Feminists were saddened by the death of Harriett Woods, 79, from leukemia. Woods was a trailblazer for women in politics. As a state senator in Missouri, Woods was a leader in the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. She ran a vigorous campaign in 1982 for US Senate. Although a veteran politician and public elected official, the Democrats chose to endorse a man who had no elected and limited party experience. With the help of the National Organization for Women (NOW) — her campaign manager was the Missouri NOW State President — and other women’s organizations, she beat the anointed Democrat and came close to defeating the incumbent Republican (Senator John Danforth) in a near upset. Two years later, she won her race for the office of Lieutenant Governor, the highest statewide position ever held by a woman in Missouri.
Woods’ career had a profound impact on the advancement of women in politics. Ellen Malcolm, the founder of EMILY’s List, said Woods’ Senate run helped inspire her to form EMILY’s List. Wood chaired the National Women’s Political Caucus (1991-1995) and was instrumental in building women’s political power not only in Missouri but nationwide.
Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal reflected on the importance of Woods’ leadership, “The last time I saw Harriett was at Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s swearing-in tea for women. Although ill, she was ecstatic. She knew her work was instrumental in the November win of feminist Claire McCaskill to the US Senate. Finally her work had resulted not only in the election of a vibrant feminist leader, but also in the defeat of right-wing incumbent Senator Jim Talent. Yes indeed, Harriett had built a political movement. I was glad she lived to see the beginning fruits of her long struggle.”
Local memorial services will be held on Saturday from 9 to 11 am at the Powell Symphony Hall in St. Louis, Missouri.
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