History of the Caucus
by Georgia Sorenson
February 20, 2000
MEETING THE CHALLENGE: 1965-1973
THE CAUCUS TAKES SHAPE: 1974-1976
DEVELOPING AN ORGANIZATIONAL IDENTITY: 1976-1979
INCREASING IN NUMBERS AND INFLUENCE: 1980-1990
LEGISLATIVE ACTIVISM: 1991-1999
THE NEW MILLENNIUM
Maryland has a rich and distinguished history of women in political life. In 1648, Margaret Brent, representative to Lord Baltimore, rode her horse to the Maryland General Assembly to demand the right to vote. Although she was summarily turned down, she is the first woman in recorded history to demand political suffrage.
Maryland elected its first woman, Mary Eliza Watters Risteau, in 1921 to serve in the House of Delegates. She served in the House for four sessions, and in 1933, she became the first woman elected to the Maryland Senate. She served two sessions, and some years later she was again elected to the House of Delegates from 1951 to 1954.
In 1958, Maryland elected its first African-American women to the state legislature. Both Verda F. Welcome and Irma George Dixon were elected to the House of Delegates. In 1962, Ms. Welcome became the first African-American woman elected to the Maryland Senate.
In the early 1980s, a unique and powerful partnership emerged between the Women Legislators of Maryland and the Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland (then called the Women and Politics Project). Dedicated to fostering the next generation of women elected leaders in Maryland, the Academy over the years has provided interns, research, equipment, and political training to the women legislators.
More than half of the women elected leaders have participated in the Academy’s leadership development trainings.
In an independent review by sociologist Cynthia Chertos, growth in the number of women elected leaders in Maryland can be traced to the inception of this unique partnership.
In 1981, when Maryland’s legislature was 14.9 percent female, overall state legislatures were 14.0 percent female, a mere 0.9 percent gap. Over the years of this partnership, women’s participation nationwide rose slowly, but Maryland’s rose more rapidly. Thus, by 1997, when Maryland’s female representation was 29.8 percent, state legislatures were only 21.5 percent female — an 8.3 percent gender gap. Similarly, Maryland’s ranking vis-à-vis other states has been high for this sixteen-year period — starting at 11th out of the 50 states in 1981 and rising to 8th for both 1995 and 1997. In 2000, the state is ranked 10th out of the fifty states.
Maryland’s nearly 30 percent representation of women in its state legislature is notably ahead of its immediate neighbors. While Delaware comes closest (25.8 percent), the other three states, Virginia (15.0 percent), West Virginia (14.9 percent) and Pennsylvania (12.3 percent) are far behind.
In 2002, the number of women legislators rose to 58 or 31% of the General Assembly.
The Women Legislators of Maryland was founded in 1972. The earliest statewide organization of its kind, the "Women's Caucus" as it is informally known, was the result of several facts of life in Maryland and in the nation at large, which had a significant impact on women in public life.
In the early 1970s, women were beginning to make political gains nationally. More women were being elected to statewide office, and they were beginning to feel the need for stronger ties to each other, both in their states and with women in other parts of the country. This newfound political potential and its long-term implications were gradually being recognized in the male-dominated state legislatures. Long-term legislators' reaction to this invasion of their mostly men's clubs was, by and large, to ignore it. They attempted to maintain their power by limiting women's access to power, and, whenever possible, by making women who sought power uncomfortable in this pursuit.
The Maryland General Assembly was no exception to this national trend.
Growing out of the National Order of Women Legislators (NOWL), the Women Legislators was designed by its founders to meet the particular needs and challenges women in politics faced in Maryland. The national organization was composed of current and past women legislators. Its purpose was to foster cooperation among women holding state legislative office and to increase political participation by all women. Early on, the Maryland chapter distinguished itself by placing greater emphasis on legislative issues such as state divorce laws. They also actively encouraged women to seek elective office. In the early days, the legislative focus was limited to discussion in the group's annual and later semi-annual meetings. Gradually, during the 1960s, the number of members and frequency of meetings increased.
By 1965, the Maryland NOWL chapter had doubled its membership to fifteen and increased its meetings to three per year. In 1971, the Maryland chapter boasted 100 percent membership by women legislators and had garnered recognition from the national organization for its members' work in education, consumer protection, the environment, and medical expense issues. In 1973, Nancy Brown Burkheimer, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, was elected president of the National Organization of Women Legislators.
In parallel fashion, during the late 1960s and early '70s, members of Maryland's Black community made strides in their representation in the General Assembly. In 1971, Black members of the legislature organized a Black Caucus to more effectively promote the concerns and agendas of their members. This development, together with an infamous occurrence during the 1972 legislative session, spurred the women of Maryland into action.
The increasing presence of women in the Maryland legislature had begun to create some stresses and pressures. While their numbers and tenure had increased, women had been entirely shut out of key positions in both the Senate and the House. Delegate Pauline Menes pointed out this lack of representation when she criticized her party's leadership for its failure to appoint any women to the key standing committees in the House of Delegates. The Speaker of the House, Thomas Hunter Lowe, responded by appointing Delegate Menes "Chairman of the Ladies' Rest Room Committee."
