Trailblazing Governors: The Many People Who Helped Along the Way

This book began on a cold February day in 1996. My friend Neal Johnson and I arrived to hear former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts speak at Harvard. The next day we conducted our interview for an article about her leadership style. We realized that the first generation of women governors had done something amazing and it would be great to capture them telling their stoies in a documentary. When we were not able to get funding, I decided to tell their stories in a book instead. Now that I am finally at the finish line I can say with all honesty—thank you Neal!

I am especially grateful to Governor Barbara Roberts for her encouragement during these many years. An excellent writer, she also provided very useful feedback to several draft chapters as I moved through this process.

The women governors I interviewed were unpretentious, gracious, generous with their time, and open about their experiences. Thank you Governor Martha Layne Collins, Governor Madeleine Kunin, Governor Barbara Roberts, and Governor Christie Todd Whitman. Without your courage to go where no woman had gone, there would be no stories to tell. In addition, I appreciate your willingness to read what I had written and make necessary clarifications.

Similarly, family, friends, and associates of the two deceased governors were also very kind and I am grateful to them for sharing their memories. Ella Grasso’s children, Jim and Susane, provided me with new information and useful insights. I am especially appreciative of Jim’s reviewing the chapter I wrote about Ella and offering constructive feedback. As the author of Ella Grasso’s only biography, Connecticut’s former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz had many stories to share. I wish her all the best as she continues to blaze her own political journey.

I interviewed Lou Guzzo, longtime friend of Dixy Lee Ray and author of her only biography; he provided important information and insights. I am also grateful for his willingness to review Dixy’s chapter to make sure I got her story right. I also had the opportunity to interview Dixy’s former chief of staff Paul Bender. A dedicated public administrator, he provided valuable on-the-ground insights about her experiences as governor.

I am grateful to the many people who recognized the historical significance of these women. Connecticut Public Television produced a documentary of Ella in 1994 ( Susan Bysiewicz organized the Ella T. Grasso Appreciation Day, March 3, 2006 that was captured on DVD by the Connecticut Network. Jon Purmont, a professor at Southern Connecticut State University, deserves recognition for telling Ella’s story in articles over the years and for writing the wonderful tribute to Tom Grasso when he passed away. Trudy Weckworth and Al McVay compiled a book of newspaper articles about Dixy’s first year as governor. Lou Guzzo videotaped an in-depth interview with Dixy Lee Ray in 1986 that was available through Seattle’s Library. Elizabeth Duffy Fraas published a book of Martha Layne Collins’ speeches on a wide range of issues, saving other researchers hours of searching through boxes in the archives. Vermont Educational Television Channel (now known as Vermont Public Television— produced Madeleine Kunin, A Woman at the Helm, a video interview by Enzo DiMaio in 1992. Authors Patricia Beard, Antonia Felix, and Michael Aron provided important information about Christie Todd Whitman’s political journey.

A great deal of the material used for this book came from state archives and historical societies. I do not know the names of all the wonderful public servants who catalogued boxes of speeches, press releases, press clippings, and letters to constituents, but their work is invaluable and greatly appreciated. The staffs at the Connecticut State Library, Kentucky Archives and Historical Society, the state archives in New Jersey, Oregon State, Washington and Vermont were very helpful to me. I am also very appreciative of Mount Holyoke College Library and Archives for maintaining the Ella Grasso special collection and the University of Vermont Library for maintaining the Madeleine May Kunin special collection. Thank you for making it possible for people like me to do historical research about these trailblazing governors.

I owe a special thanks to Emily Harrison Weir, editor of Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly, who graciously searched out and sent me an article Ella had written in 1941 and a tribute to Ella published in the spring of 1981.

Thank you to those who helped me obtain the governors’ official portraits used in this book: Mark Jones, State Archivist, Connecticut State Library, Christine Pittsley, Digital Collections Technician, Connecticut State Library; Benjamin Helle, Washington State Archives, Olympia Regional Branch; Jennifer Duplaga, Special Collections Administrator, Kentucky Historical Society; David Schütz, State Curator, Vermont; Scott Reilly, Archivist, Vermont State Archives and Records Administration; Andy Needham, Reference Archivist, Oregon State Archives; and, Joanne M. Nestor, Principal Photographer, New Jersey State Archives.

I am forever grateful to many friends for their encouragement and tremendously helpful critiques of the chapters. Thank you Dodie Fitzgerald, Maureen Fitzgerald, Gail Gosney, Kathleen Guest, Gita Moulton, Laura Harper, Jen Olsen, Jennifer Polis, Sonya Smith—Pratt, Blaine Readler, Jana Sesonske and her dad Alex who had worked with Dixy, Monica Sexty, Mary Williams, and Caroline Wise. Carol Edlund deserves credit for getting me back in gear in 2010. Only a longtime friend could ask, “what is stopping you from completing this book?” A gifted teacher and mentor, she accepted no excuses. Pam Toal also played an essential role in getting this book into your hands. In addition to reading chapters and introducing me to Doreen Fitzgerald who helped edit the early drafts, Pam worked with me as a coach. I doubt that I would have ever finished the manuscript without her help and support. I strongly recommend the coaching process as a way to continually find ways around self-created barriers.

Many students read chapters along the way and a few would periodically check-in to see if I was done yet. Susan Schaeffer provided some additional motivation—“Finish the book. I want to give this book to my granddaughters!”

My favorite cousin to argue politics with, Arthur Finkelstein, opened an important door for me. A friend from my University of Connecticut days, Steve Ziolkowski, helped me find Jim Grasso. Also from my UConn days, Amy and Mike Farley provided a place to stay when I visited Connecticut to do research along with their continued friendship.

Special thanks go to longtime friends for their support over the years—Lisa Weinberg (another UConn alum), Catherine Brooks, Justin Bombara, and Jenelle Drago—and to my sister, Joan Zettlemoyer, my number one cheerleader. Thank you all!

Words cannot fully capture the love, admiration and appreciation I have for my son Jesse. He never wavered in his belief that I could—and should—finish this book. He also had the courage to gently point out that my desire for perfection was not at all helpful in getting this manuscript into print. At some point, I had to say enough with the editing. I know how lucky I am to have him in my life.

Despite all the great help I have received, whatever errors still remain are my own doing.

I have lived with the voices of these remarkable women inside my head for over a decade and kept hearing, “for all the risk, it is worth daring to do something that seems a bit beyond your reach.” I hope you will be as inspired by these six remarkable women as I have been.

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