The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz
“I think a risk-taking, feisty woman is seen as disruptive and scary sometimes—certainly for the politically powerful. And I think women are seen that way because we do bring a different perspective and a different style. So do different men, but I felt that certainly when I came here to Congress. I felt it when I went to the state senate. The group of men huddled around a corner, and then you walk into it. You could just see the body language changes, you know? I think it was a good thing, by the way, but it does defy what they’re used to. It is a change. It isn’t always embraced.”
—The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz, April 12, 2017
U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania (January 3, 2005-January 3, 2015)
Allyson Y. Schwartz came of age during a time when traditional gender roles faced growing scrutiny and challenge. In her interview she recalls how the changing expectations for women in society shaped her individual and professional choices. Schwartz’s path to politics began as a community organizer and women’s rights advocate. In her role as a social worker and director of a non-profit women’s health care center, she learned the ins and outs of local, state, and federal government. This knowledge, and the alliances she forged, sparked an interest in pursuing a political career. Schwartz describes her foray into the Pennsylvania state senate—one made more difficult and unlikely because so few women had preceded her. During her time in state politics she focused on many public health initiatives, including a children’s health insurance program. In 2004, Schwartz set her sights on a congressional seat. Even with her impressive political résumé, she explains that she had to convince many voters that her gender did not serve as an obstacle for success in the House.
Once in Congress, Schwartz earned a reputation as a seasoned legislator determined to push an ambitious agenda. During her second term, she claimed a spot on the Ways and Means Committee. Schwartz recalls how this key assignment allowed her to focus on an issue of personal importance—health care. In her oral history, she reflects on how her background as a female social worker with experience in the human services and public health field, did not fit the typical mold for a politician. Schwartz also delves into the sharp contrast between the warm welcome she received in the House from veteran women Members and the less enthusiastic reception of the all-male Pennsylvania delegation. A prolific fundraiser, the five-term Representative worked closely with the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), helping to recruit and raise money for promising candidates for Congress. Schwartz also explains how she donned a mentoring role by taking time from her schedule to meet with newly-elected Members to offer advice and answer questions. She concludes her interview by discussing her reasons for leaving the House to run for Pennsylvania governor.
SCHWARTZ, Allyson Y., a Representative from Pennsylvania; born in Queens, Queens County, N.Y., October 3, 1948; graduated from the Calhoun School, New York, N.Y., 1966; B.A., Simmons College, Boston, Mass., 1970; M.S.W., Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pa., 1972; health care executive; member of the Pennsylvania state senate, 1991–2004; unsuccessful candidate to nomination for the United States Senate in 2000; elected as a Democrat to the One Hundred Ninth and to the four succeeding Congresses (January 3, 2005–January 3, 2015); was not a candidate for reelection to the One Fourteenth Congress, but was an unsuccessful candidate for nomination for Governor of Pennsylvania in 2014.
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The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz speaks about how her generation navigated changing gender roles resulting from the women's rights movement.
Moment to Seize
The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz discusses her early experience in women's health care.
The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz explains how her unique background in social services and health care made it difficult for others to classify her political qualifications.
Gender and Fundraising
The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz shares her thoughts on the role gender plays in raising money for Congress.
The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz describes the resistance she faced from an all-male delegation.
The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz recalls how women Members helped each other in Congress and how the U.S. House included Members from diverse backgrounds and districts.
The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz recalls how she sought to help new Members find their way in Congress.
Lots of Determination
The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz speaks about her determination and direct approach as a Representative.
A Different Style
The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz explains how women often brought a different style to the legislative arena.
Significance of the First Woman Speaker
The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz discusses the importance of a woman serving as Speaker of the House.
Qualified to Lead
The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz reveals how women candidates needed to convince people they could succeed in politics despite their gender.