Delegate Menes recognized, however, that this obvious slight could be put to her advantage. She interpreted her appointment as committee chair as grounds for her attendance at the weekly leadership meetings held by the Speaker and President of the Senate. She was refused admittance because her presence would "make the men feel uncomfortable" and since there was "really no reason for the Chairman of the Ladies' Rest Room Committee to attend anyway."
This incident sparked a vigorous debate among the women legislators concerning the lack of recognition of women legislators in Maryland and the legislature's history of ignoring its women members. Neither Senator Mary Nock, who held the title of President Pro Tem, nor Senator Margaret Schweinhaut, who chaired the Committee on Executive Nominations, had been included in that chamber's leadership meetings. In fact, Senator Nock had never been invited to attend and Senator Schweinhaut said the only invitation she ever received to one of the meetings was withdrawn by an embarrassed secretary with the explanation that she was new and had invited the Senator by mistake.
As Maryland's women legislators found grounds for discontent in the General Assembly, they also turned their attention to the executive branch, where they found equally appalling disparities among men and women on appointed commissions, boards, and other important posts in Maryland Government.
In February 1972, acting on a Resolution by Senator Rosalie Abrams that the women in the legislature "form a Women's Caucus to meet regularly" and to "push for the recognition of women and their abilities," the women created the Women Legislators (Women's Caucus) of Maryland. The members of the fledgling organization immediately issued a press release announcing their creation followed by a resolution urging both the governor and the legislature to "take positive steps to remedy the present inequities in the recognition of women in higher levels of Maryland government."
As a result, the Washington Post ran an article on March 1, 1972, which quoted women legislators as being "bitter about being excluded from the leadership, bitter about the snickers and jokes...that accompany bills or debates concerning women's rights, and bitter about the club's 'protect our womenfolk' attitude."
A few weeks later, either unaware or lacking understanding of the implications of recent actions by the women in his chamber, Speaker Lowe presented Delegate Menes with a toilet seat covered with a muskrat pelt. This apparent attempt at humor took place during a session of the House of Delegates, so Menes took the opportunity to address the House membership. She said that her acceptance of the Speaker's gift "occasioned the first time I can recall one of the women members being on the rostrum, and that is a first I appreciate."
In spite of the Speaker's ongoing attempts at humor, the die had clearly been cast. The women had created their own Caucus and had gotten some press attention as a result. By the end of the session, a woman had been appointed to chair the House Ethics Committee, Helen Koss, and another had been appointed to the General Assembly's interim body, the Legislative Council, Margaret Schweinhaut. Interpreted by many as token appointments, these appointments were nevertheless harbingers of successes to come.
The 1974 statewide elections resulted in an almost 50 percent increase in women elected to the legislature, from thirteen to nineteen. Immediately this newly enervated group turned its attention to pending legislative issues. Delegate Menes was elected the first President of the Caucus, and members agreed to meet weekly during the session and biweekly in the interim. Under Menes's leadership, they established as an early priority the status of women in Maryland's higher education system.
Early success and recognition for the new Caucus was achieved in part through legislation sponsored by Delegate Helen Koss. Koss's bill establishing a pilot center for displaced homemakers in Baltimore County under the auspices of the state's Department of Human Resources was passed in the 1976 session. Senate President Steny Hoyer, sponsor of successful legislation to reform the state's rape laws, credited the women legislators' support and efforts as instrumental to the bill's success.
Following their initial session as an organized entity and having tasted some important victories, the women continued to meet to set legislative priorities and develop procedures and protocols for their activities. Two key decisions were made during the meetings that would have long-term effects on the Caucus's activities. In considering the means by which their legislative priorities would be established, the group decided to limit the number of priorities to achieve success and to avoid taking a position on controversial issues that could prove divisive to the group. While both positions remained controversial, clearly the Caucus was committed to solidarity and institutionalization as key values.
After consulting with a cross-section of women's groups, including the League of Women Voters, Maryland Women's Political Caucus, American Association of University Women, and the Maryland Chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Women Legislators established its first list of legislative priorities for the 1977 session. They included property rights, pension and insurance equity, protection for battered spouses, a stronger state Human Rights Commission, and continued reform of rape statutes. At the same time, the Women Legislators established two extra legislative oversight issues: ending discrimination against women in higher education and increasing the number of women on Maryland's boards and commissions.
Representatives of the Women Legislators took their case to Governor Marvin Mandel in the summer of 1976. Decrying the low number of women in appointed positions in the state, the delegates secured the Governor's commitment to consider their recommendations for appointments to vacancies in the executive branch.
During this first interim session, the Women Legislators also began an outreach program that was to become a hallmark of its ongoing success. The members decided to invite representatives of women's groups to meet with them to discuss their concerns and exchange ideas. Women business leaders and college presidents were among the early groups invited to meet with the Women Legislators in a practice that continues to the present. It was this year, 1976, that the Caucus hired its first professional director, Deanne Peltin Lang.
