MARTIN, Lynn Morley

MARTIN, Lynn Morley
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives


Lynn Martin’s expertise on economic issues, her quick wit, moderation, and independence helped her to become the first woman in the United States House of Representatives to attain leadership positions high within the Republican Party. As she had in the Illinois house of representatives, Congresswoman Martin earned a reputation as a liberal on women’s issues but also as a stalwart fiscal conservative eager to rein in a government that, in her view, had spent beyond its means since the 1960s. “All bureaucracy doesn’t have to exist forever,” Martin said shortly after arriving in Congress.1

Judith Lynn Morley was born on December 26, 1939, in Evanston, Illinois, youngest of two daughters of William Morley, an accountant, and Helen Hall Morley, a department store clerk. She grew up on the north side of Chicago in a heavily Irish-Catholic and Democratic neighborhood and attended public schools. Her earliest political experience was in running for eighth-grade class president against her boyfriend. “I lost by one vote. My vote. You see, I voted for my opponent because I thought it was polite,” she recalled years later. “Well, he voted for himself, and I learned my lesson: if you believe in yourself, vote for yourself.”2 She made Phi Beta Kappa and earned a BA in English at the University of Illinois at Urbana in 1960. A week after she graduated, she married John Martin, an engineering student. They raised two daughters: Julia and Caroline. Lynn Martin taught at several high schools in DuPage County and Rockford, Illinois.

Martin entered public service after becoming “interested in my community” and worried that the local government was “out of touch” and “buried.”3 In 1972 Martin was elected to the Winnebago County (Illinois) board and four years later won a seat in the state house of representatives. Her political mentors were Betty Ann Keegan, a Democrat in the Illinois state senate who first encouraged her to run for office, and Republican Congressman Robert Henry Michel of Illinois, the future U.S. House Minority Leader. She served on the appropriations committee and earned the nickname “the Axe” for her efforts to reduce spending.4 Martin won election to the Illinois senate in 1978. That same year, she and John Martin were divorced. Lynn Martin eventually remarried in 1987 to Harry Leinenweber, a U.S. District Court judge.

When U.S. Representative John Bayard Anderson retired to run for the presidency in 1980, Martin beat four other Republicans in the primary for the open seat in the northwest Illinois district bordering Wisconsin. The largely agrarian district was anchored by the town of Rockford and had not sent a Democrat to Congress in the twentieth century.5 Martin’s platform supported the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion rights but was fiscally conservative, calling for lower taxes and business deregulation. Her socially moderate stance earned her the support of women’s groups. In a state that went comfortably for Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan in the general election, Martin cruised to victory with 67 percent of the vote against Democratic candidate Douglas R. Aurand. Though held to less than 60 percent of the vote in 1982 and 1984, she never was seriously challenged afterward.6 “I had an opportunity to run for the House and wrestle with some things, like the direction of growth in government,” Martin said shortly after taking office. “I knew if I ignored the opportunity, then I’d never have the right to complain about these things.”7

In Congress, Martin quickly became a leader within the Republican Party. She possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of economic issues and skewered Democrats (and some Republicans) for what she identified as zealous spending habits. Her mentor, Minority Leader Robert Henry Michel, got Martin a seat on the Budget Committee in the 97th Congress (1981–1983), a plum assignment for a freshman. Martin explained, “It’s a little like getting sex education at age six. It’s a little too soon to understand—there’s a lot of stuff you shouldn’t know until a lot later.” Soon after, Martin was plotting budget strategy with the Reagan White House and clashing with the Defense Department, which wanted to vastly expand military spending at the expense of social programs.8 In 1986, during the committee’s budget negotiations, Martin stood in for the ailing Ranking Republican. She established a cordial working relationship with Democratic Chairman William Herbert Gray III of Pennsylvania, impressing observers with her acumen. In 1987, during a markup session on the budget, a question arose over whether the committee should restore a revenue-sharing program. Several of the men, both Republicans and Democrats, made assertive arguments for restoration. Martin balked, arguing that the deficit-strapped federal government had no money to share with local governments. “Maybe girls learn to say ‘no’ easier than boys,” she chided her colleagues, drawing chuckles from many in the room.9

