(1900-1980), member of Congress, defender of liberal Democratic principles, advocate for women's equity
House Resolution 797: A Bill Providing Equal Pay for Equal Work would appear to have been proposed in the 1980s, but it was actually introduced in 1949 by Helen Gahagan Douglas, the three-term member of Congress from California's Fourteenth District, 1944-1950. Indeed, in that same year she introduced bills defining benefits for disabled veterans, establishing a commission on the legal status of U.S. women, authorizing the president to convene the world's experts to discover the means of curing and preventing cancer, continuing rent control, prohibiting discrimination in employment because of race, religion, color, national origin or ancestry, and funding for more effective programs of public kindergarten and nursery school education to benefit migratory farm labor. Not so coincidentally, in that same year she introduced H.R. 145 (aimed largely at the House Un-American Activities Committee), "a resolution creating a select committee to conduct an investigation . . . of the investigations . . . by [a] committee of the House."
Very much a child of the twentieth century, Gahagan Douglas died in 1980, her hospital room "piled with reports, clippings, revisions, inserts and notes" for her autobiography, A Full Life. Filled with life until the end, she was simply "too busy addressing students on campuses, protesting the arms race, supporting the women's movement, campaigning for presidential campaigns" to quite finish that work ( Douglas, 1982:x). A distinguished Broadway actress and an opera singer of exceptional potential, she is best remembered as a member of Congress who "believed in democratizing politics via increased access, education, and communication" ( O'Connor, 1982:7). Perhaps, alas, she is too frequently best remembered as Richard Nixon Pink Lady whom he defeated for a U.S. Senate seat in 1950. Such a sound-bite recollection does a grave disservice to a distinguished woman of considerable intelligence, clear vision, compassionate heart, and no small amount of rhetorical skill who helped lead the fight for arms control, a clean environment, minority rights, and a variety of key women's issues including equal pay for equal work, daycare centers, and legal status.