The Honorable Nancy Lee Johnson
“And it was very good because when I was elected to, first, the [Connecticut] senate, and then to Congress, it didn’t occur to me not to express my opinion or not to ask my questions. And I was good at asking questions. People often asked me to ask their question. Finally, I figured out that, actually, they needed to ask their question so I could ask my own. But it was very gratifying to serve because one of the things people don’t understand is that male or female, you’ve got one vote. And the more articulate you are, and the more studious you are in developing your position on an issue, frankly, the more influence you have the more people will follow your vote because you can’t be expert on everything. So, you choose people whose expertise you believe in and whose balanced approach you believe in, and you see how they vote. And if you’re uncertain, you’re likely to vote with them, as others often vote with you. So, of the moderates, I became someone that you wanted to see how they were going to vote because I had such a diverse district.”
—The Honorable Nancy Lee Johnson, December 3, 2015
U.S. Representative from Connecticut (January 3, 1983-January 3, 2007)
Influenced by her mother, a high school history teacher and department chair, and her father, a law school dean, Nancy Lee Johnson’s political background grew from a family commitment to community activism. Building upon a successful career in the Connecticut state senate, Johnson came to the House in 1983 well-equipped to handle the rigors of Congress. She made history by becoming the first Republican woman to win a seat on the influential Ways and Means Committee and was one of a small number of women to chair a full House committee (Standards of Official Conduct). In her oral history, Johnson provides a behind-the-scenes look at committee work, including her approach to policy and legislation.
Johnson speaks about the role of women in the Republican Party and the changing position of moderates in Congress during the 24 years she served in the House. Known as a policy expert in the House, Johnson describes her efforts to secure legislation to help her Connecticut district, as well as bills aimed at improving the welfare of women and children. She also shares her impressions of the Congresswomen’s Caucus—including her time as co-chair—and the efforts of women to secure equitable resources in the institution such as the gym for women Members. By the end of her career, Johnson was one of the deans of the Congresswomen. Her interview reveals the different approaches available to women who served in Congress—in Johnson’s case as a Representative who worked within the system using seniority, personal relationships, and policy expertise to achieve success.
JOHNSON, Nancy Lee, a Representative from Connecticut; born Nancy Elizabeth Lee in Chicago, Cook County, Ill., January 5, 1935; graduated from elementary and secondary classes of the University of Chicago Laboratory School, Chicago, Ill., 1953; B.A., Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Mass., 1957; attended, University of London Courtauld Institute, 1957–1958; teacher; member of the Connecticut state senate, 1977–1982; delegate, Republican National Convention, 1980; elected as a Republican to the Ninety–eighth and to the eleven succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1983–January 3, 2007); chair, Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (One Hundred Fourth Congress); unsuccessful candidate for reelection to the One Hundred Tenth Congress in 2006.
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On the Campaign Trail
The Honorable Nancy Lee Johnson recalls campaign decorum in 1982.
The Honorable Nancy Lee Johnson discusses designing campaign literature while keeping costs low, and which motifs were effective for her race.
"Freshmen Are to Be Seen but Not Heard"
The Honorable Nancy Lee Johnson describes speaking on the House Floor.
"Those Machines Only Build Muscles"
The Honorable Nancy Lee Johnson protests inequalities in the separate House gym facilities for men and women.
Attracting the Interest of the Press
The Honorable Nancy Lee Johnson recalls limited interested of the Washington press corps.
Balancing Family and Congress
The Honorable Nancy Lee Johnson recalls the importance of balancing family responsibilities and her work as a Member of Congress.
The Honorable Nancy Lee Johnson describes the way she maneuvered for a seat on the Ways and Means Committee.
"Rules of the Game"
The Honorable Nancy Lee Johnson describes her willingness to challenge the powerful chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Representative Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois.
Women's Perspectives and Committee Service
The Honorable Nancy Lee Johnson discusses the ways women gained influence in Congress.
Ways and Means Subcommittee Chair
The Honorable Nancy Lee Johnson emphasizes the value of debate and input from others when considering amendments and drafting legislation.
Women Representing Rural Districts
The Honorable Nancy Lee Johnson discusses the challenges women from rural districts faced when running for Congress.
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