As I study first women, I am beginning to see many shared characteristics: They often have more than one first to their credit; many come from families of strong women; they often help other women to be first; they speak out about issues of concern to women; and, they use their life experiences to form their successes. Madeleine May Kunin is an archetype for these women.
The threat of the Holocaust brought Madeleine May Kunin’s family to the United States from Zurich, Switzerland. When she was later appointed U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland, she confronted the Swiss about Nazi-looted Jewish assets, while maintaining the friendship between the two countries.
Before she sought public office, she was a journalist, World’s Fair tour guide and part-time college professor. Community activities, in particular those concerning women and children, were her passion. She served in the state legislature, was lieutenant governor of the state and later was elected governor. As governor she increased funding for education, worked to protect the environment, and created affordable housing. She also initiated a program to provide health insurance for Vermont children, called Dr. Dynasaur. She created the family court system and appointed the first woman to the State Supreme Court.
She served in the Clinton administration as a U.S. deputy secretary of education and took on the overwhelming task of serving on the president’s management council to reinvent government. She streamlined the management of student loans, began an office of education technology, and worked on the Educate America Act and the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Act. She also worked on environmental issues before being appointed as Ambassador to Switzerland.
Kunin has an impressive list of firsts: the first woman to serve as chair of the Appropriations Committee in the Vermont legislature; the first (and only) woman to be elected governor of the state of Vermont; the first Jewish woman to be elected governor of any state in this country; and the first woman to serve three terms as governor of any state.
Madeleine May Kunin has served as fellow at a number of prestigious institutions. Currently she lectures on women, politics, and leadership in the history and women’s studies departments at the University of Vermont in Burlington where she is the Marsh Scholar Professor-at-Large. She also serves as President of the board of the Institute for Sustainable Communities, a non-governmental organization she founded in 1991.
When she was inaugurated as governor, Kunin said she “felt a powerful link with the women in my family who had been strong in their time and place and would have achieved what I had achieved if the same doors had been open to them.”
Read a Bio: http://www.madeleinekunin.org/Biography.html
Visit her Website: http://www.madeleinekunin.org
Her Books: The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family; Pearls, Politics, and Power: How women can Win and Lead; Living a Political Life, and The big green book: A four-season guide to Vermont.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK:
Madeleine May Kunin described her inauguration: “As I walked into the crowded House Chamber. . .A group of women. . .were cheering from the balcony. The sound of applause—not just for me but for women rising to a position of power—reverberated through the hall, like the sound of an orchestra.” Have you ever experienced that feeling of connection to other women?