The Honorable Yvonne Brathwaite Burke
Yvonne Brathwaite Burke made headlines during her political career, most notably for being the first Member to give birth while serving in Congress. With a seat on the Appropriations Committee and as the first woman to chair the Congressional Black Caucus, Burke built her reputation as a political star during her three terms in the House.
U.S. Representative from California (January 3, 1973-January 3, 1979)
Yvonne Brathwaite Burke came to Congress as a nationally-known political figure. Her notoriety in the Democratic Party and experience in the California assembly opened doors not typically available to new Members, such as an assignment on the influential Appropriations Committee during her second term in the House. In her interview, Burke reflects on how she made history on Capitol Hill, as the first African-American woman to represent California in Congress and as the first Member to give birth while serving in the House. As a new mother, Burke entered unchartered territory for a woman Member of Congress: how to navigate a demanding career and care for an infant, all while in the public spotlight.
Burke explains how the fight for racial equality sparked her interest in politics. She acknowledges the demands placed on black Representatives during the 1970s, when frequent travel and speaking engagements across the country resulted in extra pressure and sometimes unrealistic expectations for Members often viewed as national representatives for all African Americans. In Burke’s discussion about her African-American colleagues, she shares her observations of the Congressional Black Caucus, including her time as chair—another historic achievement as the first woman to lead the caucus. She also describes the Congressional Women’s Caucus and the close bond shared by many of the women Members who, due to their small numbers, often socialized in the House and on congressional delegations. Burke’s interest in helping women extended beyond her district to the Capitol, something evidenced by her attempts to keep the House Beauty Shop open and to protect the rights of its women employees. In her oral history, Burke illustrates how race and gender intersected in the institution on the heels of the civil rights movement.
This interviewee appears in the following projects: A Century of Women in Congress, and The Long Struggle for Representation: Oral Histories of African-Americans in Congress.
BURKE, Yvonne Brathwaite, a Representative from California; born Perle Yvonne Watson in Los Angeles, Calif., October 5, 1932; attended the public schools in Los Angeles; B.A., University of California, Los Angeles, Calif., 1953; J.D., University of Southern California School of Law, Los Angeles, Calif., 1956; lawyer, private practice; served as deputy corporation commissioner, hearing officer for Los Angeles Police Commission, and attorney on the staff of the McCone commission; member of the California state assembly, 1967-1972; delegate to Democratic National Convention, 1972; elected as a Democrat to the Ninety–third and to the two succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1973–January 3, 1979); not a candidate for reelection to the Ninety–sixth Congress in 1978, but was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for State Attorney General of California; appointed by the Governor to the Los Angeles County, Calif., board of supervisors, 1979–1980; member of the Los Angeles County, Calif., board of supervisors, 1992-2008; director, Amtrak board of directors, 2013 to present; member of the California state transportation commission, 2013 to present; is a resident of Los Angeles, Calif.Read full biography
Women and the Civil Rights Movement
Gender and the Campaign
Race and Gender
Congresswomen in the Public Eye
"I Was Me"
"No Facilities for Women"
Debating a Pregnant Member
Diversity in the Congressional Black Caucus
Chairing a "Caucus of Stars"
Help for the House Beauty Shop
Role of the Women's Caucus
A Different Dimension
Women Members and Fundraising
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