When New York Representative Geraldine Anne Ferraro became the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 1984, Martin played a prominent role in steering Republican national strategy. First, she became Vice President George H. W. Bush’s sparring partner, a stand-in for Ferraro to prepare for the fall debates. She adopted an aggressive style in those mock debates, throwing the Vice President off balance and convincing him that he needed to prepare more rigorously. Martin also was tapped to deliver Bush’s nominating speech at the Republican National Convention in Dallas. The party named her chair of the Reagan–Bush Illinois campaign. When Bush ran for President in 1988, she was the only woman named a national co-chair of his campaign. After the 1984 election, she also won the historic distinction of being elected vice chair of the House Republican Conference, the first woman ever to serve in the House GOP leadership. She was re-elected to the post two years later. In 1988, when Conference Chair Richard Bruce Cheney of Wyoming opted to run for the party’s second highest position of Whip, Martin entered the race for his vacant leadership spot. She lost her bid by only three votes to Charles Jeremy (Jerry) Lewis of California after party conservatives mounted a campaign against her, in part, for her voting record on social issues.10

Martin avoided labels such as “crusader” or “feminist.” She once exclaimed, “I don’t walk into every meeting humming, ‘I Am Woman.’”11 In the 100th Congress (1987–1989), she waged a successful campaign to bring 30,000 congressional employees under the protection of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (from which they had been exempt). It was, in large part, an effort to improve working conditions, reduce discrimination, and to raise the pay for women staff members whom Martin demonstrated were consistently underpaid.12 She wanted to help women by providing economic opportunity, rather than direct government aid. “In a recessive economy,” Martin said in 1981, “the people the most hurt are minority women. So the best place I could help would be to get it going again. If we’re in a recession—if there are no jobs—programs don’t mean a thing.”13

Martin distinguished herself on several other committees, serving on House Administration during the 97th and 98th Congresses (1981–1985), Public Works and Transportation during the 98th Congress (1983–1985), Armed Services during the 99th through 100th Congresses (1985–1989), and Rules in the 101st Congress (1989–1991). On a number of important issues, she parted company with Republicans: arguing for a minimum wage increase, voting to override President Reagan’s 1986 veto of a sanctions bill against the apartheid regime in South Africa, joining with Democrats to stiffen punishment for white-collar criminals, and supporting abortion rights legislation.

In 1990 President Bush and other Republican leaders convinced Martin to give up her House seniority to challenge incumbent Democrat Paul Martin Simon for one of Illinois’s U.S. Senate seats. Observers thought it would be a close race. Martin’s campaign suffered from several gaffes and a lack of funding (Simon outspent her by a nearly two-to-one margin).14 Both candidates supported abortion rights, though Simon managed to win support of the Women’s Campaign Fund because of his connections to that group’s major donors. It was a blow to Martin’s cash-strapped campaign. Simon also was able to capitalize on wide public support for Operation Desert Shield, the military buildup leading up to the Gulf War, by generating publicity from his seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; he appeared on television with the troops in Saudi Arabia.15 Martin lost in a landslide as Simon scooped up 65 percent of the vote.16

Martin’s supporters in the party helped her in her postcongressional career. On December 14, 1990, President Bush appointed her Secretary of Labor, despite the fact that she was at variance with the administration on social issues. “I can’t imagine the only people who should work for a President are those who sycophantically agree on everything,” Martin said. “It would be the most boring Cabinet in the world and it would be of no use to the President.”17 She served as Labor Secretary from February 22, 1991, until January 20, 1993, developing several programs: “Job Training 2000” for youth apprenticeships, the Pension Opportunities for Worker’s Expanded Retirement, and the “Glass Ceiling” Initiative. Martin later taught at Northwestern University, worked for Deloitte & Touche’s Council on the Advancement of Women, chaired a University of Illinois task force on “The Future of the Health Care Labor Force in a Graying Society,” and conducted a comprehensive study on sexual harassment in the workplace for a major automobile company.18 She lives in Chicago, Illinois.


