If Republican feminist is not an oxymoron these days, it's because of the work of women like Patricia A. Goldman and organizations like WISH List, of which she is president. The acronym stands for "Women in the Senate and House," a nationwide group that raises money for pro-choice Republican women candidates.
Republican women asserting support for a woman's right to choose an abortion--despite the party's official stance to the contrary--established WISH List in 1992. They modeled it after an influential Democratic women's campaign group, EMILY's List (for "Early Money Is Like Yeast"), established by Ellen Malcolm in 1985. In 1993, the WISH List contributed more than $40,000 to Christine Todd Whitman's successful campaign for governor of New Jersey and $55,000 to Kay Bailey Hutchison's special election campaign for the U.S. Senate from Texas. Last year, WISH List raised $370,000 for 40 candidates.
Patricia Goldman, 53, became WISH List president last year as the group launched a concerted expansion effort. Goldman is no stranger to women's causes, having been active in the attempt to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, or to Washington, where she worked as a Capitol Hill staffer fresh out of Goucher College in 1964. An economics major, Goldman jokes that she was hired as minority counsel for early War on Poverty hearings without a law degree, in part because no attorney could work as cheaply as she, and the congressman doing the hiring--Albert Quie--was a frugal Minnesota farmer. She later served as executive director for the Wednesday Group, which developed legislative and political issues for Republican House members. She was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to a GOP seat on the National Transportation Safety Board in 1979, and reappointed by President Ronald Reagan. In 1988, she left government to become a senior vice president of USAir, retiring from that post in 1994.
Goldman was married to Sen. Charles E. Goodell of New York until his death in 1987. She's now married to Stephen Kurzman, a retired Washington attorney she has known since he worked for the late Sen. Jacob K. Javits, a liberal Republican from New York, and she for the Joint Economic Committee. "As Steve says, we married in the faith," she said with a smile.
Question: Is there a place under the Republican Party tent for pro-choice feminists?
Answer: Yes. We have to assert our rights to make sure it's there. The leaders have indicated that they wish for a place [for us]--as we have heard from party co-chair Evelyn McPhail. But we sometimes have to remind the other activists to move over.
Q: Given the climate, particularly in Washington, how does a moderate Republican woman stay in her skin today?
A: Same way she has for the last number of years: with difficulty but fight.
Q: How long has it been difficult for Republican feminists?
A: We maintain that the Republican Party was the place where women started. It was the party of suffrage, as well as the party of anti-slavery; they went hand in hand. We had the first woman party chairman. When I first came to work on the Hill, you had Frances Bolton [R-Mass.] and Margaret Chase Smith [R-Maine]. There were role models and heroines for us to be with. You [keep going] by working with the issues. I'm more comfortable on the variety of issues that I care about in addition to being a feminist--the economic issues make me feel at home in the Republican Party.
Q: What's your target for WISH List fund-raising this year?
Kay Mills is author of "From Pocahontas to Power Suits: Everything You Need to Know About Women's History in America" (Plume). She interviewed Patricia Goldman at a women's political forum in San Diego.
A: $1.5 million--which is going to be a big stretch. That will, in large part, depend on the candidates we have. Women's organizations this year are all having difficulty recruiting candidates.
It's not just Republican or Democratic. First of all, polls tell us politicians are not highly regarded. Most of us would like to select a career in which we would get some psychic benefit. For women, if they have families--not that this shouldn't be for men, too--that's a double burden. Women have a harder time raising money. They know that to begin with.
The candidates we support also tend, because of the nature of the party organizations in some states, to have a major primary fight--so it's going to be even more costly. So, many times the women running have higher budgets than the males might--if they're going to compete on equal terms. It's daunting.
Q: Why did you take this job?