Archive for the ‘All News’ Category

Making a Political Party: The History of Women in the Democratic Party

July 25th, 2016

The Democratic party dominated US politics in the first half of the 19th century, winning all but two of the presidential elections between 1828 and 1856. At mid-century, the issue of slavery and its expansion into new territories fractured the party. It opened the door to the newly established Republican party and Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election win. It would be seventy years before the Democrats regained dominance. They did so with the help of women.

Party Dominates Politics Until Civil War

The Republican party emerged as the Civil War’s political victor. While Democrats and Republicans traded Congressional majorities for the remainder of the 19th century, the White House proved elusive to Democrats. Democrats formed women’s groups during election years but dissolved them between election cycles, in contrast to Republican women who established on-going, active clubs starting in the 1880s. The socially conservative Democratic party expressed wary discomfort with women’s on-going engagement in public, political activities.

After the 19th Amendment passed in 1920, both parties developed strategies to mobilize women voters. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) recruited Emily Newell Blair in 1922 to organize a Women’s Division. Blair re-activated the moribund network of Democratic women’s clubs across the country, reconstituting them as political education forums. She organized speaker’s bureaus, produced a newsletter, and mailed a million educational leaflets. Blair reported organizing 1,000 local women’s Democratic clubs before the 1924 presidential election, bringing thousands of women into the party.

Emily Newell Blair - Library of Congress

In spite of Blair’s efforts, presidential candidate John W. Davis was overwhelmingly defeated by Republican Calvin Coolidge in 1924. The DNC suspended its national operations following the devastating returns. Blair transferred her operations to the private Woman’s National Democratic Club (WNDC), along with the DNC’s physical records, which the party could no longer store after giving up its headquarters. For the next four years, the DNC relied on the WNDC for organizational support.


Resurrecting the Party

The Democrat’s 1928 presidential candidate, Al Smith, also lost to his Republican rival—Herbert Hoover. However, Smith’s savvy appointment of John J. Raskob as the new DNC chair proved key to reversing the party’s fortunes. Raskob, a brilliant fundraiser, not only retired over a million dollars in campaign debt, he also reconstituted the DNC’s professional organization. He revived the Women’s Division, hiring Nellie Tayloe Ross—the country’s first female state governor—as director. Sue White replaced Ross in 1930. Working in tandem with the WNDC, White developed a national outreach program. Before the June 1932 national convention, the network contacted women in 2,600 of 3,000 US counties including all the counties in 22 states. Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Hoover in 1932, securing the presidency with 57% of the popular vote and sweeping in Senate and House majorities.

Roosevelt recognized the Women’s Division’s pivotal role in his success and made it a permanent department in the DNC. He appointed Mary “Molly” Dewson as its new head. Dewson was a New York political ally as well as a close associate of Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt had recruited Dewson to work on FDR’s 1930 gubernatorial and 1932 presidential campaigns and knew her to be a supreme organizer.

Molly Dewson quote

Bringing in the Women

Dewson reached outside the party structure to build support among traditionally unaffiliated voters, including women. Saying “elections are won between campaigns,” Dewson developed a voter education program aimed at women. She urged local women’s clubs to appoint members as Reporters to keep abreast of New Deal programs and explain their impact at club meetings. In this way, she by-passed news organizations, many of which were critical of the New Deal, and ensured that people at the grassroots level would be informed of the benefits and impacts of government programs. By 1940, the program involved more than 30,000 women.

Dewson also focused on recognizing and rewarding loyal women party members. She capitalized on her relationships with both Roosevelts to establish a pipeline of women to appointed government positions. Dewson lobbied Roosevelt to appoint Frances Perkins as the first female cabinet secretary, heading up the Department of Labor. Dewson also secured appointments for the first female judge on the US Court of Appeals (Florence Allen, Sixth Circuit); first female Assistant Secretary of the Treasury (Marion Glass Banister); and the first woman Director of the US Mint (Nellie Tayloe Ross). Dewson herself was appointed to the Social Security Administration in 1937. Dewson did not neglect the party’s grassroots. She successfully secured new party rules requiring equal representation of men and women in leadership roles throughout the DNC.

