One of the enduring truths about American society is that women have a very hard time moving into elected positions of influence and power. That may be about to change but not without a struggle.
Germany has a woman chancellor. Chile has a woman president. Great Britain, India and Israel have all been led by women. The United States has yet to join the ranks of other western-style democracies with women leaders, but events in 2006 and 2008 could change all that.
Over the years, I have followed the careers of a number of highly successful women in various walks of life. Their experiences all have some bearing on the political state of women in America in the first part of the 21st century. Let me cite three such examples.
Right out of law school in 1970, I clerked for U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes of the Northern District of Texas. At that time in our history, only three women had ever served as federal judges in the United States and all three were still on the bench.
Judge Hughes, an elected state district judge for many years, had overcome numerous obstacles to become a federal judge. When she graduated from George Washington University Law School in the 1920’s and moved to Dallas, Texas, she couldn’t get a job with a local law firm because of discrimination against women.
Judge Hughes won a seat in the Texas Legislature in the 1930’s and ultimately was elected to sit as a state judge in a domestic relations court. Though she had a distinguished political and judicial career, she was not appointed to be a federal judge until 1961 when she was 64 years old. She served on the federal bench for many years and was recognized as one of the outstanding federal judges in Texas during her tenure.
My late wife, Kathy, entered the U.S. Army in 1974 with a direct commission. She held a number of positions with distinction as she worked her way up through the ranks from lieutenant to colonel.
However, she was passed over for acceptance as a full time student to the Army War College and the Army Command and General Staff School. Both schools are prerequisites for appointment as a general officer. Not to be denied, Kathy completed both schools by correspondence – something not easily done while also working in demanding staff jobs during the day.
Kathy got her break in 1994 when she was named commander of the Eastern Sector of the Military Entrance Processing Command – serving in command also being a prerequisite for appointment to general officer. She did such an outstanding job that she was promoted to brigadier general in 1996, becoming one of only 10 women in the Army at that time to hold general officer rank. She retired as a major general in 2005.
CBS News Anchor Katie Couric attended the same high school as my three daughters (Yorktown High School in Arlington, Va). Though I don’t know her personally (she is older than my daughters), I have followed her career with interest over the years because of the Yorktown connection. Katie covered the Pentagon for NBC before beginning her long run as co-host of NBC’s “Today” program.
Though always a serious reporter, Katie was not taken entirely seriously in the male dominated network news business until recently. Once CBS started its steady decline in the ratings, the once proud network needed to take dramatic action to win back viewers. And so Katie became the first solo female news anchor on any of the traditional broadcast networks.
I started watching CBS’s nightly newscast regularly when Bob Schieffer took over (he’s from my hometown of Ft. Worth). Katie is holding her own and should blaze the trail for other women to follow.
I cite these examples from varied fields because they are representative of the difficulties women face in most professional fields in our country to this day.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd appeared on a nationally syndicated Sunday talk show recently and said she believed a black politician would become president of the United States before a women would be elected. Women, in some instances, can be their own worst enemies.
Things may be about to change very dramatically in this country. It is now highly likely that a woman, Nancy Pelosi, will become the next Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in January. That would place her third in line in succession to the presidency.
If this happens, it will be as a result of Nancy’s political savvy and years of hard work in the political vineyards. She has been a member of Congress for 19 years and has served as both minority whip and minority leader. Prior to that, she was chairman of the California State Democratic Party and a key fundraiser for Senate Democrats.
And it certainly appears that Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., will be a serious candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. I don’t know whether she will win the nomination or whether she will be elected if she does become the Democratic candidate. But everyone in both parties takes her candidacy very seriously and virtually no one doubts that, under the right circumstances, she could become president of the United States.
If Hillary is not nominated, it is quite possible that one of several very competent Democratic women governors might be on the ticket as the nominee for vice president. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Janet Nepolitano of Arizona have both served with great distinction and are taken very seriously by Democratic Party professionals. Both have been elected in Republican-leaning states and both are widely recognized as having done an excellent job as chief executive of their state.
We have been a male dominated society in most respects for a very long time. That may be changed in a highly visible way in the near future.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Welte and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.