1Deborah Churchman, “Illinois Congresswoman Brings Her Frugal Style to Washington,” 8 January 1981, Christian Science Monitor: 17.

2Shirley Washington, Outstanding Women Members of Congress (Washington, DC: U.S. Capitol Historical Society, 1995): 57.

3Churchman, “Illinois Congresswoman Brings Her Frugal Style to Washington.”

4"Martin, Lynn," Current Biography, 1989 (New York: H.W. Wilson and Company, 1989): 386.

5Politics in America, 1982 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1981): 362.

6Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

7Churchman, “Illinois Congresswoman Brings Her Frugal Style to Washington.”

8Current Biography, 1989: 386.

9Milton Coleman, “Lynn M. Martin: Finessing an Insider’s Game in House GOP Leadership,” 19 May 1986, Washington Post: A13.

10Susan F. Rasky, “Parties Name House Leaders and Goals,” 6 December 1988, New York Times: B13; Clifford D. May and David Binder, “Briefing,” 24 November 1988, New York Times: B15; Almanac of American Politics, 1990 (Washington, DC: National Journal Inc., 1989): 382.

11Coleman, “Lynn M. Martin: Finessing an Insider’s Game in House GOP Leadership.”

12Irvin Molotsky, “House Extends Job Bias Protection To Its Own Workers, With Limits,” 5 October 1988, New York Times: A1.

13Churchman, “Illinois Congresswoman Brings Her Frugal Style to Washington.”

14Almanac of American Politics, 1994 (Washington, DC: National Journal Inc., 1993): 384.

15Washington, Outstanding Women Members of Congress: 60

16“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present."

17Charles Trueheart, “Lynn Martin: No Yes Woman,” 19 August 1992, Washington Post: B1. See also Karen Foerstel, Biographical Dictionary of Congressional Women (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999): 173–174.

18“Mitsubishi Settles with Women in Sexual Harassment Lawsuit,” 29 August 1997, New York Times: A14.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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External Research Collections

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Archives Research Center

Champaign, IL
Papers: 1977-1992, 39 cubic feet. The papers of former Congresswoman Lynn Morley Martin contain correspondence, notes, reports, legislation, appointment books, guest books, newspaper clippings, books, magazine articles, press releases, speeches, campaign and office records, newsletters, photos, artifacts and videotapes concerning Martin's tenure in the Illinois House and Senate, including nursing home reform; her campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives, including finances, election returns, and advertising; her tenure in the U.S. House, including casework, project assistance, legislative and constituent services, letters signed, candidates for the Republican Conference vice chairmanship (1984), the Republican Policy Committee Chairmanship (1987), and the House Republican Conference Chairmanship (1988-89), speech seconding George Bush's nomination at the Republican National Convention (1984), efforts to reform the rules of Congress and to extend civil rights laws to congressional employees, women's issues, labor issues, the federal budget, educational reform, and seminars and conferences; campaign for U.S. Senator (1989-1990), including planning, organization, fundraising, finances, advertising, and debates; tenure as Secretary of Labor, including confirmation hearings, swearing in, and the Glass Ceiling initiative on removing barriers to women and minorities in corporations; photographs with Ronald Reagan and George Bush; and trips to Eastern Europe (1989-1990) and Italy (ca. 1991). An inventory is available in the repository and online.

University of Oklahoma
The Julian P. Kanter Political Commercial Archive, Department of Communication

Norman, OK
Videoreels and Videocassettes: 1980-1990, 15 commercials on 10 videoreels and 18 commercials on 2 videocassettes. The commercials used during Lynn Morley Martin's campaigns for the 1980, 1984, 1986, and 1988 U.S. congressional elections in District 16 and the 1990 U.S. senatorial election in Illinois, Republican Party.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Lynn Martin" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

Petri, Thomas E., William F. Clinger, Jr., Nancy L. Johnson, and Lynn Martin, eds. National Industrial Policy: Solution or Illusion. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, Inc., 1984.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Armed Services
  • House Committee - Budget
  • House Committee - District of Columbia
  • House Committee - House Administration
  • House Committee - Public Works and Transportation
  • House Committee - Rules
  • Joint Committee - Joint Committee on Printing
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