Betsy Wright Hawkings
Betsy Wright Hawkings experienced a rapid rise in the office of Representative Christopher Shays of Connecticut, becoming chief of staff within three years. She used her leadership and organizational skills to build a career on Capitol Hill that spanned nearly 25 years.
Betsy Wright Hawkings worked as a chief of staff for nearly 25 years on Capitol Hill. In this oral history, Hawkings describes her swift rise in the office of Republican Congressman Christopher Shays of Connecticut and the lessons she learned from a career focused on developing leadership strategies for congressional offices. Hawkings describes the way cooperation and compassion united the small number of women in office leadership positions in the early 1990s. She highlights the challenges facing working mothers and the proliferation of opportunities for women in congressional offices over the course of her career.
Hawkings’ first-hand account of the pivotal 1994 election and the “Contract with America” adds a unique perspective on the changes within the Republican Party during the 1990s. She developed a strong connection with Shays’ Connecticut district—which included her hometown—and was instrumental in mobilizing resources to assist residents affected by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Throughout this interview, Hawkings provides insight into the provision of constituent services, office management, congressional employment practices, and the challenges of implementing a bipartisan legislative agenda.
Hawkings was born in 1963 and grew up in southwestern Connecticut, where her father was actively involved in local Republican politics. Her first political experience was as a high school volunteer for the George H.W. Bush campaign during the 1980 Republican presidential primaries. Encouraged by her mother to attend college, she financed her degree from Williams College in Massachusetts by working in the banking industry in Manhattan between semesters.
As chief of staff for Congressman Shays, Hawkings was one of a small number of women who held office management positions in the early 1990s. She developed and applied her leadership abilities, organizational acumen, and strategic political skills. She also worked to address some of the issues facing working mothers trying to balance work and family life.
Hawkings experienced the Republican transition to the majority after the 1994 election and the implementation of the “Contract with America.” After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center—which resulted in the death of more than 80 constituents from Shays’ district—she spearheaded the effort to connect the families of victims with resources and supported the congressional investigation of the attacks.
Hawkings’ management skills were influential beyond her office. In 1996, she started working part-time for Congressman Shays so that she could care for her children. From 1996 to 1998, she was also deputy director of the Congressional Management Foundation, producing manuals on effective procedures for new Members organizing their congressional offices. The policy manual she created for Shays’ congressional office also served as a model for her colleagues in other Member offices. After Shays’ unsuccessful reelection bid in 2008, Hawkings brought her leadership skills to three other congressional offices as chief of staff until she left Capitol Hill in 2015.