Gradually the women of the Maryland legislature began to gain recognition in many areas. They also met resistance in others. The Baltimore Sun ran a flattering story of the Caucus's development and achievements on the front page of its Sunday "Local" section in February, 1977. Reporter Donald Kimmelman noted that Delegate Ann Hull had been appointed to the largely honorary position of Speaker Pro Tem, a position that nevertheless allowed her access to the leadership meetings from which Delegate Menes had been barred only five years earlier. Interpreted by some as a token appointment to assuage the women in the House, her appointment was, nevertheless, a dramatic change from Menes's earlier experience.
But among some groups--the male legislators especially — the importance of the women's gains were minimized. A male legislator who requested anonymity told Kimmelman in the Sun article that none of the women in the legislature in 1977 could handle a major committee chairmanship. His reasoning was straightforward. "They've got the brains," he allowed, "but not the personality. You've got to have a dominant personality that brings your committee along with you. You can't be a lady."
This anonymous assessment was presented in a different light in the same article. Janet Hoffman, a twenty-year veteran lobbyist in the General Assembly, opined, "the people who hold positions of leadership in Annapolis generally got there 'by being part of a team.' They are leaders of various political blocs that share the power of the legislature." She noted that resistance among men in the legislative body to acknowledge women’s leadership was retarding the women's ability to assert control over the votes of others as well as their own.
To be sure, women were at this point developing recognized areas of expertise on their own. Menes was often acknowledged for her expertise in prison issues. Senator Rosalie Abrams and Delegate Lucille Maurer, two long-term members of the General Assembly, were recognized for their knowledge of health and education issues respectively.
Yet women continued to be seen as outsiders, according to Delegate Bert Booth, who noted that the legislative leadership saw "women as a threat just as they once saw Blacks as a threat. It's just another group coming in." But as the players discussed the prospects and implications of the women's role in the legislative process, the Caucus began to face the issues that confront growing organizations.
Two early issues for the newly formed Caucus involved very basic issues: space and staff. The Caucus rotated the sites of its regular meetings among the offices of their members. While the meeting sites were convenient, there was a great deal of difficulty in setting times for the group's business in an already crowded legislative day.
By 1976, the staffing issue was becoming more of a priority. Caucus members realized that without staff support their inability to produce material, track legislative activity, and disseminate information was severely limiting their effectiveness as a group. President Menes entered into negotiations with the Ms. Foundation for Women, Inc. and won a grant for the establishment of an internship program. Under the direction of Dr. Marianne Alexander from PLAN, interns from several of Maryland's colleges and universities identified, analyzed, and tracked proposed legislation affecting women, especially those bills dealing with legislative priorities established by the Caucus. These first interns created a legislative tracking chart that was to become a daily product of the Women Legislators during the session, with wide distribution both in the Maryland General Assembly and to groups and organizations outside the legislative branch.
Under Delegate Menes's leadership, the Women Legislators developed procedures for establishing and promoting its legislative priorities. At this time the Women Legislators also established means by which it would promote its priorities on the floor of the House and Senate. As with any group with a wide-ranging membership, the Caucus required strategies for working on different issues of varying importance and with diverse chances for success. The women established a four-level strategy of alternative Caucus action: (1) issuance of a general written statement of support or opposition to the committee with jurisdiction; (2) testimony in committee by a caucus member; (3) an all-out lobbying effort; and (4) no formal position, with members free to involve themselves as they wish.
The Caucus created a system in which an increasing number of women legislators representing disparate communities, constituencies, and political philosophies could agree on matters of mutual concern and work harmoniously to achieve results in those areas. It also allowed for the avoidance of contentious issues that could divert the efforts of the members from the over-arching goals of promoting the general fortune of women in the legislature, in the government as a whole, and throughout the state of Maryland.
As the Women Legislators self-defined role in the ongoing legislative process grew, so did the need for a source of financial support for its activities. In 1978, the women decided to embark on their first foray into fund raising. The first event was co-sponsored with the Women's National Education Fund (WNEF). Although it was not an overwhelming financial success, a small amount of money was raised and shared with the WNEF.
The next year, the group sponsored a truly homegrown event of its own. Members, their secretaries, families and friends mailed invitations and prepared the refreshments. With Sarah Weddington from President Jimmy Carter's White House staff as the featured speaker, the group raised more money. Subsequent events have been turned over to professional event consultants and caterers. As the Caucus has learned the finer points of money raising, the proceeds have increased exponentially, and the fundraiser is now a staple of the Women Legislators' annual program.
In 1979, the Women Legislators increased the sophistication of its outlook and methods. The tracking chart had by this time evolved into a daily Issue Report with a wide distribution and a reputation for accuracy and timeliness. The establishment of another statewide organization called the Elected Women of Maryland and the election of Delegate Bert Booth as its first president presented the Women's Caucus with a means of increasing its networking function with women in other areas of government.
