Bettie Naylor, 1928-2012
We lost a wonderful friend when Bettie Naylor of Austin, Texas, passed away. Bettie, although in her eighties, was one of the most energetic, passionate souls who fought political battles on behalf of others, and a woman who was respected by her political foes and revered by those with whom she philosophically agreed. To hear about Bettie was to also hear that she was fearless, and unstoppable; she did not often hear the word “no” when she asked for help or support, even when she asked her foes. She was a founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, and proudly let everyone know that; she sponsored so many of our events, and hosted large gathering to promote Caucus at her rooftop party space just yards from the Texas Capitol.
Bettie was a champion for many who had no voice, and she worked in many worthy causes for decades, also fighting alongside her dear friend Ann Richards on issues dear to her heart. Her generosity was well known too, and yet some may have been surprised to know that the Wednesday morning Bible study class, led by Bettie, was attended by a large number of Texas Legislators from both sides of the aisle when they were in Austin. Even if Bettie was working against an issue for which they fought, it was hard for anyone to not love her.
The National Women’s Political Caucus salutes a hero who has gone to rest. We won’t forget, and we love you, Bettie.
Geraldine Ferraro 1935-2011
she was an assistant district attorney in the borough of Queens when she decided to run for an open congressional seat in 1978. A strong advocate of abortion rights, she became an influential member of the House early in her career; in 1981, she joined her party’s leadership as secretary of the Democratic Caucus.
In the spring of 1984, she attained national prominence as chair of the Democratic Party platform committee. On July 12, Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale made history by naming Ferraro as his running mate, the first woman ever to be named to a major-party national ticket. The Mondale-Ferraro ticket lost 49 out of 50 states to the Republican ticket of President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush, but a glass ceiling was broken for women.
Gerry was a courageous feminist – breaking barriers for women and fighting for women’s equality her entire career. In Congress, she lead efforts to achieve passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. She sponsored the Women’s Economic Equity Act in 1984, which ended pension discrimination against women, provided job options for displaced homemakers and enabled them to open IRAs.
Dorothy Height 1912-2010
A matriarch of the civil rights movement and a co-founder of the NWPC, Dorothy Height, died today at the age of 98. She was a key figure in the struggles for school desegregation, voting rights, employment opportunities and public accommodations in the 1950s and 1960s. In August of 1963, Height was on the platform with Martin Luther King when he delivered his “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. She would say later that she was disappointed that no one advocating women’s rights spoke that day at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Among King and other activists, she was the leading woman helping to orchestrate the civil rights movement; she used her position to continually remind the men leaders not to underestimate their women counterparts.
While Dorothy Height may not have had the chance to speak at the March on Washington, she made sure that her voice was heard throughout her life. As a teenager, she marched in New York Times Square and participated in protests in Harlem; in the 1940s, she lobbied Eleanor Roosevelt on behalf of civil rights causes; in the 1950s, she lobbied President Eisenhower to move more aggressively on school desegregation. Height was among the few women to speak at the Million Men March in 1995. She continued to speak out into her 90s, often receiving ovations at events around Washington. In 1957, Height became President of the National Council of Negro Women; she maintained her position until 1997, when she was 85.
In a statement, President Obama called Dorothy Height “the godmother of the civil rights movement.” Or, as civil rights activist C. Delores Tucker put it, ”I call Rosa Parks the mother of the civil rights movement … Dorothy Height is the queen.”
Liz Carpenter 1920-2010
A founder of the NWPC, Liz Carpenter, passed away at the age of 89 in Austin, TX. A dedicated feminist, she was also joint chairwoman of ERAmerica, an organization that unsuccessfully fought for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. Carpenter spent a large portion of her life working as a news reporter in Washington, in a time when women weren’t given the same credentials and credit as men. She was a “prime mover” in the battle to allow women full access and membership to the National Press Club. Carpenter got the Club to agree to let women members of the press sit in the ballroom’s balcony during important lunches, a step that Helen Thomas called “a great breakthrough.” It wasn’t until 1971 that women were admitted as members.
Liz served as an aide Lyndon B. Johnson when he was vice president and as press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson while she was in the White House. In her Post-White House years, she worked on the ERAmerica campaign and was a co-founder of the NWPC which “grew out of a commitment to seeing more women elected to state and federal posts.”
Millie Jeffrey 1910-2004
Mildred “Millie” Jeffrey knew adversity and achievement, and met both with tenacity and grace thanks to her driving spirit and early examples set by her grandmother and mother. Her grandmother was widowed with 16 children to raise while running a family farm. One of those children, Millie’s mother, went on to become Iowa’s first female registered pharmacist. Millie Jeffrey came from the stock of highly accomplished women. Jeffrey used that foundation and her own drive to create a life of unparalled, pioneering accomplishment during a turbulent 20th century of groundbreaking battles for workers’ rights, civil rights and women’s rights.
Jeffrey’s social activism began when she joined the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom while a student at the University of Minnesota. Shortly after in the 1930s, Millie Jeffrey became a union organizer in the textile mills and got her first taste of the power of organizing to create positive change.
A longtime civil rights activist and loyal Democratic Party member, she co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus and became one of the most influential women for female public office candidates. She would later lead the campaign to nominate Geraldine Ferraro as the Democratic candidate for vice president in 1984. In the 1950s and ‘60s, she marched with Dr. King.