The Honorable Donna F. Edwards
Building on momentum from a grassroots campaign against an incumbent Representative, Donna Edwards made history on her second run for office, becoming the first African-American woman elected to Congress from Maryland. During her decade in the House, the Maryland Congresswoman sought to protect women from domestic violence and worked to promote health care reform.
U.S. Representative from Maryland (June 17, 2008-January 3, 2017)
From a young age, Donna Edwards felt drawn to politics and law. She followed the careers of Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm of New York and Barbara Jordan of Texas and in her interview explains how growing up in a military family—her father served in the Air Force—reinforced her commitment to public service and community activism. She describes her early involvement in state and national campaigns and how her interest in policy stemmed from family discussions around the dining room table.
As a community organizer Edwards built a foundation for her future House career by establishing a strong grassroots network and learning the ins and outs of local and national politics. Describing her entry into electoral politics as accidental, she actively tried to recruit a candidate to challenge the Democratic Representative in her Maryland district. When no one answered her plea, Edwards surprised herself and others when she decided to run for Congress. She discusses her first campaign, reveals why she ran again, and explains how she garnered enough support to defeat a sitting Member of Congress on her second try.
Edwards shares her thoughts on making history as the first African-American woman to represent Maryland in Congress. She also considers the role of gender and race in her elections and recalls the resistance she faced in the Maryland delegation as well as the Congressional Black Caucus, and from influential Members like John Dingell, Jr. of Michigan because she unseated a popular Democratic colleague. Edwards used her legal training when approaching committee work and legislation in the House, meticulously preparing for hearings and carefully reviewing bills scheduled for votes. She played an integral role in passing legislation to curb domestic violence and to promote health care reform. In her interview, the Maryland Representative talks about her personal connection with both issues. During her five terms in Congress, Edwards often worked closely with the Democratic Party, both as a member of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee and as an active participant in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She offers insight on the committee selection process and her approach to recruiting candidates to run for Congress. Edwards also describes her decision to run for the U.S. Senate, the opposition she faced, and her thoughts on the campaign.
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.
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