As the Women Legislators developed confidence as a power broker in the legislature, its leadership began to experiment with other methods of bringing its agenda to the attention of fellow legislators, the executive branch, and the general public. Moving the selection process of its legislative priorities to the beginning of the legislative session put the group in a proactive rather than reactive position relative to the State's legislative agenda. This also presented the women with the opportunity to present an agenda via the media. A press conference at the beginning of the session, when media and public interest were at a peak, was a logical step for the leadership of the Women Legislators in 1979. But, like their fund raising efforts, initial attempts required a tremendous amount of work in coping with and learning a process that was second nature to more established groups. This first news conference was, judging from attendance and resulting media coverage, a success beyond their wildest hopes. But achieving it was a time-consuming learning process. The members decided as a group to alert the media to the adverse impact of federal budget cuts on women in the state of Maryland. Working with representatives of the State's Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene and Human Resources, they developed an impact statement and called a press conference. Delegates Anne Perkins and Marilyn Goldwater and their staffs spent innumerable hours preparing for the press conference that was inadvertently scheduled during the morning delegation meetings, thereby incurring the irritation of delegation chairs. Despite their inexperience, the press conference drew a large crowd of media and legislators and received significant play in the state's newspapers and on local radio and television. Gina Warfield Hartley, the group’s second executive director, helped them break through the barriers of fund raising and media.
As the 1980s dawned, the fortunes of political women nationally and in Maryland began to change. More and more women were being elected to state legislatures and, in Maryland, the Women Legislators were learning to operate as a center of influence, however limited. President Menes initiated the practice of meeting with incoming governors, starting with Governor Harry Hughes. The purpose was to discuss the organization's legislative priorities for the upcoming session as well as its recommendations for women appointees to state commissions and administrative positions. Edda Courtney served during this year, as the Caucus’s third executive director.
A significant relationship between the Women Legislators of Maryland and the Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland was forged during this time. Meeting with Delegates Menes, Perkins, Maurer, Kopp, Rubin, and others, Georgia Sorenson from the university explained her vision of an intern program that would not only serve women legislators but also be a leadership program to develop young elected women. Sorenson came to the university after serving as a senior policy advisor on women’s employment under Sarah Weddington at the Carter White House. The Caucus embraced the partnership fully and have been steady partners in fostering the next generation of women elected leaders ever since.
Under President Marilyn Goldwater in 1980 and 1981, legislative priorities continued to focus on the economic well-being, health, and safety of Maryland's women. Dealing with family violence, continued reform of the state's rape and sexual offense legislation, and strengthening of marital property laws topped the list of priorities in the early 1980s.
Delegate Bert Booth succeeded Goldwater in 1981 to head the organization's twenty-five delegates and three senators. As President, Delegate Booth hired an administrative aide for the organization. Angela Beltram, former chair of the Howard County Planning Board, supervised interns and coordinated the group’s legislative activities. Their office space was in a small reception area near the Prince George’s County delegation, in the Lowe Office Building.
As Delegate Ida Ruben succeeded to the Presidency, the Women Legislators continued to focus on legislative priorities. Meanwhile, they continued to encourage the Governor to consider women for state positions, especially in the court system and for high-level administrative positions in the educational system. Successive governors were cooperative and eager to receive input from the women, but didn't always take their advice when final appointments were made. Nevertheless, the voice of the Women Legislators was being heard in the Governor's office.
In 1983, Delegate Ruben took the occasion of her reelection as President to stress the successes of the organization. Ruben emphasized in a press release the networking function of the Women Legislators of Maryland and the growth of its membership to thirty-seven members. During her term, Ruben commissioned a twenty-minute videotape presentation describing the origins of the Women Legislators and showcasing Maryland's women legislators.
The Women's Caucus in Maryland was achieving considerable visibility nationally as women lawmakers and other states looked to the Caucus as a model for creating their own organizations. As they approached mid-decade, the Women Legislators recognized the need to toughen its image as a player in Maryland politics. Occasioned by a local newspaper article noting that the women were not "power players," President Anne Perkins decided to reinstate press conferences as a means of getting the agenda on the table and in front of the public. The group greatly increased its statewide media visibility during the 1985 session, distributing press advisories outlining legislative priorities, commending the Governor for his support, announcing public relations events, and declaring success for the agenda as the session drew to a close. In a first, the Women Legislators joined forces with the Black Caucus in a successful effort to increase funding for programs dealing with teenage pregnancy, maternal health, and infant mortality.
In addition, the Caucus was able to secure a small office in the Lowe House Building, and with the help of the Academy of Leadership received computers and other office equipment. Kathy Brasington, the WLM executive director, took an active role in developing the young women leaders from the Academy who worked for her, and in fact, one of those early young women interns, Karen Dorsey, succeeded her as the executive director in 1988. She was the first black executive director of the Women’s Caucus, and took as her special mission the development of the women interns. Karen went on the receive a prestigious Presidential Management Internship, completed graduate school, and is now an executive at the Division of Children and Youth, at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Delegate Paula Hollinger was elected to succeed Delegate Perkins in 1986. With Hollinger at its helm, the Caucus continued to push for its legislative priorities, sought media coverage for its successes, and expanded its collaboration with the Academy of Leadership’s interns in accomplishing its goals. Legislative priorities continued to focus on economic, health, and safety issues. Meanwhile, insurance equity, child care issues, and prison reform were included in the Women Legislators' priority areas. Preservation of Medicaid funding for abortion held a unique place in the organization's agenda. The group had agreed several years earlier that Medicaid funding and reproductive rights were separate issues. While the group was far from consensus on the question of Medicaid funding for abortion for poor women, they agreed to the release of a position statement in support of continued funding with a disclaimer noting which members did not support the majority position.