Democratic women

A New Party for a New Era

Dewson’s efforts to bring women into the Democratic Party and reward their contributions paid off. During the 1936 election, more than 80,000 women canvassed door to door for Democratic candidates and distributed 83 million fliers. Sixty percent of the electorate voted for Roosevelt, the largest margin of victory since 1820. The army of women Dewson and her predecessors brought into the party helped to maintain Democratic control through five presidential elections.

The Democratic party transformed itself in the 1920s and 1930s. Women were key. The 19th-century party staunchly adhered to limited government. During the Depression, the party—with the assistance of Democratic women—redefined the relationship of government to the people, encouraging a more activist position. They transformed government into an instrument of change. While the extent of government’s role in enacting social and welfare policies continues to be debated, the belief that government has a role is settled.



Elizabeth L. Maurer
Director of Program


Visit NWHM’s on-line exhibit “First But Not the Last: Women Who Ran for President”


 Read about Republican women here.



Suggested Readings


Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Democratic Party”, accessed July 18, 2016,

Freeman, Jo. 2002. A room at a time: how women entered party politics. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield.

Gerring, John. A Chapter in the History of American Party Ideology: The Nineteenth-Century Democratic Party (1828-1892). Polity, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Summer, 1994), pp. 729-168.

Krook, Mona Lena, and Sarah Childs. 2010. Women, gender, and politics: a reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Leuchtenburg, William E. 1995. The FDR years: on Roosevelt and his legacy. New York: Columbia University Press.

O’Dea, Suzanne. 1999. From suffrage to the Senate: an encyclopedia of American women in politics. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Ware, Susan. 1981. Beyond suffrage, women in the New Deal. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Women of the Grand Old Party: A History of Republican Women

July 18th, 2016

Though 19th-century women could not vote, they could and did align with political parties and ideologies. Average citizens demonstrated their partisan loyalties at rallies and public celebrations. And, this included women. The parties actively encouraged women’s personal allegiance. Being barred from political activity did not deter women’s political inclinations.

Founding the GOP

On March 20, 1854 “50 men, 3 women, and 1 child” met in a small, frame schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin to discuss the creation of a new political party. A party to stand firm against the spread of slavery into the new western territories. They chose the name “Republican.”

Republican School House


Newspaper editor Horace Greely embraced the name as appropriate for “those who had united to restore the Union to its true mission of champion and promulgator of Liberty rather than propagandist of slavery.” Within six short years, the Republican party had achieved national status by electing its first president, Abraham Lincoln.


Party of Social Reform Attracts Women Activists

True to its antislavery foundation, the Republican party established itself as the national party of reform. Its antislavery stance attracted activist women to the party before the Civil War. Moreover, the party supported woman suffrage, endearing itself to reformers like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone, who self-identified as Republicans.

Acknowledgment of women in the party’s platforms in the 1870s and the creation of a Republican women’s auxiliary in the late 1880s kept women in the Republican fold after slavery ceased to be a political issue. Judith Ellen Foster founded the Woman’s National Republican Association in 1888, declaring that “woman is politics.” She challenged women to engage in partisan politics in order to reform society, which was a woman’s role. She built the WNRA into a substantial unit of the Republican party, and its members advocated for Republican candidates each election cycle.


Judith Ellen Foster quote


Elects First Female Congresswoman in 1916

The first woman elected to federal office represented the Republican party. Montana voters elected Jeanette Rankin in 1916 as one of their first two members of the U.S. House of Representatives. They sent her four years before the 19th Amendment granted voting rights to U.S. women.

“I may be the first woman member of Congress,” she observed upon her election in 1916. “But I won’t be the last.” Rankin shepherded the woman suffrage amendment through Congress and rejoiced at its passage.

