Barbara L Boxer

Remembering Geraldine Ferraro - March 29, 2011

Barbara L Boxer
March 29, 2011— U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C.
Congressional floor speech
Print friendly

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, D-California, paid tribute to the life of Geraldine Ferraro in a speech on the Senate floor.

BOXER: Mr. President, I am so proud to be here with my colleagues Senator Mikulski and Kay Bailey Hutchison because of a woman who brought us all together despite any differences we might have, Geraldine Ferraro. I rise to pay tribute to Gerry.

I thank Senator Mikulski. Her remarks touched on every single point that needs to be made about our friend. Gerry was a trailblazer. We all remember the first female Vice Presidential nominee of a major party, the first in U.S. history. She cracked open that glass ceiling for women seeking higher office. It was a long time ago.

I just looked at an Associated Press photo of when Gerry arrived in San Francisco to prepare for her speech at the convention. I was there waiting for her to arrive--a much younger version of myself, I might say. I don't remember what I said or did, but this picture tells a story. We know the old saying: A picture says a thousand words. This one says a million words. I have never seen anyone as excited as I appear to be and was in this picture. Arms open wide, body language, just incredulous that we had reached this milestone, all the while knowing what a tough, tough time it would be for Gerry, as it is for many women, whether they run for the Senate or for Governor or for Vice President. It is a tough road still, especially all these many years ago, more than 20 years.

Gerry was given a very hard time by the press. Gerry was given a very hard time by her opponent. She proved without question that women can stand up to the grilling. Women can stand up to the pressure. Women can go toe to toe with anybody. I often say women are equal. We are not better or worse. We are equal. Gerry proved it. When her campaign took a tough turn and a lot of others would have tried to contain the problem, she stood there in front of the press and said: Here I am. You ask me anything you want, and I will stay here hour after hour. They knew she meant it. She would have stayed there for days because that was Gerry.

She was open-hearted. She was straight from the shoulder. She always said what was on her mind, and she did it in a way that was also very appealing because you knew this was a woman who was willing to look you in the eye and not give you any song and dance. It was what it was. And for that she will be missed as a friend, as a colleague.

It is difficult today to imagine what it was like then. Now we see our women figures here in the Senate and in the President's Cabinet and in the Republican and Democratic Parties making a run for President and Vice President. It is hard to imagine today that women were not actively engaged in the highest of offices. Frankly, that is Geraldine Ferraro's abiding legacy because, as Senator Mikulski so eloquently stated, she did not win that race--it was a tough race; it was a very tough race--but she proved a woman could do this.

When Gerry spoke about change, she felt in her heart the history-making moment. I remember her in a white suit, as if it were yesterday. In those years, TV people always said: Don't wear white. Gerry wore white.

MIKULSKI. She was beautiful.

BOXER. She was magnificent. And that smile and her togetherness--at that moment in history, when not only was the whole country watching, the whole world was watching--it was an electric moment. I want to read what she said that night. She said:

By choosing a woman to run for our nation's second highest office, you sent a powerful signal to all Americans. There are no doors we cannot unlock. We will place no limits on [our] achievements.

If we can do this, we can do anything.

And those words resonated not just with people who were interested in politics but with women who were in the corporate world; women who were going to law school--just a few in those years, now so many more; women who just dreamed of going into health care, not as a nurse, although some chose that--and some men do as well--but as physicians. This was something I truly believe changed.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent for 5 additional minutes, and then turn it over to Senator Hutchison.

PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. It is going to run us way past the recess time.

BOXER. Well, Mr. President, there was only one Gerry Ferraro, so I would go 5 minutes and turn it over to Senator Hutchison for as long as she would want.

After graduation from college, Gerry got a job as a second grade teacher at a public school in Queens. She applied to Fordham Law School. That is the law school my husband went to. She was accepted into the night program, despite a warning--listen to this--from an admissions officer that she might be taking a man's place. She got into law school. She was one of 2 women in a class of 179. Imagine, they said to her: You will be taking a man's place in law school. She persevered--one of just 2 women out of 179 students graduating in 1960.

Yes, she raised her family. She adored her family. There was not a second that went by without her saying to one of us, anywhere in earshot: I have to tell you about Laura, I have to tell you about John, I have to tell you about what my kids are doing.

Did my colleague want to ask a question?

DURBIN. I ask if the Senator from California will yield for a brief statement.

BOXER. As long as it will not interrupt my statement.

DURBIN. I will have a longer statement for the Record because I know Senator Hutchison is waiting, but I want to make one or two comments about Geraldine Ferraro.


DURBIN. First, my image of Geraldine Ferraro is this young Congresswoman from California, with her arms outstretched, as you raced toward one another in an iconic photograph of the two of you after she won the Vice Presidential nomination. I will remember you and her in that context forever. Second, it was my honor to serve with her in the House and to count her as a friend. Third, in this long, long battle she had, this medical battle, she never failed to remind all of us that she was indeed one of the fortunate ones who had the resources to be able to fight the battle, where many people did not.

I am going to miss Geraldine Ferraro. She was a great American.

BOXER. I am very glad the Senator made that statement, and I appreciate it very much.

When Gerry worked as an assistant district attorney, she formed a Special Victims Bureau. She investigated rape, child and women abuse, and abuse against the elderly at a time when no one was talking about it.

She was elected to Congress. Senator Mikulski has gone into that, the work on the Economic Equity Act. I was proud to work with both Senator Mikulski and Gerry Ferraro on that and Senator Snowe and others.

I remember Senator Mikulski, Olympia Snowe, Gerry Ferraro, and myself--we worked to open the House gym to women. It was a battle. We had to resort to singing and everything else. We finally got into the House gym. We said, yes, women need to work out too. That is the way it was then. We only had 24 women in the House and Senate. Now we have 88 of us.

I will skip over her time as a broadcaster and all the things she did that Senator Mikulski talked about--her work in women's rights--but I wish to conclude with her brave spirit as she faced multiple myeloma, the bone cancer that ultimately took her life. I wish to do it in this context.

I have a good friend now, whose name is Robin, and her mother is battling the same kind of cancer Gerry was battling. As we know, Gerry was given 4 or 5 years and went on, thank God, for much longer.

This woman lives far away from her daughter Robin. When Gerry passed, she called her daughter and said: I need to see you. Will you come out and stay with me, as I battle this cancer?

Robin said: Well, what is it, mom? You are doing great.

She said: We just lost Gerry, and she was the one who kept my heart and soul together and my spirits up, and I knew she was there battling. Now that I have lost her, I don't know, I feel a hole, I am empty.

That is just the most eloquent thing I could say about Gerry. This woman never met Geraldine Ferraro in person, but Gerry had that way about her that she could reach you as if she was touching you. It is a tremendous loss, first and foremost for the family, whom she adored beyond words, and, secondly, for all the rest of us who just need someone like that out there standing up and being brave and telling it like it is and never giving up.

Speech from