MAKERS Profile

Eleanor Norton

Congresswoman (D-District of Columbia)

In this video

Congresswoman Norton on growing up in segregation, pursuing law to make change, and advocating women's rights as Equal Opportunity Commission chair and later, as a United States Congresswoman.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, now in her twelfth term as the Congresswoman for the District of Columbia, knew from a young age she wanted to make change to end the severe segregation and discrimination she experienced growing up as third generation Washingtonian.   While earning a law degree as well as a Masters in American Studies from Yale University, Norton became deeply involved as an organizer with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), traveling to Mississippi for the Mississippi Summer Project and witnessing severe violence on civil rights leaders including Fannie Lou Hamer that would inform the rest of her lifelong struggle for universal human and civil rights.   Following graduate school, Norton continued her work to end social inequality. She signed the Black Women’s Manifesto, a classic document of the black feminist movement, and became the assistant legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).   In 1970, Norton was appointed the head of the New York City Human Rights Commission and not only held the first comprehensive hearings on woman’s rights but was also the driving force behind the landmark sex discrimination suit at Newsweek. Before the case settled, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to serve as the first woman to chair the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.   Norton, who taught law full time before being elected, is a tenured professor of law at Georgetown University. Yale Law School has awarded her the Citation of Merit for outstanding alumni, and Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has awarded her the Wilbur Cross Medal for outstanding alumni, the highest awards conferred by each on alumni. She is the recipient of more than 50 honorary degrees.   The Congresswoman is currently the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management. She serves on two committees: the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.  

More From Eleanor

Expected to Go to '13th Grade'
Norton explains that growing up, although segregated, her parents were college educated and expected her to go on to the "13th grade" as well.

From Segregation to Yale
Norton shares what it felt like growing up in segregation to being one of the only African-Americans in college and law school.

Common Ground Between Civil Rights and Feminism
Norton on how the women's movement could not attain its real goals without attaining the goals of the civil rights movement.

African-American Feminists
Norton on how many African-American women struggled to place themselves within the women's movement.

Learning to Be a Feminist
Norton explains how becoming a feminist was not necessarily instinctive to her or many women around her growing up.

Each Generation's Voice
Norton on her faith in the next generation of women to continue moving forward in their own way. 

Shirley Chisholm's Legacy
Norton on the first African-American Congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm.

Both a Woman and an African-American
Norton explains how many black women were perplexed by how to respond to a women's movement whose first face was considered white and how she worked to clear up the hesitation.

Women's Rights Spoke to Race
Norton on how the women's movement was partly awakened by the consciousness-raising of the black men and women's struggles around them.

Assassination of Medgar Evers
Norton shares the story of being greeted in Mississippi by activist Medgar Evers and taking off only shortly before he would be assassinated.

A Dangerous Visit to Mississippi
Norton tells the unbelievable story of violence while visiting Mississippi for SNCC and the brutal beatings of activists Lawrence Guyot and Fanny Lou Hamer.

The Newsweek Lawsuit
Norton on representing the landmark civil rights lawsuit brought on against Newsweek and the importance of solidarity among the women.