became a champion of liberal causes and a feminist icon, weighing in on issues from arms control to women’s reproductive rights.
Schroeder, who in 1973 became only the third woman ever to sit on the House Armed Services Committee, was a particularly vocal advocate of reining in defense spending and securing new arms control accords in the 1970s and 1980s. She was determined to bring women’s perspectives to a debate from which they had been largely excluded. “When men talk about defense, they always claim to be protecting women and children,” Schroeder said, “but they never ask the women and children what they think.”47 When she initially sought assignment to the Armed Services Committee, the Colorado Congresswoman ran up against the system of entrenched power among committee chairmen. Infuriated that Democratic leadership had assigned a young woman (who had run on an antiwar platform) to his committee, Armed Services Chairman Felix Edward Hébert of Louisiana, a Dixiecrat and 30-year incumbent, made Schroeder share a chair with Ronald V. Dellums, an African-American Democrat from California, during the organizational meeting for the committee in early 1973. As Schroeder recalled, she and Dellums sat “cheek to cheek” because the chairman declared “that women and blacks were worth only half of one regular Member,” and thus deserved only half a seat.48 Hébert lost his chairmanship in 1975.

Other Congresswomen advocated vigorous U.S. support for international human rights. Two New Jersey Representatives emerged as critics of authoritarian governments allied with America in the Cold War against the Soviets. Helen Stevenson Meyner of New Jersey criticized human rights abuses by Ferdinand Marcos’s government in the Philippines and sought to cut U.S. aid to the regime. Millicent Fenwick helped craft the Helsinki Accords on Human Rights, which investigated abuses behind the communist iron curtain and openly challenged American support for dictatorial regimes in the Middle East and Africa.

Reform and Congressional Accountability

Women also participated in several efforts to make congressional operations more transparent and accountable. For example, in 1961 Representative Florence Dwyer was one of about two dozen northern Republicans from urban districts who sided with Speaker Sam Rayburn and liberal Democrats as the House pushed through a measure to expand the membership of the Rules Committee, which controlled the flow of legislation to the House Floor. Rules Chairman Howard Smith of Virginia had used his power to block social reform legislation and uphold racial segregation. By assigning more liberal Members to the committee, the House paved the way for the consideration in subsequent years of major bills like the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Later in the 1960s, the House created the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (commonly known as the Ethics Committee) to provide Members with ethics guidelines and investigate violations of House practice. Like many other Members, Congresswoman Edna Kelly had financed her campaigns with her own money. That practice changed in the 1960s as an increasing number of her colleagues relied on fundraising events to pay for the escalating costs of the House’s biannual elections. Believing this new money raising system could be abused, Kelly became a founding member of the Ethics Committee in 1967 and helped draft the committee’s operating procedures.49 In the 1970s, Millicent Fenwick earned the name Conscience of Congress for her repeated appeals to colleagues to reform the campaign finance system. Elected in 1974, Fenwick spoke about the issue on the House Floor so often that at one point, she recalled, Wayne Hays of Ohio, the powerful chairman of the House Administration Committee, threatened to withhold her staff’s paychecks “if that woman doesn’t sit down and keep quiet.”50 Undeterred, Fenwick directly challenged Hays, who shortly afterward fell to scandal and left the House.

Congresswomen during this era also took the lead in holding the White House under Richard Nixon accountable during Watergate, one of the defining political events of the twentieth century and a moment of constitutional crisis. It grew out of the culture of suspicion within the Richard Nixon administration, the obsession with secrecy that characterized Cold War national security imperatives, and the related expansion of presidential power.51 In 1970 President Nixon authorized clandestine Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance operations against domestic opponents, antiwar protestors, and government officials suspected of leaking classified material about the planning for the Vietnam War. In the summer of 1972, the Committee to Re-Elect the President, headed by former Attorney General John Mitchell, approved a plan to break-in and wiretap the phones of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex in Washington, DC. A vigilant security guard foiled the operation on June 17, 1972, and local police arrested the perpetrators. The Nixon administration’s ensuing cover-up involved senior officials and the President himself.

