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Madeleine Kunin elected Governor of Vermont

November 7, 1984

In her autobiography, Madeleine Kunin acknowledges that her background may not have predestined her to become governor of Vermont. “As a feminist, an immigrant, and a Jew,” she wrote, “I was perhaps too different from the average Vermont voter, yet it was this identity that inspired me to enter public life and shaped my values.” Kunin was elected as the first Jewish and first female governor of Vermont on November 7, 1984. She also became the first Jewish woman governor of any American state.

Born in Switzerland, she was brought to the United States as a child in 1940 as her mother sought to escape the growing Nazi threat. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts and Columbia University, Kunin moved to Vermont to work for the Burlington Free Press. After marriage and four children, Kunin devoted herself both to her domestic responsibilities and involvement as a community organizer, educating neighbors and community leaders on pending health care legislation and a number of communal safety concerns.

Elected to the state legislature in 1972, Kunin sought to mobilize support for the ERA, the environment, education, and the welfare of families and children. Kunin was elected the lieutenant governor of Vermont in 1978 and governor in 1984. She was also the first woman elected to three terms as governor in any state. As governor, Kunin focused on education, environmental concerns, the development of a family court, and the implementation of new land use planning laws. She provided a strong feminist voice in state government.

Kunin left the governor’s office in 1991. In 1993, she published Living a Political Life: One of America’s First Woman Governors Tells Her Story and became the U.S. deputy secretary of education. In 1996, she was appointed the US ambassador to her native country of Switzerland where she played a role in pushing Switzerland to deal with the question of Jewish World War II assets which had been deposited in Swiss banks for safekeeping. Kunin currently leads the Institute for Sustainable Communities and, as Distinguished Visiting Professor, teaches political science at the University of Vermont and St. Michael's College in Vermont. In 2008, she published Pearls, Politics and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead.

Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 766-767; www.ed.gov/offices/ODS/kunin.html; www.uvm.edu/~polisci/faculty/kunin_bio.html.

Madeleine Kunin
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Former Governor of Vermont, Madeleine Kunin was the first Jewish woman governor of an American state. Photo by WonkGuy.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Madeleine Kunin elected Governor of Vermont." (Viewed on September 1, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/nov/07/1984/madeleine-kunin>.

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