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EMILY’s List: Backing Pro-Choice Democratic Women Politicians Since 1985

Updated on June 30, 2012
Geraldine Ferraro (August 26, 1935  March 26, 2011)
Geraldine Ferraro (August 26, 1935 March 26, 2011) | Source

Early Money Is Like Yeast

The passing of Geraldine Ferraro March 26, 2011 is an opportune time to write about EMILY’s List, a political donor network that was formed after presidential candidate Walter Mondale selected her as his running mate in 1984.

EMILY is an acronym for “Early Money is Like Yeast" (because it helps raise the dough). The brainchild of Ellen Malcolm, the organization was founded after exit polls suggested Mondale lost much of the women’s vote even with Ferraro on the ticket.

When Malcolm founded EMILY’s List in 1985 in Washington D.C., “no Democratic woman had been elected to the U.S. Senate in her own right, no woman had been elected governor of a large state, and the number of Democratic women in the U.S. House of Representatives had declined.”

Frustrated by the barriers women still faced in their efforts to get elected to higher office, 25 women formed a network to raise money for pro-choice Democratic women candidates. The network provides candidate information to its members and encourages them to donate directly to the contender of their choice.

With the backing of EMILY’s List, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland became the first Democratic woman elected to the US Senate in 1986. Two years later, the organization raised nearly $1 million and helped Nita Lowey (NY) and Jolene Unsoeld (WA) get elected to the House, reversing a 14-year decline in the number of Democratic women in the U.S. House, when the number was raised from 12 to 14.

The Senate Democratic women in 1993. L-R: Murray, Moseley Braun, Mikulski, Feinstein, Boxer.
The Senate Democratic women in 1993. L-R: Murray, Moseley Braun, Mikulski, Feinstein, Boxer. | Source

The Year of the Woman

In 1991, Anita Hill was raked over the coals by members of the Senate and media when she testified against Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas. The “he said-she said” nature of the hearings brought the issue of sexual harassment out into the open. More importantly, it put a glaring spotlight on the gender imbalance in the Senate. At the time, Republican Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas and Democrat Barbara Mikulski of Maryland were the only women serving in the Senate and neither were on the Judiciary Committee.

This imbalance energized women to run for higher office and led to 1992 being declared “The Year of the Woman.” That year, four women were elected to the Senate, joining Kassebaum and Mikulski: Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both of California, Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and Patty Murray of Washington.

Some politicians, including President George H. W. Bush weren’t happy with the idea of women breaking into the “old boys’ club.” When he was asked when his party might nominate a woman for president, Bush brought up the media’s catchphrase at the end of his response, saying, “This is supposed to be the year of the women in the Senate. Let’s see how they do. I hope a lot of them lose.”

Geraldine Ferraro forever will be remembered as the first woman and first Italian-American to be a major-party national nominee. But before and after this ground-breaking period in politics in which she played such a pivotal role, Ferraro was active in politics. She was elected to the House in 1978, representing New York where she rose up the party ranks. She focused on legislation to bring equity for women in the areas of wages, pensions, and retirement plans. She attempted two more tries for a seat in the Senate, in 1992 and again in 1998, but failed to win in the primaries both times. She served on the 2008 presidential campaign for Hillary Rodham Clinton. In 1999, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and passed away in March 2011.

EMILY’s List today

EMILY’s List has raised almost $83 million for candidates since its inception in 1985 while continuing to help women both as candidates and as voters. Candidates are offered training seminars and workshops to give them the skills necessary to run a winning campaign, including grassroots organizing, working with the media and fundraising.

It also conducts research to better understand women voters and their attitudes and perceptions. In addition, EMILY’s List mobilizes women voters to help elect Democrats across the country through its WOMEN VOTE! programs in key states.

Did you know that there have been just 39 women in the United States Senate since it was established in 1789?

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    • jamesteamtulsi profile image


      6 years ago

      Thank you for supporting Tulsi Gabbard in Hawaii. She is facing a tough battle against Mufi Hannemann, but is a superior candidate by far.

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      6 years ago from Illinois

      Thank you Sunshine and Deborah. I agree there are too few women in politics (although, who really would want to be put through the ringer like they are??). I told my husband for a number of years before Obama was elected that there would be a black man in the white house before there was a woman. I don't understand Americans' reticence in electing a woman as president. However, I don't think Hilary would be willing to shoot for president again. I think her time has passed and she has done a great job as Secy of State.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 

      6 years ago from Iowa

      I've heard of EMILY's list but had no idea what it stood for. I thought it simply had been founded by a woman named Emily. : ) It's appalling how few women there are in elected positions. Maybe if there were more, government wouldn't be so screwed up. Hillary 2016!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      6 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I was rooting for Geraldine back in the day. She was a woman not to reckon with. I don't remember hearing about EMILY until now. Thank you for sharing!:)

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Hi HBN, thanks for reading the hub. It's amazing that our country still is so resistant to women leaders.

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 

      7 years ago from South Carolina

      Great hub with a lot of interesting facts I didn't know. Definitely remember Geraldine Ferraro's run as a VP candidate and seeing her back Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential race, but never heard of EMILY's list. Am voting this hub up, useful and awesome as it was fun to read as well as being educational.

      BTW, am still working on my essay. Hope to have a rough draft completed by the end of next week.

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks. It's amazing that the US still has such issues electing women to higher office when other industrialized nations don't.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Danette, wow! I'm always in awe of your political savvy, sister, and the crisp, clear way you present the material. Fascinating. I learned something new today.


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