Remarks of Attorney General Janet Mills at the Glassman Award luncheon

January 30, 2009

I am enormously grateful and enormously flattered by this award.

Thank you so very much, Lisl Kuklinski Mills May! You and your sisters are the apple of our eye, the joy of our existence. And we love you.

Thank you to my husband Stan, my sister Dora, my sisters in law, Meg & Nancy, and all my “sisters in law” in this room.

I am so excited in this new job. It just feels like just the right thing at the right time, both for me and for the office. And I am so happy to be working alongside such wonderfully competent and intelligent women, like Linda Pistner, Leanne Robbin, Debby Willis, Linda Conti, Lisa Marchese, Lara Nomani, and many others.

There are many women in this room and in this state who have resisted tradition, who have avoided easy roads, who have done the uncommon, the unconventional, the sometimes uncomfortable thing.

Thirty years ago we convened the first Maine “Conference on Women.” We opened it to the general public. We didn’t expect that nearly 500 would show up from across the state, starving for a deeper dialogue about the burning issues of the day—the unsolved problems of domestic abuse, sexual assault, job equity and the ERA.

We talked about Thurza “Flyrod” Crosby and Carrie Stevens, famous Maine guides and fishermen from Franklin County, and about other maternal predecessors who captained ships, who wrote, taught, preached, managed farms, ran a business.

We talked about who we were as women of and from the State of Maine.

Thirty years later, we still ask how we can be different. How we can make a change. What is our place? Who are we exactly?

I am who I am because of a woman who grew up on a potato farm in Aroostook County, who survived the depression within the austere comfort of a close knit hard working family; who carried on a career, taking delight in literature and good grammar, all the while raising five children born over a seventeen year period which spanned three wars.

I am who I am because of my mother Katherine Coffin Mills, of Ashland and Farmington, who encouraged me to take unconventional roads, to do the uncommon thing.

I am who I am because of a woman who grew up in Robbinston Maine and Portland, in a family of nine children, raised by their widowed mother; who worked her way through Wellesley College and, later, Cornell Law School, long before women had the constitutional right to vote; who practiced law in New York City, in Denver, Colorado (where women could vote), in San Francisco where she got passed a state law allowing women to serve on juries and, later, in Portland Maine where she ran for the state legislature and served three terms in the House and three terms in the Senate, arguing a case before the US Supreme Court along the way on jury service for women;

Who in 1927 led a 200-car motorcade through five states over long dusty roads to see President Coolidge in South Dakota and demand that he support an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.

I am who I am because of Gail Laughlin—not the first woman lawyer in Maine but the first to serve in the Maine Legislature, and the first to make her mark on the national scene; who said nearly a hundred years ago, “Our ultimate goal…is the absolute elimination for the consideration of the sex of the person in occupation or opportunity or remuneration.”

Gail Laughlin did the uncommon thing, the uncomfortable thing.

I am here because of a small but gracious woman, a Maine native with high school basketball credits to her name and no fancy degrees; who would have remained a telephone operator or newspaper circulation manager in a small town for life if fate had not intervened; but who waltzed into the nation’s capitol with powerful street smarts and a disarming smile; who wielded a gentle pen and earned international renown, a force to be reckoned with across the globe; someone who used to stop by our front porch in Farmington and chat with a little girl from time to time, and who later told me sternly, “Janet, if you’re going to survive in politics, you mustn’t be gullible!”

I am who I am because of Senator Margaret Chase Smith, first woman to serve in both houses of Congress, the first to be elected to the Senate in her own right. A woman who fought so hard for the rights of women in the military. Wouldn’t she be proud to know that we finally have a female four star general!

She did the uncommon, the uncomfortable thing. And she achieved the unexpected.

I am here because of a young woman of a Huguenot family who entered law school at the age of 17; who had grown up on a cattle farm at the end of the Oregon Trail; who rode a horse to her one-room schoolhouse; whose father refused to help her with law school because it wasn’t a fit occupation for a woman; who was asked by the Law School dean to think about another profession because she was the only woman in her class and she would feel out of place and, after all, wasn’t she only looking for a husband; who waitressed her way through law school, acing her courses; who went on to become the only woman trial attorney in San Francisco and, much later, the first and, for a long time, the only woman on the Maine Supreme Court.

