Statement of Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal on the Death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy

For decades, Senator Edward M. Kennedy was a champion of women’s rights. For years, when few other Senators would take women’s rights seriously, the women’s movement could count on Senator Kennedy. In struggle after struggle, the women’s movement could turn to Senator Kennedy and his dedicated and talented staff to lead the fight in Congress. Behind the scenes, Senator Kennedy would sit down with the leaders and activists of the women’s and civil rights movements and strategize. He was indefatigable and, whether in the Senate in the majority or minority, he had the undying hope and the know-how to move ahead, pass legislation to help millions, and work for a better day.

In legislative battle after battle, Senator Kennedy never let down the women’s movement. We did not always win – but we were always stronger because of his passion, wise council, unparalleled legislative skill, and inspiration. As a women’s rights leader who had the privilege of working with Senator Kennedy in many of those struggles for decades, to say we will miss his brilliant leadership is a gross understatement. But, of course, the dream never dies, the fight goes on, and we will never forget Senator Kennedy and his indomitable spirit.

Senator Kennedy, who was the principal sponsor of more landmark legislation than any other Senator in U.S. history, led the fight in much historic legislation for women’s rights, civil rights, and human services, including:

  • The Equal Rights Amendment Extension Act of 1978, which provided more time to pass the ERA.
  • Minimum wage laws that impacted women.
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibited discrimination against pregnant women and revered the Supreme Court decision that permitted discrimination against women in the workforce.
  • The Civil Rights Restoration Act, which restored the scope of Title IX and reversed the Grove City Supreme Court case that had gutted Title IX.
  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), which protected reproductive health care providers.
  • The Family Medical Leave Act, which provided 12 weeks unpaid job-protected leave to workers for newborn care, adoption or faster care, or illness of the worker or her/his spouse, child, or parent.
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1991, which provided to women workers the right to collect damages in sex discrimination cases.
  • The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which reversed the Roberts Supreme Court decision that gutted the ability of women workers to sue for wage discrimination.
  • Numerous health care measures including stem cell research, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Mental Health Parity Act, and reproductive health funding
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Eleanor Smeal

As Co-Founder and President of the Feminist Majority Foundation and former President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Eleanor Smeal has led efforts for the economic, political, and social equality and empowerment of women worldwide for over three decades.