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