Outgoing Republican Maryland Congresswoman Connie Morella urged females to have pride in themselves and discussed the obstacles she faces in front of almost 100 people Tuesday evening at the Mount Vernon Campus.
The occasion was the 85th Mount Vernon College “Founder’s Day,” held annually around the birthday of school founder Elizabeth J. Somers. GW purchased the Mount Vernon College in 1996.
Morella explained how she became involved in politics, the issues that she considers important, her political projects, her recent election loss and the past and present roles of female leaders. She took time to answer audience questions following her speech.
When asked about the biggest challenges women will face in the future, Morella described “not being taken seriously” as a considerable obstacle for women.
“Sometimes a woman will ask a question in a meeting and nobody will listen,” she said. “Ten minutes later a man will ask the same question and everybody will say ‘wow, what a great question.'”
“Another challenge women face is lack of confidence in themselves,” she said.
She said women many times “don’t reapply for jobs” after being denied whereas men usually consider it a “fluke” if they do not get what they want.
“Women sometimes lack the guts to move ahead,” Morella said.
Morella recounted the history of women’s rights and the progress females have made.
She mentioned the 1872 Supreme Court Case of Bradwell vs. Illinois, in which a woman was denied the right to practice law because women were “destined to fulfill the noble offices of wife and mother.”
“We have made great strides,” she said, referring to the 62 women who served in Congress prior to last week’s election.
Nevertheless she said she believed women had a “responsibility to become leaders in the future.”
Morella also spoke of her concerns for women in Afghanistan.
“We should provide foreign aid in a way that gives opportunity for women,” she said. “An opportunity for a woman equals an opportunity for an entire family.”
As far as the election is concerned, Morella said she could have retired “gracefully” beforehand.
“I decided not to leave,” she said. “I told myself I was going to fight.”
Morella said that her campaign was “flawless” and that her loss can be attributed to a combination of gerrymandering, dislike for President George W. Bush in her district and people basing their vote on party preference rather than on specific issues.
Morella, a moderate Republican, has a reputation for voting on issues regardless of party politics.
“Congresswoman Morella tends to place emphasis on relevant issues,” said International Development Program Coordinator Dana Stryk.
Morella also talked of the importance of the legislation she helped pass to expand the Violence Against Women Act, which resulted in a $3.4 billion grant to make homes safer.
Mount Vernon Dean Grae Baxter introduced Morella to the audience, which consisted of organizers, Office of Alumni Affairs staff and students from the Women’s Leadership Program.
Baxter, in her introduction, described Morella’s career as “very impressive.”
“Regardless of politics,” she added. “I feel sad that she lost (last week’s election). She is an anchor and inspiration to all of us.”
Morella served for eight years in the Maryland House of Delegates before being elected to Congress from Maryland’s eighth district in 1987. She was voted into office eight times.
Morella has made a name for herself by working on children’s and women’s issues.
Baxter described the legislation to broaden the Violence Against Women Act as “the strongest commitment that Congress has ever made to fight domestic violence and sexual assault.”
Additionally, Morella has battled AIDS in women by promoting research and prevention, joined the struggle to preserve the environment by advocating “green technology” and been at the forefront of international affairs by representing the United States at the U.N. conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt.
“Morella represented the district well and became a wonderful role model for women,” said Shannon Mouton of the Office of Alumni Affairs, a Democrat.
Following Morella’s speech, freshman Janine Meadows said the Congresswoman had inspired her.
“She made me realize that there is a lot a woman can achieve,” she said.