Ellen Malcolm, Founder of EMILY’s List
More women are running for office and Ellen Malcolm has a lot to do with it. In starting the EMILY’s List fundraising network in 1985, she paved the way for Democratic women candidates to finance their campaigns. Today, EMILY’s list has helped nearly 1,000 women win offices at the local, state, and national level.
ELLEN MALCOLM: You have to say, no, we're not going back to the 1950s. We're not going to live like they did in Mad Men. We're going to live today as empowered, free, equal participants in our country.
I guess in some kind of way, I just broke right out of the mold. My family was, ironically, all Republican, and were so flabbergasted that I became a Democrat when I turned 21 and wanted to do anything in politics. I moved to Washington, and started working at the National Women's Political Caucus in the late 1970s. And what we heard is a very similar story. Women would go to the traditional funders, and they'd say, "You know, I want to run for Congress." And the guys would lean back with their cigars, and they'd say, "You don't have a chance of winning, so I'm not going to give you any money." and because they couldn't raise any money, they couldn't begin their campaigns. And, of course, they couldn't win.
I hosted a meeting of the political women that I knew in Washington, and said, "How do we break through this?" And every single person said, one way or another, we have to figure out how to raise early money for women candidates. And then maybe the old boys would finally believe the woman could actually win.
BARBARA MIKULSKI: Everybody, I'm that lady that's running for the United States Senate. When elected, I'll be the first Democratic woman ever elected in her own right. And I tell you, I might be 4 for 11, but they won't overlook me.
ELLEN MALCOLM: Barbara Mikulski goes to the old boys' network. She says, "Will you support me?" And they say to her, "You're not going to be able to raise any money. Women can never raise money, and you're going to lose." And little old EMILY's List that had just began, sent out our first candidate mailing. And when that first public report came out, Barbara Mikulski had raised as much as the Congressman. Now, the old boys look at it and say, "Oh my goodness. She can raise money. We better get behind her." She wins the primary handily, sweeps through the general election, and becomes the first Democratic woman in the history of this country to be elected to the Senate in her own right.
In 1991, Anita Hill came forward and said that Judge Thomas had sexually harassed her when she worked for him. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing, and 14 white men basically went after Anita Hill. They attacked her and said horrible things about her. And working women said, "Where are the women on that committee, that understand what it is to be a woman in the workplace and be sexually harassed?" All of a sudden, we started getting inquiries, checks, contributions, telephone calls, from women across the country. And it turned EMILY's List into one of the most powerful political organizations in the country.
When we began in 1985, people thought we were crazy to ask people to write checks to two or three candidates. Ann Richards, Gloria Steinem, they talk to women and they say, "Now look down and look at your shoes, and think about how much money you paid for that pair of shoes. Isn't it worth it to you to spend that same amount of money to be represented in Congress?" A lot of younger women now are thinking, "Wow. The world is not working the way it should be," and they should go out and help change it. You've got to get involved. You've got to help us elect women who are going to fight back. When we see our women serving in office, when we see them leading the country, we can know that we're going to live as empowered, free, equal participants in our country.
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