The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar

Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives

“I thought it was a great issue for me to be the only woman. Yes, I think gender was a problem for some people. One of the fellas did an ad, in fact, saying that my polling was high. And it wasn’t a poll I took; it was a poll he took, but it was leaked by one of his volunteers. I found out that I was ahead of everybody, which was very interesting because I didn’t think that was the case. But he did an ad saying, ‘You know, if you want a weakling,’ that sort of thing. ‘You want somebody soft on issues.’ I mean he didn’t even have to say woman, but that’s what he was talking about. It really backfired, I think, quite a bit.”
—The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar, March 2, 2017

 

Abstract & Transcript

U.S. Representative from Ohio (January 3, 1977-January 3, 1993)

Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Mary Rose Oakar came to Congress having fostered strong community ties as a teacher, a member of the Cleveland city council, and a well-known name in the local Democratic Party. Oakar ran for Congress in great part to improve public housing in Cleveland. With no money for television advertisements she ran an effective grassroots campaign where she traversed the streets of Cleveland and nearby suburbs in a decked-out Ford Model T distributing her distinctive rose pens at church card parties, bowling alleys, and other events where potential voters assembled. During her eight terms in the House, the Ohio Representative remained closely connected to her district, addressing issues of local importance, while also earning a reputation as a powerful spokesperson for women, children, and the elderly.

As a Representative, Oakar advocated increased women’s rights such as pay equity and better health care for women. A determined, and at times, tenacious legislator—as evidenced by her refusal to back down when promised increased funding for mammograms—Oakar openly embraced the idea of representing women across the country and the world. During the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas debate in 1991, she joined other women Representatives in attending the highly-publicized congressional hearings and meeting with Anita Hill during breaks in her testimony. A founding member of the Congresswomen’s Caucus, she describes how she helped recruit other women Members to join the organization and reflects on the early years of the caucus. Oakar also recalls efforts by women Representatives for equity within the institution to gain access to the gym and pool used by Congressmen. Mirroring her ability to forge strong relationships in her district, Oakar skillfully worked her way into the Democratic leadership. She outlines her responsibilities in the Democratic whip organization and her successful run for secretary of the Democratic Caucus—a position left vacant when Geraldine Ferraro ran for Vice President. Oakar offers a behind-the-scenes look at leadership campaigning (including an unsuccessful bid for Democratic Caucus chair) and shares how Ferraro encouraged her to demand a seat at the table (literally) when the Democratic leadership met with the President at the White House.  

Biography

OAKAR, Mary Rose, a Representative from Ohio; born in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, March 5, 1940; graduated from Lourdes Academy, Cleveland, Ohio, 1958; B.A., Ursuline College, Cleveland, Ohio, 1962; attended Columbia University, New York, N.Y., 1963; M.A., John Carroll University, Cleveland, Ohio, 1966; attended Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, London, England, 1964; attended Westham Adult College, Warwickshire, England, 1968; faculty member, Cuyahoga Community College, Cuyahoga, Ohio, 1968–1975; member, Cleveland, Ohio, city council, 1973–1976; Democratic State central committee, 1973–1975; alternate delegate, Democratic National Convention, 1976; elected as a Democrat to the Ninety-fifth and to the seven succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1977–January 3, 1993); unsuccessful candidate for reelection to the One Hundred Third Congress in 1992; business executive; consultant; member of the Ohio state house of representatives, 2000–2002. 

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Video

Helpful Advice

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar recalls advice she received when contemplating a run for Congress.

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar, U.S. Representative of Ohio
Interview recorded March 2, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Creative Campaigning

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar describes a unique campaign strategy she used in her first House campaign. 

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar, U.S. Representative of Ohio
Interview recorded March 2, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Red, White, and Blue

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar provides information on campaign materials she used when she ran for public office.

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar, U.S. Representative of Ohio
Interview recorded March 2, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Negative Campaigning

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar reflects on the discussions she had with other Representatives about negative campaign tactics used against women Members.

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar, U.S. Representative of Ohio
Interview recorded March 2, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Gender Stereotypes

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar discusses the obstacles she had to overcome as a woman candidate running for Congress.

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar, U.S. Representative of Ohio
Interview recorded March 2, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Persistence and Good Advice

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar shares how she earned a spot on the House Select Committee on Aging. 

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar, U.S. Representative of Ohio
Interview recorded March 2, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Congresswoman Sala Burton

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar shares her memories of California Representative Sala Burton.

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar, U.S. Representative of Ohio
Interview recorded March 2, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Building Support for a Women's Caucus

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar explains her role in building support for a women’s caucus. 

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar, U.S. Representative of Ohio
Interview recorded March 2, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

"And They Went Crazy"

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar recalls her determination to pass legislation aimed at improving women’s health.

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar, U.S. Representative of Ohio
Interview recorded March 2, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

The Women's Suffrage Statue

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar recalls the role of the Congresswomen’s Caucus in displaying a statue in the Capitol honoring American suffragists. 

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar, U.S. Representative of Ohio
Interview recorded March 2, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Singing for Equal Access

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar remembers when she and Representatives Barbara Boxer and Marcy Kaptur used music to make a case for equal access to the House Gym. 

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar, U.S. Representative of Ohio
Interview recorded March 2, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Making History for Women: Part One

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar discusses advice she received from Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro after she was elected secretary of the Democratic Caucus. 

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar, U.S. Representative of Ohio
Interview recorded March 2, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Making History for Women: Part Two

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar explains how she made history at a White House meeting.

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar, U.S. Representative of Ohio
Interview recorded March 2, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Different Perspective of Women

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar describes a meeting with President Ronald Reagan that illustrates the different perspective women bring to Congress and negotiations. 

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar, U.S. Representative of Ohio
Interview recorded March 2, 2017 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Images & Artifacts

The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar
<i>The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_okar_portrait.xml
Congresswoman Oakar served in the House from 1977 to 1993.

Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office

Mary Rose Oakar Lapel Pin
<i>Mary Rose Oakar Lapel Pin</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_oakar_button.xml
Congresswoman Oakar distributed these buttons during her first campaign. She decided to make them larger than traditional lapel pins so voters would remember her name.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this Object
Mary Rose Oakar Supersisters Card
<i>Mary Rose Oakar Supersisters Card</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_oakar_supersister.xml
Mary Rose Oakar is included in the 72 Supersisters trading cards from 1979. On the back of the card, Representative Oakar is quoted saying, "People are more important than politics."
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this Object
First Woman on U.S. Coin
<i>First Woman on U.S. Coin</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_oakar_cake.xml
Representative Oakar cut into a cake depicting the Susan B. Anthony Dollar Coin, which went into circulation in 1979.
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office
Speaker Tip O'Neill
<i>Speaker Tip O'Neill</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_oakar_oneill.xml
Congresswoman Mary Rose Oakar posed with Speaker Tip O'Neill in 1983. In her interview, Oakar described O'Neill as a mentor.

Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office

Chairing a Subcommittee
<i>Chairing a Subcommittee</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_oakar_chair.xml
Representative Oakar chaired the Compensation and Employee Benefits Subcommittee (Post Office and Civil Service Committee) in the 98th Congress (1983–1985).

Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representative Photography Office