She did the uncommon thing, the uncomfortable thing.

Caroline Duby Glassman--I am what I am,--we are what we are,--because of you.

Today our state boasts a woman Chief Justice, Leigh Saufley; our ‘top cop,’ Commissioner Anne Jordan, a woman lawyer; the President of our Senate, Libby Mitchell, also a lawyer; the Speaker of the House, Hannah Pingree. Many committee chairs are women, including the powerful House Chair of Appropriations.

But we are only 30% of the Maine Legislature,--47 out of 151 House members, 8 out of 35 Senators, down from our numbers of ten years ago.

Three quarters of our Congressional delegation are women—our two distinguished Senators and our newest Congresswoman, the first woman ever to represent the First District, Congresswoman Pingree. We are the first and only state to break the fifty percent barrier!

We bask in the fact of a woman Speaker of the House in Washington, and in one more female Senator added to the ranks this week.

But, the fact is, only 17 out of 100 Senators are women; only 75 out of 435 Members of the House of Representatives—less than 20 per cent of both houses of Congress, are women.

Only 2 per cent of all the people who have ever served in the US Congress & Senate are women. Only two out of the 212 individuals who have served as US Supreme Court Justices have been women. Only one sits there now, out of this nine-member exclusive club.

As Donna Brazile said last week, “President Obama inspired us to turn the page, and now women seem stuck in the table of contents….It’s time we hurry history.”

I thought about what she said as I watched all week long as men in suits on tv sat around tables pooh poohing the idea that contraception could be part of a country’s economic development program.

“Huh,” I thought. “Why don’t they just ask a woman?!”

Women now practice law all across the State of Maine. More women are going to law school than ever before. But too few are in the courtroom; too few trying cases. Name just a dozen women trial lawyers in Maine. I dare you.

Women doing trial work are important mentors and community role models. They are often the face of our profession to the general public Why not equal numbers in the courtroom?

Why are not equal numbers of women in the trades?

Why so few women plumbers, electricians, engineers, heavy equipment operators?

Today women who are out of work are trained in one of two limited professions; while men are still trained to drive truck, to build, plumb, paint and wire, all at twice the wage.

Why not more women in law enforcement? Will we ever really address the problems of domestic violence without more women in law enforcement with the different skill sets that they bring?

Why so few men in early childhood and so few women teaching high school science?

Why are our numbers corralled in call centers, in hospital corridors, in front of office keyboards, and not always by choice.

There are plenty of reasons. Justifications. Rationales.

But today how can we tolerate anything less than full equality?!

How can we allow our television sets to promote violence against women hour after hour, night after night, depicting women in our democratic culture as weak, helpless and eternally vulnerable.

How can we let advertisements constantly demean us, portray us as helpless shopaholics, unable to read a label, unwilling to say no to a vast line of frivolous products manufactured in chemical plants in northern New Jersey?

Let’s not wait another thirty years to change these things.

Women lawyers have a role to play in changing the direction of our society—by what we do and how we do it.

Begin by telling every young woman lawyer to consider all options open to her—clerking or searching titles or trying cases; working fulltime or flextime; running for school board, for city council, for the legislature, or not. But she should know that she has choices.

Every senior woman lawyer should mentor a younger lawyer.

Every young woman you talk to, tell her point blank:

Ask questions. Take risks. Have fun. Avoid easy stereotypes—

They can’t not let you, kiddo!

Teach her the importance of speaking and writing simply and clearly.

Tell her quietly, “Yes, you can!”

Tell her about Gail Laughlin. About Margaret Chase Smith. About Caroline Duby Glassman.

And sometimes, like them, try the uncommon, the uncomfortable thing.

The rewards for our daughters and our sons, for our state and our country will be extraordinary and immeasurable.

Thank you.