Lindy and Me
Sally J. Kenney
Tania Tetlow (NC ‘92) The Felder-Fayard Early Career Associate Professor of Law and Director, Domestic Violence Clinic at Tulane University Law School, wrote a beautiful essay for the recent Newcomb College anthology and excerpted in the latest TULANE magazine. Congresswoman Boggs wrote her own memoir, Washington Through a Purple Veil: Memoirs of a Southern Woman,1 which the Newcomb College Institute’s book group on Women and Louisiana Politics read three years ago and she was the subject of a documentary entitled Steel and Velvet. I recently saw a beautiful documentary film, Bruce and I, about what Bruce Springsteen means to his fans. As I reflect on the great Lindy Boggs, I feel a bit like the fans in that documentary. Even though they have hardly met, his music was one of the most important things in their lives, a source of solace and inspiration. Lindy Boggs was a rock star of a different sort and touched the lives of everyone with whom she came in contact. Since her passing, we have witnessed an outpouring of what she meant to so many people. We hope you will share your own “Lindy and Me,” memories and post it on our Facebook page.
For me, Congresswoman Boggs was first and foremost an effective champion of women’s rights. I met her in 1987 as a Women’s Resource and Education Institute Congressional fellow, 1986-87. Our class of nine fellows was thrilled to be given tickets to a WREI fundraiser at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Jeanne Stapleton, a member of the WREI Board, was starring in a production of Arsenic and Old Lace—a comedy about two elderly women who kill people and bury them in their basement. We approached the evening with foreboding because two of our group members’ bosses, Congresswomen Olympia Snowe and Patricia Schroeder, were notably absent from the occasion, boycotting for reasons we could not fathom, but having something to do with one or the other of them getting credit or attention for something. We were dismayed at how few of our sheroes, the women in Congress, had bothered to show up. Then along came Congresswoman Boggs. We mobbed her and said, “We are WREI fellows!” She acted as if we were the most exciting people she would talk to that evening and long lost friends, giving us all hugs. The cloud over the evening lifted, and we, like so many before us, were entranced by her warmth and charm.
Our group was privileged to hold our weekly meetings in the Corinne Lindy Boggs Congressional Women’s Reading Room, just a few steps from the House floor. The Congresswomen’s Suite or Women’s Reading Room was renamed in 1990 to honor Congresswoman Boggs in her retirement.2 The three-room suite had a rich history. Boggs was a much beloved colleague in a contentious group, recognized to be a tactical leader, and devoted to the Women’s Caucus. Shrewd women legislators knew that once named for Boggs, no Democratic leadership would ever consider snatching the space away from the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues.
In his eulogy, Senator John Breaux explained Lindy’s style of working a room. She would start from the back, great everyone with equal enthusiasm, and work her way through the room with “Hello dahlings” and “great to see yous.” She did not make a beeline for the most important or those most familiar. Her unique gift was making everyone she greeted feel they had been singled out for special attention and that they were dear friends. He remarked he had never heard anyone say anything bad about Lindy Boggs. Can you imagine any other public servant for whom such a statement would be incontrovertibly true?
I had the great privilege of visiting her with Tania Tetlow in May of 2010, shortly after I took up my post as executive director of the Newcomb College Institute. We flew up to D.C., met her in her apartment, and took her to lunch. The years had clearly taken their toll, and she rose and walked with difficulty. My heart sank and I wondered if we might be imposing on her. She then regaled us to a sophisticated discussion of women in Congress, the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, and Don and Arvonne Fraser (the former a Congressman from Minnesota, the latter, his wife, and the first head of the women’s office at USAID, and my predecessor at the Humphrey Institute and co-founder of Center on Women and Public Policy). She shrewdly inquired about Tulane University politics. As we said our goodbyes, she treated us to a flirtatious serenade. You could still see the evidence of her great legislative effectiveness in her keen intellect, but also why others described her posting as Ambassador to the Vatican as perfect for her because it involved her two favorite activities: going to mass and giving parties.3
For me, Congresswoman Boggs’s greatest accomplishment was passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974. The day after she became a member of Congress, she was sworn in as a member of the Banking and Currency Committee, one of Congressman Hale Boggs’s assignments. Even so, as a single woman, she had difficulty obtaining credit. She quickly learned that single or married, women could not get credit in their own name. As the Committee took up a mortgage bill and sought to ban race discrimination, Congresswoman Boggs inserted “or sex or marital status” into the bill, ran to the copy machine and made a copy for each member. Referring to her “Southern charm” to get the job done, Congresswoman Boggs said “Knowing the members composing this committee as well as I do, I’m sure it was just an oversight that we didn’t have ‘sex’ or ‘marital stauts’ included. I’ve taken care of that, and I trust it meets the committee’s approval.” The amendment passed, 47-0. If only women could count on the unanimous support of Congress to pass legislation promoting equality now!
Would that the current members of Congress emulated Lindy Boggs’s legislative style, not just the women members. She clearly knew how to disagree without being disagreeable and to cultivate everyone as a potential friend and ally. Her style of manners is what I most like about living in the South. As I was planning to move to Louisiana, I reported how warm and pleasant people were to friends from Texas. They lectured me saying, “Just because people have better manners, Sally, doesn’t mean they are better people.” I disagree. Lindy Boggs set a very high standard of being unfailingly kind to everyone, regardless of status, and of always looking beautiful while doing it. To be civil was a source of her strength, not a show of weakness, and her femininity enhanced her effectiveness rather than detracted from it. She demonstrated that being smart, ambitious, and determined was not incompatible with being compassionate, flawless in her appearance, or fun loving.
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