Barbara Jordan/tiles/non-collection/W/WIC_Essay3_22_Jordan_TSU.xml Image courtesy of the Barbara C. Jordan Archives, Texas Southern University Barbara Jordan of Texas participates in Judiciary Committee proceedings. Jordan was a freshman when the House began an impeachment inquiry against President Richard M. Nixon in 1974 at the height of the Watergate Scandal. Television coverage of the committee proceedings, which included her statements about the constitutional gravity of the crisis, instantly made Representative Jordan a national leader.
Over a period of nearly two years, the details of the Watergate story gradually came to light through a combination of investigative journalism, judicial action, and congressional hearings. In February 1973, the Senate created the Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (widely known as the Ervin Committee after its chairman, Samuel James Ervin Jr. of North Carolina) to investigate the break-in. By 1974, after a series of indictments and resignations involving top officials in the Nixon administration, the House Judiciary Committee initiated formal proceedings to impeach the President. When the committee voted to support articles of impeachment, President Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974.

Two first-term Congresswomen, Barbara Jordan and Liz Holtzman, served on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment process. A large television audience was mesmerized by Jordan’s eloquence on the immense constitutional questions that hung in the balance. Jordan’s work on the committee transformed her into a national figure. Holtzman, a Harvard-educated lawyer, also saw her profile rise on the panel, particularly for her sharp questioning of President Gerald R. Ford, who later testified before the committee to explain his pardon of Nixon in September 1974. As the questioning began, Holtzman watched as more senior committee members passed up opportunities to probe the President’s decision. She recalled years later the general tenor of their remarks: “Oh, Mr. President, how wonderful it is that you’re here, and a sign of candor, and honesty, and sincerity, and honorableness, and you’re so wonderful in coming to talk to Congress.” As Holtzman remembered, she grew “more and more nervous because I see it’s going down the row of committee members and it’s going to come to me. And nobody’s asking any questions. So, I was glad I wrote them out because I don’t know that I would have been able to wing it at that moment.”52

Watergate and mounting concerns over the abuse of power in federal agencies spurred Congresswomen like Bella Abzug to make government more accountable to the public. As chair of a Government Affairs subcommittee, Abzug shepherded through the House the Privacy Act of 1974, which expanded “sunshine laws” and opened more government files to public scrutiny. As a companion to the Freedom of Information Act of 1966 that allowed private citizens access to government files, the Privacy Act permitted individuals to view federal records about themselves and amend inaccuracies. The Privacy Act also required government agencies to publish descriptions of their record-keeping systems and prohibited the disclosure of personal information to third parties.53

Rep Yvonne Burke takes the oath of office/tiles/non-collection/E/Essay3_13_1973-01-03_yburke_0002_HPO-1.xml Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office Representative Yvonne Brathwaite Burke of California poses with Speaker Carl Albert of Oklahoma for a ceremonial swearing-in photo at the start of her first term in January 1973. At the time, Burke was a rising star in the Democratic Party and the first African-American woman from California elected to the House. She later became the first Congresswoman to give birth and be granted maternity leave while serving.
Government reform advocates focused much of their effort during this era on Capitol Hill itself. One of the most important attempts to reform House practices and procedures was undertaken by the Democratic Caucus’s Committee on Organization, Study, and Review, later known as the Hansen Committee for its chair, Representative Julia Hansen. The Hansen Committee was part of a larger effort to overhaul internal congressional procedures, a goal sought by liberal reformers as far back as the 1930s. For several decades, conservative southern Democrats, who held the most powerful committee posts and perceived reform as a threat to their autonomy, consistently blunted most of these efforts. Reformers, meanwhile, sought to centralize the Democratic Party’s decision-making process, to diminish the power of autocratic committee chairs, to provide better resources for subcommittees, and, generally, to make the system more responsive to rank-and-file Members and the public.54 By the early 1970s, junior Members like Ella Grasso argued that the tenure-based committee system had to be reformed so that chairs would be chosen “on the basis of intelligence and leadership,” rather than on length of service. Grasso explained that the party would be best served by permitting “all the qualities of intelligence and vigor in the House Democratic membership to have full effect.”55