The Republican National Committee’s (RNC) Executive Committee formed a women’s advisory committee in 1918. The Committee was charged with advising the Republican National Committee on women’s issues. Anticipating that the 19th amendment would pass before the November 1920 national elections, the RNC was particularly interested in recommendations for party reforms that would solidify the Republican party as the home for the newly enfranchised female electorate. Women were invited to full RNC membership in 1924. That year 120 women sat as delegates at the Republican Convention, accounting for 11% of the total.


Republican Womens Committee 1920


First Major Party to Consider Nominating a Woman for President of the United States … 1964

Perhaps it is not surprising, given its long history with women, that the first woman whose name was placed into nomination by a major party for the presidency was Republican Margaret Chase Smith. Chase Smith represented the state of Maine in Congress for 34 years, first in the House of Representatives and later in the Senate. She was the first woman elected to the Senate in her own right. Chase Smith brought 27 delegates to the 1964 Republican convention. President John F. Kennedy said of her in 1963, “I would think if I were a Republican candidate, I would not look forward to campaigning against Margaret Chase Smith in New Hampshire, or as a possible candidate for President. … She is a very formidable political figure.”


Carrying on Traditions

Republican women have carried on the tradition of public service to the present. Three Republican women followed in Chase Smith’s footsteps by running for president. Elizabeth Hanford Dole ran in 1998. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota)—the first woman to win the Iowa straw poll—in 2011. And Carly Fiorina entered a crowded Republican primary race for the 2016 election. Twenty-two Republican women served in the U.S. House of Representatives and six in the Senate in the 114th Congress. Three women serve as state governors in 2016. Today’s Republican women stand on the shoulders of 164 years of GOP political women.


Elizabeth L. Maurer
Director of Program


Visit NWHM’s on-line exhibit “First But Not the Last: Women Who Ran for President”


Return to this page the week of July 25, 2016 to learn about Democratic women.



Further Reading:

Congressional Record, V. 150, Pt. 3, February 26, 2004 to March 10, 2004. Government Printing Office

“CAWP | Center for American Women and Politics.” CAWP | Center for American Women and Politics. Accessed July 13, 2016.

“Women in Politics.” by Mrs. Judith Ellen Horton Foster (1840-1910). Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman’s Building, World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 668-669. Accessed July 13, 2016

Freeman, Jo. 2002. A room at a time: how women entered party politics. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield.

Gustafson, Melanie Susan. 2001. Women and the republican party, 1854-1924. Urbana, Ill: University of Illinois Press.

Harvey, Anna L. 1998. Votes without leverage: women in American electoral politics, 1920-1970. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rymph, Catherine E. 2006. Republican women: feminism and conservatism from suffrage through the rise of the new right. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

“The Origins of the Republican Party.” Accessed July 13, 2016.



Google Cultural Institute Highlights NWHM in American Democracy Blog

July 14th, 2016

As part of its promotion of its newest themed launch by the Google Cultural Institute, the National Women’s History Museum was highlighted for its exhibits on women presidential candidates and the role of women in the civil rights movement. Google Arts & Culture premiered a collection of artifacts and images that tell the story of U.S. democracy in a variety of ways. The launch was timed to the Democratic and Republican party conventions that will take place in July. To read more about the collection, click here. Click here to read more:

National Women’s History Museum Launches “Women Who Ran For President” Online Exhibit

July 13th, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC– Today, the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) launched a new digital exhibit in partnership with Google Culture and Arts, profiling women who have run for president of the United States throughout our nation’s history. With the first woman becoming the presumptive nominee of a major party last month, NWHM has released new online content to highlight the history of women’s contributions to American politics and the impact their entrance into the race for the nation’s top office will have on our future.


NWHM’s online exhibit, “First but Not the Last:Women Who Ran for President,” examines the ground-breaking platforms and strategies used by women to seek the nation’s highest office. The exhibit includes historic milestones from the first woman to secure a spot on a primary ballot to the first woman becoming a major party’s presumptive presidential nominee.