For the first time, as they approached the 1987 session, the women considered their role in the selection of the House and Senate leadership. Although they did not endorse any one candidate, they did support Speaker Clayton Mitchell and President Mike Miller when their nominations became assured. The ongoing discussion with the leaders brought about commitments to President Hollinger of positions for women in the new leadership group.
Speaker Clayton Mitchell met with now-Senator Hollinger several times prior to the start of the session and confirmed that the majority whip position, chair of the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee, and numerous standing subcommittee and statutory committees would be in the hands of women. Meanwhile, the Republicans in the House of Delegates elected Delegate Ellen Sauerbrey Minority Leader. Senate President Miller also met with the women at their annual retreat and announced his appointment of Senators Hoffman and Schweinhaut to leadership positions.
Hollinger presided over the first challenge to the group's long standing position to take no official position on reproductive rights. As the national tide seemed to be shifting in favor of "right to life" groups, tensions began to mount in women's groups as the question of access to legal abortion services rose in the public's view. The choice of legislative priorities required a four-fifths majority for passage, according to Caucus procedures. A move was made to reduce the level of majority needed to endorse legislative priorities from four-fifths to two-thirds, with the intent being to add reproductive rights to the group's legislative priorities list. The members voted down the proposal, although the majority was pro-choice, apparently responding to President Hollinger's plea for member unity. Seeing the abortion issue as one that had the potential to split the group, Hollinger reminder her colleagues that, "The Caucus is more important than any one issue." Delegate Nancy Kopp noted that the four-fifths rule had been arrived at as a compromise with which all members were comfortable. The motion lost with ten voting for; twelve voting against; and two abstentions. Catherine McCall and Seglinde Rath, the two interns from the Academy, spoke of the events as watershed ones in their own development. Seglinde is now an attorney in Clinton, New Jersey at the firm of Benbrook and Benbrook.
During her second term, President Hollinger oversaw a crackerjack team of young women interns, all of who have continued to be involved in women’s political issues. Maria Darrell, Karen Dorsey, and Del Brown were the first Academy interns to live and work in Annapolis during the session, thanks to a small grant from the Noxell Corporation. Karen eventually became the executive director of the Caucus, and Del went on to become the first black woman president of Maryland Law School, came back to the Academy to teach future generations of student leaders, ran for the legislature in Virginia, and is now a professor at Norfolk State University.
As Susan Buswell prepared to take over the reigns from Hollinger, the organization looked back on a year during which the group had put pressure on the presidents of the state's colleges and universities to place more women in full-time faculty and dean positions. During this period, interns Traci Brown and Knar Gelenian, put in long hours coordinating the research findings and making a compelling case for increasing women academic leaders. Brown later was accepted at the Maxwell School of Public Policy at Syracuse and won a Presidential Management Internship. Knar graduated and went to work as a staff assistant to the Governor of Maryland. During Buswell’s term, the Women’s Caucus could count several legislative successes in child care consolidation and regulatory reform. Incoming House and Senate leaders from both parties pledged that they would include women in other key leadership positions for 1987.
Another strong year for the group was 1989, with Caucus President Delegate Eileen M. Rehrmann leading forty-two women within the General Assembly. At this time, this was one of the largest groups of women within a state legislature. The Women Legislators of Maryland continued to gain popularity. The media continued to follow its work, watching closely as the women worked to defeat a bill in the House. The Caucus believed that the legislation would have a negative effect on women regarding divorce proceedings. Polling commissioned by the Academy of Leadership substantiated their claim. Later in 1989, the Caucus joined with the Maryland Chamber of Commerce in a new tradition and implemented the Child Care Challenge Award, to honor Maryland businesses which have displayed innovation in assisting their employees with child care. The legislative women interns that year — Marretta Andrews, Pam Duvall, and Stephanie Robinson — took significant responsibility for the Child Care Challenge Award, which continues today. Stephanie Robinson was accepted to Harvard Law School shortly after completing her internship.
Under the leadership of Senator Mary Boergers in 1990, the Caucus reviewed and rewrote the by-laws, allowing the group to move forward at its fullest potential for the new decade. During this time, Delegate Juanita Miller was appointed chair of the WLM committee to support the Academy of Leadership and commissioned the Academy to produce the history of the women legislators, Claiming a Voice: Women Legislators of Maryland, written by Academy staff and graduate students Kathy Kretman and Greg Lebel. Interns Stephanie Davis and Tiffany Winzell were instrumental in developing the legislative tracking system and providing a liaison with Academy researchers conducting the history. Stephanie later developed a parallel internship program with the Black Caucus, went to law school, and now practices in Maryland.
The success of the Academy-Women Legislators partnership gave impetus to a statewide effort in 1990, spearheaded by Governor William Donald Schaeffer, to endow a scholarship for young women leaders. Named after the Late Rosalie Reilly, an activist in Maryland politics who was a role model for young women entering politics, Maryland graduate Gerrard Evans helped to make the endowment campaign a big success. The first recipient, Lynn Ford, is now a professor of government and politics at the College of Charleston, and received her PhD. From the University of Maryland in 1991.