Members’ respect for Hansen—derived from her long career in the House, her years of state legislative experience before that, and her moderate approach—made her a logical choice to head the panel, which reviewed ambitious proposals put forward by a select committee led by Representative Richard Walker Bolling of Missouri in 1973 and 1974. The Bolling Committee recommended altering committee jurisdictions, abolishing some panels entirely, and expanding resources for subcommittees. Hansen’s recommendations, however, did not go as far. She left jurisdictions intact but weakened chairmen by further curbing the power of the Rules Committee and expanding the membership and the resources of subcommittees. The House approved Hansen’s proposal in the fall of 1974.56

Reform efforts during this period resulted in better committee assignments for new Members and allowed them to directly shape party strategy and legislation. Gladys Noon Spellman of Maryland, one of the early leaders of the large and ambitious House freshman class of 1974, the so-called “Watergate Babies,” helped conduct a review of entrenched committee chairmen in order to see if they warranted the support of the first-term Members. Ultimately, many did not receive that support. Several of the most powerful chairmen—William Robert Poage of Texas of the Agriculture Committee, Eddie Hébert of Louisiana of the Armed Services Committee, and John William Wright Patman of Texas of the Committee on Banking and Currency—were forced from their positions in rapid succession.

Next Section


21For more on the origins and history of the Great Society, see James T. Patterson, Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945–1970 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996): 524–592; Robert Dallek, Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961–1973 (New York: Oxford University Press: 1998). For a recent history of the 89th Congress (1965–1967), the so-called Great Society Congress, see Julian E. Zelizer, The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society (New York: Penguin Press, 2015).

22Congressional Record, House, 91st Cong., 2nd sess. (10 August 1970): 28005. See also Martha Griffiths, Oral History Interview, 29 October 1979, USAFMOC, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC: 82–83.

23This effort is explained in detail in Griffiths, Oral History Interview, USAFMOC.

24All quotations from the Congressional Record, House, 88th Cong., 2nd sess. (8 February 1964): 2578–2583.

25Unpublished article by Martha Griffiths on sex in the Civil Rights Act, Appendix I, Griffiths, Oral History Interview, USAFMOC.

26Griffiths, Oral History Interview, USAFMOC: 73–76.

27See Joan Hoff-Wilson, Rights of Passage: The Past and the Future of the ERA (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986).

28William H. Chafe, The Paradox of Change: American Women in the 20th Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991): 215.

29William H. Chafe, The Paradox of Change: American Women in the 20th Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991): 215.

30“Hicks, Louise Day,” Current Biography, 1974 (New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1974): 174–176; Mark Feeney, “Louise Hicks, Icon of Tumult, Dies,” 22 October 2003, Boston Globe: A1.

31Congressional Record, House, 92nd Cong., 1st sess. (6 October 1971): 35324–35325.

32Karen Foerstel and Herbert N. Foerstel, Climbing the Hill: Gender Conflict in Congress (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996): 186. For Schlafly’s election results in 1952 and 1970, see Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

33Shirley Washington, Outstanding Women Members of Congress (Washington, DC: U.S. Capitol Historical Society, 1995): 29.

34Amy Schapiro, Millicent Fenwick: Her Way (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003): 177.

35Congressional Record, House, 85th Cong., 1st sess. (25 July 1957): 12780.

36Congress and the Nation, 1945–1964, Volume IA (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1965): 640. See also Stephen W. Stathis, Landmark Legislation: 1774–2002 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2003): 261.