“Women have been running for president even before they had the right to vote and that is a rich part of our country’s history that should be known,” said NWHM CEO and President Joan B. Wages. “We are working to broaden the country’s understanding of the enormous contributions woman have made to politics over the years.”


NWHM has partnered with the Google Cultural Institute, an initiative aimed at creating technologies that bring the world’s cultural and heritage institutions online, in order to share the Museum’s robust offerings of online exhibits with a worldwide audience. Today, NWHM was one of 44 institutions selected as part of The American Democracy collection from CGI, displaying over 60 exhibits and 2,500 plus artifacts.


“Telling the stories of these women is an important part of completing the American narrative and inspiring the next generation of female leaders,” said Wages. “We are excited to work with organizations such as Google to communicate the breadth of women’s experiences and accomplishments to the widest audience possible.”


To view the exhibit, visit or to learn more about NWHM, please visit




Contact: Melissa Williams 703-461-1920


About the National Women’s History Museum

Founded in 1996, the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM, Inc.) is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the general public about the diverse historic contributions of women and raising awareness about the critical need for a national women’s history museum in our nation’s capital. Currently located online at, the Museum’s goal is to build a world-class, permanent museum in Washington, DC, that will herald and display the collective history of American women. A Congressional Commission has been established that is charged with producing a feasible plan, which would include the governance, fundraising, location and organizational structure of the museum.


About Google Arts & Culture

Google Arts & Culture is a product of the Google Cultural institute and its partners designed to put the world’s cultural treasures at the fingertips of Internet users and to assist the cultural sector in sharing more of its diverse heritage online. The Google Cultural Institute has partnered with more than 1100 institutions, providing the Arts & culture platform to over 400 thousand artworks and a total of 5 million photos, videos, manuscripts and other documents of art, culture and history. The exhibitions on Google Arts & Culture are open for all online, for free on the web and through the new Google Arts & Culture mobile app on iOS and Android. Read more here.


National Women’s History Museum Welcomes New Board Members

June 29th, 2016

Organization Enhances Strategic Leadership with Public, Private and Nonprofit Expertise

Washington, D.C. – The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) is pleased to announce the addition of four new members to its board of directors: Jon Bouker, Mari Snyder Johnson, Julie Smolyansky and Joan Walker. The board provides leadership for delivering on NWHM’s mission to build a world-class museum on the National Mall that educates, inspires, empowers and shapes the future by integrating women’s distinctive stories into the culture and history of the United States.

“NWHM is pleased to have these accomplished members join our board at this exciting time in our evolution,” said NWHM Board Chair Susan Whiting. “These new board members bring their valuable expertise from the worlds of government relations, communications and marketing, community engagement, nonprofit strategy and business, as well as a firm commitment to ensuring women’s contributions to American history are included in our national narrative.”

About NWHM’s New Board Members

Jon Bouker is a long-time government relations leader with extensive experience in the U.S. Congress, who brings his expertise in legislation, business relations and economic development. As co-practice group leader of Arent Fox’s government relations practice, he represents clients before Congress, The White House and federal agencies, particularly the General Services Administration. Jon also served as chief counsel and legislative director to Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and minority counsel to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Mari Snyder Johnson is a business executive and CEO specializing in diverse entrepreneurial opportunities, an executive producer for both feature and documentary films and a passionate activist for socially conscious causes. She brings media and business management experience as well as legislative relationships and acumen. Prior to joining NWHM’s board, Mari served as an advisor to the organization’s president, Joan Wages, where she helped advance passage of the legislation that established the commission to study the feasibility of a National Women’s History Museum on the National Mall.

Julie Smolyansky became the youngest female CEO of a publicly held firm when she assumed that role at Lifeway Foods at age 27, and brings a successful track record in business and social advocacy to the Museum’s board. Julie bolstered Lifeway’s growth trajectory with innovative product development and marketing strategies, boosting annual revenues to more than $130 million by 2015 and expanded distribution throughout the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. She is a member of the United Nations Foundation Global Entrepreneurs Council and part of the 2015 class of Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum.

