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Representative Shirley Pettis of California

April 29, 1975
Representative Shirley Pettis of California Image courtesy of Library of Congress A cofounder of the Congressional Caucus on Womens Issues, Representative Shirley Pettis of California served two terms in the House of Representatives.
On this date, Shirley Pettis of California won the special election to fill the vacancy caused by the untimely death of her husband Jerry Pettis in an airplane crash. A businesswoman and journalist, Pettis had a successful career before her election to Congress. At the urging of her children, she ran for her husband’s seat and defeated 12 other candidates. Excelling in environmental issues, Congresswoman Pettis’s legislative achievements included the successful protection of the Joshua Tree National Monument, the clean up of the Salton Sea Lake in her district, and the construction of the first solar power plant in the nation. Pettis, who helped cofound the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues in 1977, recalled that her reception as a woman in Congress was initially somewhat rocky. She remembered an elevator ride in which she was chatting with a senior House committee chairman. When the doors opened and they exited, the Congressman turned to Pettis and asked, “So whose secretary did you say you were?” Such experiences led Pettis to encourage young women to enter politics not only to fight gender discrimination but to fulfill their responsibilities as good citizens. “Politics isn’t a far off thing that happens in a state capital or in Washington,” she once remarked. “It is the road you drive on, the schools you attend; it’s the groceries you buy. It isn’t far away from you. It’s important that everyone become involved in the issues central to their lives.”

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