37Congress and the Nation, 1945–1964, Volume IB (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1965): 1640.

38David Winder, “Jobs, Pay Become Blacks’ Top Priority,” 31 July 1974, Christian Science Monitor: 3.

39Lindy Boggs with Katherine Hatch, Washington Through a Purple Veil: Memoirs of a Southern Woman (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994): 331.

40Boggs, Washington Through a Purple Veil: 277–278.

41Patsy T. Mink, “Federal Legislation to End Discrimination Against Women,” Valparaiso University Law Review 5, no. 2 (1971): 397–414. For more on Title IX, see Deondra Rose, “Regulating Opportunity: Title IX and the Birth of Gender-Conscious Higher Education Policy,” Journal of Policy History 27, no.1 (2015): 157–183. For more on women’s athletics and Title IX, see Amanda Ross Edwards, “Why Sport? The Development of Sport as a Policy Issue in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972,” Journal of Policy History 22, no. 3 (2010): 300–336. For the growth in athletic participation since the early 1970s, see Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano, Playing with the Boys: Why Separate is Not Equal in Sports (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008): 108. See also Susan Ware, Title IX: A Brief History with Documents (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2014).

42For an interpretation of an active congressional role in Cold War policy, see Robert David Johnson, Congress and the Cold War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

43A standard treatment of the Cold War is John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

44For a useful overview of the Vietnam War, see George C. Herring, America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950–1975, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Inc., 2002). For a standard treatment of early dissent against the war and the crucial series of decisions by the Johnson administration to “Americanize” the conflict, see Fredrik Logevall, Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999). For a history that places the conflict in an international context, see Fredrik Logevall, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam (New York: Random House, 2012).

45John J. Goldman, “Judge Orders Halt to Cambodia Raids,” 26 July 1973, Los Angeles Times: A1; “Holtzman Wins 1st Round Against Nixon,” 26 July 1973, Boston Globe: A12; William Chapman and Peter Braestrup, “Marshall Overrules Raid Halt,” 5 August 1973, Washington Post: A1.

46“The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives (10 March 2016): 37. The interview transcript is available online.

47“Schroeder, Patricia,” Current Biography, 1978 (New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1978): 368.

48Patricia Schroeder, 24 Years of House Work . . . And the Place Is Still a Mess (New York: Andrews McNeel, 1998): 40–42; Jane Gross, “Critic as Chairman Gets Praise as Both,” 8 February 1993, New York Times: A12; Ronald V. Dellums and H. Lee Halterman, Lying Down With the Lions: A Public Life From the Streets of Oakland to the Halls of Power (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000): 149–150.

49Edna Kelly, Oral History Interview, USAFMOC, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC: 50–52.

50Bruce Lambert, “Millicent Fenwick, 82, Dies; Gave Character to Congress,” 17 September 1992, New York Times: D25.

51For an overview of Watergate and its origins in the political culture of the Cold War, see Keith W. Olson, Watergate: The Presidential Scandal That Shook America (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003). A standard history of the episode is Stanley I. Kutler, The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1992).

52“Holtzman Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 41.

53The text of the Privacy Act of 1974 is available online from the National Archives and Records Administration. See National Archives and Records Administration, “NARA Basic Laws and Authorities: The Privacy Act of 1974,” accessed 16 June 2016, https://www.archives.gov/about/laws/privacy-act-1974.html. See also Senate Committee on Government Operations and the House Committee on Government Operations, Legislative History of the Privacy Act of 1974, 94th Cong., 2nd sess. (September 1976), https://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/pdf/LH_privacy_act-1974.pdf.

54Julian Zelizer, On Capitol Hill: The Struggle to Reform Congress and Its Consequences, 1948–2000 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004): 125–155.

55Susan Bysiewicz, Ella: A Biography of Governor Ella Grasso (Old Saybrook, CT: Peregrine Press, 1984): 56.

56Zelizer, On Capitol Hill: 139–151.