Joan Walker retired as executive vice president of corporate relations from All State and brings more than 25 years of experience in corporate and nonprofit communications. At All State she was responsible for reputation management, strategic media communications and corporate social responsibility. She currently serves as a member of the board of trustees of the Arthur W. Page Society, the Insurance Education Institute, the Business Civic Leadership Center, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and on the planning committee for the Clinton Global Initiative.

“We could not be prouder of the board we have assembled and are confident that their experience and skills will be a great asset to the Museum,” said NWHM President and CEO Joan Wages. “They bring a variety of experiences and backgrounds that strengthen our strategic leadership and will help us achieve our vision of a world-class museum dedicated to incorporating women’s stories into American history.”


For more information on NWHM, please visit



Bouker-Jon JoanHWalker JULIE096-hires








(L to R: Jon Bouker, Joan Walker, Julie Smolyanksy)



About the National Women’s History Museum

Founded in 1996, the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM, Inc.) is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the general public about the diverse historic contributions of women and raising awareness about the critical need for a national women’s history museum in our nation’s capital. Currently located online at, the Museum’s goal is to build a world-class, permanent museum on or near the National Mall that will herald and display the collective history of American women. A Congressional Commission has been established that is charged with producing a feasible plan, which would include the governance, fundraising, location and organizational structure of the museum. For additional information visit or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Media inquiries:

For press inquiries or credentials, please contact Melissa Williams, NWHM communications manager, or 703-416-1920.

Women Who Have Run For President

June 9th, 2016

Long before women had the right to vote, a few courageous women challenged the political ideology of their day by running for president. Hillary Clinton as the most recent woman to campaign for the position joins a group of amazing women who aspired to fill the U.S. highest political role. Learn about a few of these women and how they changed the political landscape at

NWHM Expresses Condolences on Passing of Robin Read

June 7th, 2016

Washington, DC – The Board of Directors of the National Women’s History Museum expresses its condolences to the family of Robin Read, entrepreneur and former Museum board member.  Read passed away on June 2. She joined the Museum’s board in 2010.

“Robin was deeply committed to women’s organizations and the Museum. She was an outstanding colleague and board member,” said the Museum’s CEO and President Joan Wages. “It was an honor to work with her and to be the recipient of her vast knowledge and experience.”

An entrepreneur, Read had extensive experience in the public and business sectors. She worked in public relations, radio and print journalism as well as owned several small businesses. She served with the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. She was also a leader within several women’s organizations in the DC area including the Women’s Information Network and Charter 100. She served as CEO and Founder of the National Foundation for Women Legislators (NFWL), the largest and oldest organization for elected women at all levels of governance from all 50 states and territories.  Founded in 1938, she brought NFWL from a few members and no national office to an organization of over 2,000 elected women and nearly 1,000 corporations, associations and individual sponsors.

National Women’s History Museum Applauds Decision To Put Tubman On $20; Launches New Exhibit As Part Of Google Cultural Institute

April 21st, 2016

Washington, DC – The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) applauds the decision by U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to put abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the nation’s $20 bill. The move is a significant step in our nation’s recognition of women and their contribution to our nation. It is the first time in more than a century that a woman’s portrait will grace the nation’s currency.


“What a resounding and important message we have sent to our young girls and women in this country,” said NWHM President and CEO Joan Wages. “There have been many efforts to bring women’s history into our mainstream. This decision significantly raises the profile and the conversation about women’s impact on our country’s development.”


In marking the announcement, the NWHM, in partnership with the Google Cultural Institute, launched a new exhibit that details Tubman’s life and her work as the leader of the Underground Railroad. The exhibit provides a walk through locations and existing sites used on the historic route to freedom for slaves who Tubman helped escape.


