My Story: My mother often told me that I could be and do anything I wanted. My father taught me how to hunt and fish which I enjoy doing even today. I served on the student council, was student body president and very active in Debate. Those were the Kennedy years and I was very much influenced by President Kennedy's inaugural address statement: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country." Public service was already something I was familiar with since my mother was very active in the community. She served on the local school board in Horicon, Wisconsin, was constantly fund raising for band uniforms, and I was used to seeing her rushing off to one meeting or another in addition to running the business, side-by-side, with my dad.
When I was fresh out of college I had the opportunity to use my political science degree to work for Senator Mcgovern's delegate reform committee in Washington D.C. I discovered very fast that not all was equal. Overqualified women were working in low-paying jobs, not getting any of the pay or recognition they deserved. The experience convinced me to immediately return to school to get my law degree. It was my first lesson in the real world--that in order to get past the question, "how many words can you type "I needed to arm myself with quality education and the willingness to go the extra mile. The next time I returned to Washington I was hired as legal counsel at the Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Competition.
But a friend convinced me to come to Alaska. I immediately fell in love with the state and decided to stay. My first job was working for the Legislature, drafting bills, doing research on a wide variety of topics. It was fascinating, a little overwhelming. My second job was Governor Jay Hammond's legislative assistant. Later I worked as the director of the Division of Policy Development and Planning. I was elected as mayor of Juneau in 1983 and ran for state office in 1986, where I served until January 1995 when I was sworn in as your Lieutenant Governor.
Before I first ran for state office I had a long conversation with my family because I knew that unless they felt comfortable with it the emotional strain would be a negative force in our lives. I have two children--Amy, who is a freshman in college and Louis, a junior in high school. Along with my husband, they've been my best friends, my emotional support network and my partners on this journey. Because they were into it, we were able to strike up a balance. It's not always an ideal balance, it's always changing, but I've learned to juggle and to focus on one thing at a time. It requires a lot of compromises, but the results have been personal growth, self-reliance, and mutual support.
I believe my road in life was very much influenced by my parent's belief that I could achieve anything I wanted to achieve if I worked hard and maintained a positive attitude. I also believe that education is a key to success.
Women and education: Back when I was a girl society expected women to act a certain way. Even though a woman had the opportunity to get an education, go to college, get a job, society believed that our "careers" only lasted until we got married and had a family. Tests done in the 1960s showed that even though girls had a higher scholastic achievement level in the early grades, when they reached high school their grades and interest in school dropped. The reason: their families and teachers didn't expect them to go beyond marriage and motherhood.
Harvard University researchers and studies done by the American Association of University Women and the Minnesota Women's Fund show that young girls often receive less attention in school. In fact, I read an article recently about a study done by the University of British Columbia that says young girls are being left behind in access to technology. Why? Because the computer labs at school are usually populated by boys. Girls say they feel unwelcome there. They're not encouraged enough by teachers to take advantage of available technology, whereas boys are.
From the latest report from the Alaska Department of Labor, February 1977:
Female workers, who comprise of 47% of Alaska's workers, earn less than male workers in virtually all age, industry and occupation categories, including typically female-dominated occupations. Average Annual Wage income is 65.6% of what men make in Alaska:
Male $29,261 Female $19,182A woman with a four-year college degree earns the same as a man with a high school diploma!
Women and the vote: Teen pregnancy, equal opportunity and pay, health care for all, child care, safe and healthy communities, education issues. These are the issues that in the past have been dubbed "women's issues." In fact, these issues were at the very core of why women wanted to vote. They wanted their concerns to be represented. Remember, we were not considered citizens before 1920 when the 19th Amendment was passed. Before we got the right to vote a woman was not an individual entity. We did not have the opportunity to go to the college of our choice because many institutions of higher education were not open to women. Women certainly didn't run for office.
Back in 1922 Rebecca Felton was appointed for one week to the U.S. Senate by Georgia's governor until a special election would elect Walter George to step into the vacated seat. Felton, who was 87 years old, had no duties because Congress wasn't in session. She became the first woman to hold a congressional seat when she convinced the newly elected Senator George, to let her serve one day in Washington before he officially took office, making national headlines when she was sworn in on November 21.
Ten years later Hattie Wyatt Caraway, a Democrat from Arkansas, was appointed to Congress by the Arkansas Governor after promising him she wouldn't seek re-election. She apparently liked elected office enough to go back on her word. She won two full terms.
In 1871 when Susan B. Anthony and handful of women decided to vote they were arrested. Today many Americans take voting for granted. In the last General Election in Alaska there were 414,815 registered voters. Only 245,212 actual ballots were cast.
The Youth Vote: Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the 18 year-old right to vote, yet many young people do not exercise that right.
In the United States, young men and women vote at only half the rate as the general population. Why? Maybe it's because they feel that their vote won't make a difference. Did you know that four out of the last six presidential races were decided by fewer than 11 million votes. There are 11 million 18 to 20 year olds in this country today. It doesn't take a math major to understand that if young people took the time to make informed choices at the ballot box they could decide who will be president of the United States.
More and more women are serving on school boards, city councils, state legislatures, and congress. Some volunteer to take the all-night shift at the local women's shelter or join the national guard. Others head citizen action committees that fight for local issues. These women see that their involvement in public service directly benefits the well-being of their families, their communities and themselves. Women in office tend to carry the water for the so-called "women's issues."
I'm proud to be Alaska's first woman Lieutenant Governor and the first woman to win a statewide elected office in Alaska. Thirty-five out of the 103 secretaries of the states and lieutenant governors nationwide are women. There are two women governors in the nation (New Hampshire's Governor Jeanne Shaheen and Governor Christine Todd Whitman from New Jersey). But I'm sad to say that we actually lost women in the legislature this past election. Of the 60 members of the Alaska Legislature today there are only eight women.
What can you do about this? When you are old enough, get registered to vote! You can register to vote six months before your 18th birthday. Even if you can't vote yet, you can participate by learning about the issues and talking to the adults in your family. Get your sister, your mother, your grandmother and your best friend out to vote. Get involved.
Women still need to do at least as good a job as any of our male peers ever did--and that goes whether you're the Lieutenant Governor, a labor union representative, or a building contractor. If you're in a predominantly male job or anything else where you're different than the average, you have to do your very best because people will be watching you. As we climb the ladder of success and break through the glass ceiling, we need to remember not to pull the ladder up behind us, but to make the ladder a little bit more sturdy so that others can follow. The hole in the glass ceiling will widen as we help each other through.
My recipe for success: A wonderful woman role model, Anne Richards, former governor of Texas, once said that "real power is the power you give away." Governor Richards is a great example of how women lead in a different way. Many studies show that as leaders, we are more cooperative, collaborative and democratic. We prefer to have power with people not over them. Whether you're in your teens or you're a little further along in age like me, challenge yourself to keep on learning. Knowledge is power. That's number one on my personal recipe for success:
© Copyright 1997 Elizabeth Beckett and Sarah Teel
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