In 1991, Senator Barbara Hoffman, president of the Caucus, played a substantial role in bringing forth a period of activism and growing political power for women in both houses of the General Assembly. The caucus was active on a controversial bill that dealt with reproductive rights, but the majority of the caucus worked to get this bill passed in both houses and signed into law. Despite a delay, the bill overwhelmingly survived a referendum vote that carried the debate until the end of 1992. Delegate Nancy Kopp was appointed Speaker pro tem, the second ranking position in the House.
Delegate Sheila Hixson, who served as president of the Caucus in 1992, continued the work. Members, under her charge, were also able to make great strides in legislation to end violence against women. This legislation broadened the scope of domestic violence laws, including stronger penalties for the abusers, and more benefits for the victims. Diligent work on this legislation continued into the next term.
Violence was again the primary theme of the group in 1993, as Caucus members strongly supported, proposed, and successfully passed a bill that made stalking a crime and included significant anti-stalking measures. Delegate Betty Workman, president of the Caucus, was one of 46 women serving in the Maryland General Assembly (36 in the House and 10 in the Senate). Nearly one quarter of the legislators in Maryland’s legislative branch was female, compared to the national average of 19 percent. Sociologist Rosabeth Kantor’s "tipping point" – the percentage at which a minority group can impact a majority group – had finally been reached.
The media attention again increased, as The Domestic Violence Act of 1994 began to evolve. Delegate Ruth Kirk helped draft a piece of legislation that was skimmed down by committee and painstakingly reconstructed on the floor of the House. This bill was eventually passed in both houses, and signed into law.
Sections of this bill included requirements that police officers inform victims of domestic violence of their rights and how to get counseling. In addition, a provision of the bill required certain professionals to report mental child abuse to social services. Many groups such as the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence saw it as a significant victory.
The 1994 elections brought another increase in the number of women legislators. This furthered the validity and force that Caucus members were continuing to build. They were able to work better as a block to prevent or encourage legislation. The additional women led to a strengthening of fundraising capabilities. Within this time frame, the Caucus amplified its attempts to gain access in the state government as a whole. This was done through meeting with gubernatorial candidates to prompt cabinet choices, voluntary evaluations of state judgeships, and approaching both the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate with greater ease.
The percentage of women in 1995 escalated further. The Caucus now had 54 members. Under the leadership of Senator Jennie Forehand, domestic violence was a top issue for the Caucus members, as they advocated successfully for legislation to fortify the Act of 1994.
Issues relating to substance abuse made their way to the top of the women’s agenda in 1996. Caucus members initiated legislation providing state funding for alcohol and drug abuse treatment for prison inmates, HB 620.
The Lucille Maurer Leadership Library bill was passed during the 1997 session, under the leadership of Delegate Nancy Kopp, President of the Caucus. Delegate Kopp began her legislative career as an administrative aide to the Montgomery County Delegation, which included her two mentors, Lucille Maurer and Helen Koss. Designed to honor long-time woman legislator and state treasurer Lucille Maurer, the library would develop an outstanding collection of materials relating to women’s leadership and to the WLM in particular. Delegate Nancy Kopp and Senators Jennie Forehand and Ida Rubin led the fight to secure funding for the library located at the Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland.
During the 1997 session, the Women's Caucus celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary, reuniting many of our former members with those currently serving.
Under the leadership of Delegate Joan Cadden, the group supported a domestic violence package and several bills addressing the health of women and children in 1998.
During the 1999 session of the General Assembly, the Women’s Caucus, under the leadership of Senator Dolores G. Kelley, put an emphasis on public safety, women’s and children’s health, domestic violence and substance abuse issues. In addition, 1999 saw the passage of HB231 making pretrial release of domestic violence offenders much more difficult, as well as several health care victories within the legislature.
In 1999, Dr. Georgia Sorenson stepped down from the directorship of the Academy of Leadership, now a thriving academic home to some sixty faculty members and staff. As Senior Scholar at the Academy, Sorenson has committed to returning to the Academy's roots by deepening the relationship with the women legislators, as has Dr. Nance Lucas, the new director. The Academy of Leadership is presently working on the Web site, the history of the caucus, and the annual caucus retreat. Interns continue to work for the women legislators and the Women Legislators and the Academy dedicated the Lucille Maurer Leadership Library in 1999
Delegate Pauline Menes, a former President of the Women's Caucus, echoes this sentiment, encouraging a give and take of education, experience, and knowledge to further both students at the University of Maryland and the Maryland Women's Caucus for years to come.
In 2000, Delegate Mary Conroy was President, and the women legislators looked toward the twenty-first century. Clearly their role in the political and legislative life of Maryland has changed remarkably since the inception of the Caucus in 1972. Women have gradually increased their numbers and their influence in the legislative process, in higher education, and in the judicial branch. They are being viewed as increasingly serious players in the State's public policy arena.
