Olympia J Snowe

Remembering Geraldine Ferraro - March 29, 2011

Olympia J Snowe
March 29, 2011— U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C.
Congressional floor speech
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U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, paid tribute to the life of Geraldine Ferraro in a speech on the Senate floor.

Mr. President, I rise today to join with my good friends and esteemed colleagues, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Senator Barbara Boxer of California, as we honor a compatriot of ours from the House of Representatives, an electoral trailblazer, and political torchbearer--the incomparable and courageous, Geraldine Ferraro, who passed away last Saturday after a brave and resilient 12-year battle with cancer.

As this august body will hear many times over, Geraldine was a pioneering champion and a dynamic force for women and women's rights, a stalwart legislator and colleague of all three of ours in the U.S. House of Representatives, and always a dear friend through more than three decades. As America's first female Vice-Presidential nominee for a major party, Geraldine has forever secured a legendary position along the timeline of American political history, as Walter Mondale selected her as his running mate in the 1984 Presidential election.

While America was learning about Geraldine on the national stage, Barbara Mikulski, Barbara Boxer, and I knew her as a legislative, sister-in-arms, if you will, as all of us served together in the U.S. House of Representatives. Geraldine and I were members of the same House freshman class that began service in January 1979 that brought the total number of women in the 96th Congress in the House to 16.

And all four of us fought for myriad causes, most especially those affecting America's women. Looking back, I take enormous pride, as I know both Senators Mikulski and Boxer do, that we spoke as women first, not as Republicans or Democrats, that women's issues transcended partisan lines for us. The fact was, we just couldn't afford to draw partisan lines with women underrepresented in Congress. And that idea is what drove our agenda at the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, which I cochaired for over 10 years in the House of Representatives and where Geraldine Ferarro was also at the vanguard in amplifying issues for literally generations of women.

Our adherence to working together--and to the ideal of principle over politics--became our foundation. We determined if we didn't act, who would? And we started to make a difference for women, and not a moment too soon. Indeed, there was indeed a time in America when our laws specifically worked against women, when economic equality pertained only to economic equality among men--not women, when our laws didn't reflect the changing, dual responsibilities of women who were increasingly working as well as caring for a family.

Well, we weren't going to accept the status quo any longer, and certainly Geraldine was not one to ever countenance the notion of ``that's just the way it is.'' To the contrary. We confronted these disparities for women head on and introduced a package of laws that opened the doors of economic opportunity for the women of America by revising laws and giving women the tools required to succeed. That package was the multifaceted Economic Equity Act. Among a litany of provisions, we called for a study of the government's pay practices, sought to ensure equal credit for women in business ventures, and battled with Geraldine Ferraro who led the effort to end pension award discrimination against women who were discovering upon their husband's death that, unbeknownst to them, they had been left with absolutely no pension benefits.

And in a group of women legislators that was not, shall we say, comprised of shrinking violets, no one gave greater voice to these issues, no one demonstrated more passion in their advocacy, and no one pressed for remedies to right these wrongs with more verve or skill than Geraldine Ferraro. She was a bulwark against injustice and a cherished champion for fairness in an America where women were increasing their roles in American life and their presence in the U.S. workplace and economy.

On a personal note, I can't help but think that part of our mutual bond was that we came from similar backgrounds. Our families immigrated to this great land--hers from Italy and mine from Greece. Our heritages spoke to the very best of our Nation's mosaic and the American dream where anything is possible and the only limits you have are those you place on yourself. Indeed, the New York Times mentions how Geraldine's mother crocheted beads on wedding dresses to send her to the best schools. My Aunt Mary worked the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. night shift at a textile mill in Lewiston, ME, to earn money to ensure my cousins and I received a good education. Although Geraldine and I didn't agree on everything, we shared an unequivocal determination to make a lasting difference on issues for women and working families--an unerring focus that surmounted politics and party labels.

Not surprisingly, more than 30 years later, Geraldine's legacy lives on through the 74 women serving the other body today, as well as the 17 women currently serving in the Senate. How fitting it is that on the Monday after she passed away, my 16 Senate women colleagues and I submitted a resolution advocating for women's rights in North Africa and the Middle East. We have the moral high ground in that clarion call in no small part because of Geraldine's historic leadership and legacy.

In closing, I can't help but recall the great Lady Astor, who was the first woman to ever serve in the British House of Parliament. In fact, on the day she took her seat in that distinguished body, a Member of Parliament turned to her and said, Welcome to the most exclusive men's club in Europe.'' Demonstrating the kind of moxie and sense of obligation that were hallmarks of America's Geraldine Ferraro, Lady Astor respondedit won't be exclusive for long.'' she said. ``When I came in, I left the door wide open!''

Geraldine Ferraro espoused and exemplified what Lady Astor so memorably articulated--that it is not enough to break old barriers and chart a new course, you have to ensure that others are able to traverse it as well. Geraldine spent a lifetime making certain that the path she helped pave was available and accessible to every woman with the courage and will to travel it. And so, today, it is a privilege for me to extol this remarkable woman whose indelible imprint upon the political and public policy arenas will be felt for generations to come.

At this most difficult of times, our thoughts and prayers remain with her husband of 50 years, John--as well as their children, Donna, John Jr., and Laura and Geraldine's grandchildren. May they be comforted by the knowledge that so many share in their profound sense of loss, as well as the memory of a trailblazing woman who, above all else, was an adoring and beloved mother and grandmother who leaves an indelible mark upon her family, as well as an entire Nation.