To view the exhibit, visit




About the National Women’s History Museum

Founded in 1996, the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM, Inc.) is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the general public about the diverse historic contributions of women and raising awareness about the critical need for a national women’s history museum in our nation’s capital. Currently located online at, the Museum’s goal is to build a world-class, permanent museum on or near the National Mall that will herald and display the collective history of American women. A Congressional Commission has been established that is charged with producing a feasible plan, which would include the governance, fundraising, location and organizational structure of the museum. For additional information visit or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Media inquiries:


For press inquiries, please contact Melissa Williams, NWHM communications manager, or 703-416-1920.

Garden Clubs Provided Fertile Ground for Women’s Activism

April 7th, 2016

In the early 19th century, bright, educated women became active in various reform movements. The activists among them joined abolitionist societies and petitioned for woman suffrage. With the advent of the Civil War, a wider circle of women joined together to support the causes of soldiers and their families. They formed sewing circles, held fundraising fairs, and volunteered directly with causes. After the war, women seeking intellectual and social outlets continued to rapidly establish women’s clubs.


Clubs formed around many different issues from literary and musical societies, social reform movements, and beautification. In the years between the 1870s and 1920s, women’s clubs became the major vehicle by which American women could exercise their developing talents to shape the world beyond their homes. Clubs afforded not only social opportunity but also leadership. As clubs grew, and counted locally influential women among their rolls, clubs could effect change both nationally and locally. They rapidly became part of the growing Progressive Movement.


Forming garden clubs was a natural expression of interest in nature and beauty. Horticultural societies and botany groups, some dating back to colonial times, restricted women’s membership. In response women formed their own clubs within their own communities. The first garden club in America was founded in January 1891 as The Ladies Garden Club of Athens, Georgia. On May 1, 1929, 13 federated states became charter members of the National Garden Clubs at an organizational meeting in Washington, D.C. The Garden Club of America was founded in 1913.While many started with the goal of exchanging information and cuttings, they soon adopted larger missions, which indelibly shaped the American landscape.


KenmoreThe United States celebrated its centennial in 1876, and on the heels of the Civil War and Reconstruction, amid an influx of immigrants, and in the face of a growing women’s movement, many rallied around the centennial as a reaffirmation of classic American values and culture. Cities and towns planned elaborate celebrations and pageants. Groups formed to preserve historic houses and buildings associated with the Founding Fathers. Scores of historical societies were formed.


The garden club movement became closely affiliated with the historic preservation movement by adopting the restoration of historical landmarks gardens and grounds as projects. The Garden Club of Virginia was among the first and the most ambitious in undertaking restoration projects. Founded in 1920 by eight garden clubs from around the Commonwealth, the GCV’s first project was the restoration of the grounds at Kenmore, the home of George Washington’s sister Betty and her husband Fielding Lewis. The Garden Club of Virginia’s restoration, started in 1929, includes a large tree-shaded lawn and rear garden arranged in an eighteenth-century formal plan. The GCV’s members hired professional landscape designers and historical consultants to execute the projects.


Mary ShermanThe Garden Club of Virginia raised money through traditional women’s networks. They staged a large flower show in 1927, raising $7,000 towards the restoration of Thomas Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello. The GCV held the first Historic Garden Week of Virginia, featuring tours of prominent homes and gardens, in 1929. Today, GCV’s 8-day Historic Garden Week attracts 30,000 visitors to 250 homes across the state and has raised $17 million since its inception. The organization continues to fund conservation and restoration, including an effort to restore Monticello’s kitchen gardens.


The General Federation of Women’s Clubs (1890) encouraged women’s groups to join together to amplify their voices to improve local communities and effect national policy. Mary Belle King Sherman served as chairman of GFWC’s Conservation Committee from 1914-1920 where she positioned GFWC as a strong advocate of establishing a national park system. In 1915, she represented GFWC at the dedication of Rocky Mountain National Park near her home, and in 1916, she advocated for the GFWC resolution supporting the National Park Service Bill, leading to her nickname as the “National Park Lady”. By the end of her service as Conservation chairman, she had helped guide the formation of six national parks.