Delegate Sue Hecht led the Caucus in the 2001 Session and they joined forces with their old ally, the Legislative Black Caucus to ensure the passage of the Minority Business Enterprise bill. Joining forces, both caucuses left the floor of the House Chamber when it seemed the bill may be in peril. However, working together with leadership and the Governor, the MBE bill was passed. It was a great success.
The 2002 Session of the General Assembly produced the greatest number of women legislators in the history of Maryland. The Caucus grew to 58 members. Delegate Ann Marie Doory served as President. This session also saw Delegate Maggie McIntosh become the first women House Majority Leader. And coming full circle, Delegate Nancy Kopp was elected Maryland State Treasurer, following in the footsteps of her mentor, Lucille Maurer.
Domestic Violence protection was further enhanced with the passage of the "24/7" bill, which provides 24-hour access to court protective orders.
At the close of the 2002 Session, we have a woman as State Treasurer, a woman House Majority Leader, a woman President Pro Tem of the Senate; three women chairs of Senate and House Standing Committees; six women vice chairs of standing committees; and Delegate Pauline Menes, one of our founders, serves as Parliamentarian. Delegate Menes is the longest serving woman legislator in the Maryland General Assembly, serving continuously from 1967 to the present time.
The 2003 Session, under the leadership of Delegate Adrienne A. Mandel, witnessed great accomplishments. Delegate Adrienne Jones was appointed Speaker Pro Tem by Speaker of the House, Michael E. Busch. Delegate Maggie McIntosh was appointed Chair of the House Environmental Matters Committee; Delegate Ann Marie Doory was appointed Vice Chair of the House Economic Matters Committee. Senator Paula Hollinger was appointed Chair of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee with Senator Joan Carter Conway serving as Vice Chair. Senator Ida Ruben was again appointed President Pro Tem by Senate President Mike Miller.
Legislation passed in the 2003 Session to broaden the laws prohibiting stalking and the rape shield laws.
In the 2004 Session, Senator Gloria G. Lawlah, as President, established the 1st Annual Women’s Classic “A Celebration of Maryland Leaders”, on January 23, 2004 featuring Cokie Roberts, ABC New Political Commentator. It was a huge success. We also published a book Women Legislators of Maryland Then and Now.
During the Interim of 2004, with two new appointments by the Governor, our numbers now total 64 members
In the 2005 Session, under the leadership of Delegate Jean B. Cryor, we continued to push and were successful in passing bills for tougher Domestic Violence laws and the strengthening of criminal background checks for employees of child care centers. A bill requiring time limits relating to HIV testing of persons charged with crimes or delinquent acts that may have caused or resulted in the exposure of another to HIV passed both chambers as did a bill prohibiting a court from placing a defendant on probation before judgment for enumerated sexual abuse charges if the victim is under the age of 16. We supported and saw passed a bill establishing a Task Force on the Establishment of a Maryland Women Veterans Memorial.
Our 2nd Annual Women’s Classic A Celebration of Maryland Leaders was held on March 7, 2005, with Candy Crowley, Political Correspondent for CNN as our featured guest speaker. It was a great, successful event
With the appointments of Delegate Catherine E. Pugh, Democrat from Baltimore City Legislative District 40; Delegate Sheryl Davis-Kohl, Republican from Cecil and Harford Counties, Legislative District 34A; and Delegate Jane E. Lawton, Democrat from Montgomery County, Legislative District 18, the number of Women Legislators grew to a record setting 67!
In the 2006 Session, with Delegate Mary Ann Love as President, the Women’s Caucus was a strong force in the passage of HB 89 Maryland Medical Assistance Program – Legal Immigrants – Pregnant Women and Children, which requires the Governor to include in the budget bill for FY 2008 at least $3 million in general funds for an immigrant health initiative to provide health care services for all legal immigrant children under the age of 18 and pregnant women who meet program eligibility standards and arrived in the US on or after August 22, 1996.
We supported a bill to provide criminal history records checks in certain positions in the health care field and a bill to assist minority owned small businesses to secure surety bonds.
Our 3rd Annual Women’s Classic A Celebration of Maryland Leaders was held on January 20, 2006 and featured Susan Reimer, columnist with The Baltimore Sun. It was a great success.
As part of our historical record keeping, Delegate Pauline Menes announced that she will not seek re-election. This marks the end of an era. Pauline was one of the original founders of the Women Legislators of Maryland. We wish Pauline much happiness in her well deserved retirement.
The elections of 2006 brought a decrease in our record-setting numbers of women legislators. We went from 67 to 62. With these new numbers, we currently rank sixth in the nation for numbers of women lawmakers.
In the 2007 General Assembly Session, under the leadership of Delegate Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, the Women's Caucus proceeded with our legislative agenda. You can check the legislative results in our 2007 Legislative Wrap-Up or in Our Pledge to Maryland Women.
Our 4th Annual Women's Classic was held on January 9, 2007 and featured Donna Hamilton with WBAL TV.
Delegate Addie Eckardt was President during the 2008 General Assembly Session and the Caucus took a more proactive approach to our Legislative Agenda. Please check the results in our 2008 Legislative Wrap-Up or in Our Pledge to Maryland Women.
Our 5th Annual Women's Classic was held on January 8, 2008 and was a celebration of the 35th Anniversary of the Women's Caucus.
