Women making history: Jeane Kirkpatrick, political woman

This post is one of a series of posts in observance of Women’s History Month.

In April 2020, New York Times reporter Katherine Q. Seelye wrote a moving obituary for Ruth Mandel, an inspiring force behind the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers. Seelye described Mandel’s 1981 book, In the Running: The New Woman Candidate as the first book-length treatment of the subject of women in politics.

But that’s not quite right. The first book-length study of women in politics was indeed supported by the Center, but written a decade before by political scientist Jeane Kirkpatrick, then a professor at Georgetown University. The study was revolutionary for its time. Kirkpatrick not only convened women from legislatures around the country to talk about obstacles and successes in politics, but she surveyed them! The book received a glowing blurb from the radical firebrand NYC congresswoman Bella Abzug. Kirkpatrick concluded that while the obstacles to achieving de facto political equality were “enormous,” the gradual inclusion of women would continue. 

When Kirkpatrick, then a Democrat, joined the Reagan administration (after a stint at AEI) as the first female US ambassador to the United Nations, she was essentially cast out of the women’s movement for political apostasy, one of many examples of how politics trumps gender. In 1985, Kirkpatrick became one of a handful of women to ever serve on the prestigious President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. She related an anecdote about being in the situation room at the White House for a meeting when a mouse scurried across the floor. She mused that it was probably more unusual to have a woman in that room than a mouse, the White House having long been plagued by a critter problem.