Lady Bird JohnsonThe National Roadside Council under Elizabeth Lawton emerged in the 1920s took on the Outdoor Advertising Council to combat the “roadside blight” that sprang up along with national road systems connected to rising use of the automobile. Lawton adamantly asserted that “beauty and the billboard cannot exist on the same landscape.” She built up a series of state and regional councils composed primarily of women who lobbied against the proliferation of billboards, much to the chagrin of the male-dominated Outdoor Advertising Association of America. She and her husband photographically documented the roadside landscape to demonstrate roadside blight and advocated for legislation to regulate advertising. A few decades later, Lady Bird Johnson took up their cause by lobbying for passage of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965.


Working together, women in garden clubs and beautification societies made an indelible mark on the American landscape. They looked beyond the envelope of historic buildings, recognizing that the historic landscapes, gardens, and view sheds were important resources to preserve for future generations. Their efforts led to more beautiful highways, increased recreational opportunities, and established conservation as a national priority. Their legacy endures in the public spaces all around us.

Beverly Cleary, Creator of Ramona and Beezus, Turning 100

April 7th, 2016

Beverly ClearyBeloved children’s book author Beverly Cleary will turn 100 years old on April 12, 2016. Starting with Henry Huggins in 1950 and her last book Ramona’s World in 1999, Cleary wrote more than 40 children’s books that have sold 91 million copies and remain at the top of teacher and librarians’ recommended reading lists.


Children in Cleary’s books are independent, enjoy being outside, and solve problems with the support of friends. They are realistic children who misbehave, get into trouble, and fight with their siblings. “I never reform anybody,” Cleary told The New York Post in 2006. “Because when I was growing up, I didn’t like to read about boys and girls who learned to be better boys and girls.” Today’s children are no different.


Beverly Cleary bucked the prevailing trends in children’s literature. What made her different?


Over the past 100 years, a trend in children’s literature has been to position adults as peripheral to children’s lives if not actively antagonistic. The Hardy Boys (1927) and Nancy Drew (1930) experience shockingly little adult supervision while repeatedly imperiling themselves. The Cat in the Hat (1957) wreaks havoc because the mother is away. Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (2008) finds the adults in her life literally trying to engineer her death.


bcbooks4Cleary’s characters, on the other hand, while independent, often interact with adults as she examines the relationships between adults and kids. Cleary received Newbery Honors for Ramona and Her Father (1978), which traversed the family’s challenges when Ramon’s father unexpectedly loses his job. In Ramona and Her Mother—the 1981 National Book Award winner for Children’s Fiction—a pre-adolescent Ramona worries about her parents’ unsettling quarrels and whether her mother has enough attention to go around. Cleary was awarded the Newbery Medal for outstanding children’s book in 1984 for her juvenile novel Dear Mr. Henshaw, in which a boy works through his parents’ divorce and adaptation to a new school through his correspondence with his favorite author. Though Cleary’s characters are independent, they are not left on their own. Caring adults populate their worlds.


In her youth, Cleary reminded the Washington Post, “mothers did not work outside the home; they worked on the inside. And because all the mothers were home — 99 percent of them, anyway — all mothers kept their eyes on all the children.” Yet Cleary herself was a working mother who balanced her writing career with raising a young family with the help of a neighbor who watched her children while she wrote. In that, she was typical of many women in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s who increasingly returned to part time work to supplement family income. Cleary explored the dynamics of families with wage-earning mothers in several books starting in the 1970s. Her writing mirrored her and her readers’ real lives, making her novels relatable.


RamonaOver a half century of writing, Cleary’s work reflected changes in American society. Her characters faced challenges that remain highly relevant today such as a parent losing a job, loss of a favorite pet, divorce, and school yard bullying. Her stories reflect the issues women faced in the decades in which they were published, creating a literary, historic timeline of the 20th century.


When asked why her work has remained popular, she told The Atlantic, “I think it is because I have stayed true to my own memories of childhood, which are not different in many ways from those of children today. Although their circumstances have changed, I don’t think children’s inner feelings have changed.”


By Elizabeth L. Maurer

Director of Program