With the retirement of Delegate Marilyn Goldwater and the untimely deaths of two of our members, Senator Gwendolyn Britt and Delegate Jane Lawton, the Caucus now has 59 members.
Delegate Karen S. Montgomery led the Women’s Caucus during the 2009 Session. She continued the proactive approach by meeting with the Governor prior to Session to make him aware of our agenda and to likewise advise the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House. The legislative results may be viewed in our 2009 Legislative Wrap-Up or in Our Pledge to Maryland Women.
On October 24, 2008, we held our fundraising event, The Reunion of the Sisterhood featuring Ambassador Constance A. Morella, our former colleague. It was a big success and an opportunity to welcome back our former Women Legislators as well as our current members.
With the presentation of the 2009 Child Care Challenge Award, the Women’s Caucus has determined to retire this award after 20 years! 59 awards were presented to outstanding child care programs from 1989 to 2009. The Child Care Challenge was started at a time when child care programs were not a necessity and not as available as they are today.
2010 Session was quite proactive for the Women’s Caucus under the leadership of Delegate Sue Kullen. Huge efforts were made to pass legislation pertaining to Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence. Our Caucus was also instrumental in broadening the scope of practice of nurse practitioners. Check out the 2010 Legislative Wrap Up under Accomplishments for more complete details on legislation that passed. We took on the issue of the Developmental Disabilities Administration waiting list. It is the desire of the Women’s Caucus to guarantee a path forward in addressing the unmet needs of people on the list who have been waiting years for services. We continue to address this issue.
The elections held in November 2010 brought about many changes; however our numbers remain the same at 58 Women Legislators. We now have 11 Women Senators and 47 Women Delegates.
During the 2011 Session, despite one of the toughest economic climates ever, the Women’s Caucus, under the leadership of Delegate Susan C. Lee, supported and helped pass an aggressive agenda of legislation to empower women, children and families, provide greater health care access, parity in girls’ juvenile services, and protect victims of domestic violence, abuse, sexual assault, and human trafficking. Other important priorities that passed included the Family Planning Works Act; Job Applicant Fairness Act; the 3% alcohol sales tax increase to take people off the Developmental Disabilities Administration’s waiting list and fund school construction; and the restoration of $350,000 in the Governor’s Supplemental budget for rape crisis centers statewide and the transfer of the administration of this funding to the governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention from the Department of Human Resources.
In the 2012 Session, Delegate Susan Lee continued as President and the Caucus supported legislation to provide unemployment benefits to victims of domestic violence; provide court interpreters for deaf persons or persons who cannot readily understand or communicate the spoken English language and are victims of crime; expanded the hotline information in human trafficking; expanded health insurance coverage for cancer chemotherapy for orally administered chemotherapy; and added electronic harassment as a crime.
In the 2013 Session, the Caucus continued their legislative efforts under the leadership of Senator Catherine Pugh, with our Legislative Focus on health, education, economic issues and criminal justice. All successes are reported under “Accomplishments”.
The highlight of the 2013 Session was our commemoration of the Women Suffrage March of 1913 for the right to vote. On Friday, February 22, 2013, before a joint session of the Maryland General Assembly, and distinguished guests, the 57-member bipartisan Women’s Caucus honored those women who marched on Washington! Please see more about this event in our “In the News” section.
The top priority of President Nancy J. King in the 2014 Session was to establish a mentoring program. The Women’s Legislative Leadership Group of Annapolis (WLLGA) is dedicated to supporting and assisting women in the field of Maryland public policy and believes that a strong society of women is the best way to help achieve and maintain a fair and balanced community for its members and the people of Maryland. The WLLGA mentor program provides women, seeking to begin or grow their career in Maryland public policy, the opportunity for professional growth, guidance and business development from women within the highest levels of the legislative arena.
In 2015, due to retirement, appointments and election wins and losses, we said goodbye to 16 members and welcomed 18 new members. 2015 also brought us four male members who wanted to join, a first in our history and in the nation. The main objective of President Tawanna Gaines was to promote legislative issues that could be supported in a bipartisan manner. To that end, our main priorities were Human Trafficking legislation and the Maryland Home Birth Safety Act (HB 9, which passed as Maryland Licensure of Direct-Entry Midwives Act).
The 2016 Session, under the leadership of Delegate Susan McComas continued the effort to support bipartisan issues focused on domestic violence and human trafficking.
The Caucus sponsored two seminars, one for members, and one open to staff of members, dealing with financial literacy. We also had a joint meeting with Women in Government dealing with the latest developments with the Zika Virus, featuring Dr. Howard Haft, Deputy Secretary of Public Health, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Dr. Artensie Flowers, Senior Public Health Advisor, Centers for Disease Control, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response.
We will, of course, continue advocating for issues of concern to women, children and the Maryland family.
While it is generally accepted that much remains to be done the accomplishments of the Women’s Caucus are consequential. The group continues to be an active, vibrant entity within the Maryland General Assembly. This is thanks to the strength, commitment, and vision of its founders and leaders, who continue working diligently to ensure that the voices of its members are heard within the state government.