The following remarks were delivered at Evelyn Dubrow's memorial service.
by Susan Scanlan
How Evy would have hated to miss this occasion!
Not because of these well earned tributes, but because of all the important arms she could be twisting on behalf of America’s workers.
I’m sure most of us can close our eyes and recall that joyous picture of President Clinton presenting Evy the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House in 1999.
Do you remember that she was shaking her finger at the President – and at her fellow honoree, Gerald Ford – reminding them of bills that needed passing to raise the minimum wage and protect pensions?
My mission this morning is to tell you why the diminutive Miss Dubrow was a giant in the women’s movement.
In 1977, the 18 women in the House of Representatives and Senator Muriel Humphrey formed the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues. They immediately acknowledged their need for data and analysis to help them address the issues confronting 51 percent of the American population.
So the Congresswomen created an independent research arm for the Caucus that would be governed by women of influence, achievement, and excellence. This arm became known as the Women’s Research & Education Institute or WREI.
The first woman elected to the WREI board was Evelyn Dubrow, who—even 29 years ago—was a legend on Capitol Hill, respected on both sides of the aisle for her honest and forthright advocacy for working men and women.
Lucky for them and for me and for you, Evy agreed to help the women of Congress find their voice and implement strategies to improve women’s lives. She was an active member of the WREI board until we lost her in June.
For 25 years, Evy met with every class of WREI’s Congressional Fellows on Women and Public Policy. These talented graduate students from every possible academic field come to Washington for eight months of hands-on training in how public policy is really made.
Over 280 amazing alumnae of the program first learned about the labor movement from Evy. Her two-hour orientation session always began:
“I am the proud daughter of America’s trade unions. My first job was handing out flyers about the Spanish Civil War in Union Square in 1930. I am honored to lobby for the workers of this country. Lobbying – like laboring – is an honorable profession. It’s mentioned right in the Constitution! Citizens have the right to petition their government for redress of grievances. I began when the minimum wage was $1 an hour. Look how shamefully low it still is today. How could I retire when my brothers and sisters are being denied a decent living?! Now, ladies, let me tell you how to make your case to a Senator or Congressman without making an enemy. Because if they aren’t with you on this week’s bill, you might persuade them to your side on next month’s or next year’s legislation. You’ll be amazed where tomorrow’s allies come from.”
Evy’s tour-de-force presentations included hilarious, historical, and instructive stories of her encounters with 12 presidents and of babysitting Al Gore and Christopher Dodd.
Evy’s talks were hands-down the Fellows’ favorite part of orientation. They knew they were hearing history from the horse’s mouth. What astonished them even more was that when Evy ran into one of them in the Capitol or a corridor of the Rayburn Building months or years later, she always remembered their names and which Member they were working for!
Perhaps the most telling testimonial to Evy’s character came from other women lobbyists who told the Fellows how welcoming Evy had been when they first arrived in Washington. Instead of standing aloof as the “queen bee,” she went to great trouble to show them the ropes, warn them about the pitfalls of politics, and introduce them to the Members of Congress they needed to know. Each one recalled how Evy bent over backwards to get them inside the closed-door sessions where big decisions got made.
Evy never missed a WREI Board meeting or our yearly American Woman gala. In fact, one of the most popular pictures on WREI’s website is of the 4’ 11” Ms. Dubrow presenting the American Woman Award to 6’ 3” Chamique Holds-claw of the Washington Mystics in 2002.
I’m going to close my remarks with the same story Evy used to end her annual Fellows speech. She would modestly mention that Lyndon Johnson had once asked her to take an ambassadorship overseas. As only he could put it, he told her it was high time to “send a broad abroad.” Evy informed the President that, while flattered by his offer, this “broad” was just too busy looking after her brothers and sisters at the ILGWU to accept.
Which brings us to the lunch that she and Eleanor Roosevelt organized in 1949, in honor of Eugenia Anderson, the first U.S. woman to serve as an ambassador. It was huge affair at a fancy hotel in New York. That morning, Evy woke with a severe case of hives. Her face was bloated to twice its size and you couldn’t even see her eyes. In a panic, she called her cousin David, a doctor. He told her to report to his New York office exactly 15 minutes before lunch began. Administering an adrenalin shot, which instantly relieved the swelling, David warned her its relief would last no more than two hours.
Evy taxied to the hotel to greet Mrs. R. – as she always called her. She then explained that she was on a limited tether because of the hives and might have to make a quick exit. “Very well, EEEVE-E-LYN,” Mrs. R. replied. (Evy did a wonderful imperson-ation of the First Lady’s high, trilling voice.)
The program began. As mistress of ceremonies, Evy sat on the dais with dignitaries from all over the world. She introduced the former First Lady, who gave a long and eloquent tribute to Ambassador Anderson. As the crowd rose in a standing ovation, Mrs. Roosevelt turned and whispered to Evy:“EEEVE-E-LYN, my dear, it is time for you to leave now. You should run like Cinderella from the ball!” Her face exploding with hives as she headed for the door, run Evelyn did.
Evy, we wish you didn’t have to run. Washington, the Congress, your brothers and sisters in labor, the civil rights and the women’s movement aren’t the same without you!
Ninety-five years was not long enough for us to enjoy your passion, wit, commitment to justice, and love of life. I would bet my bottom dollar that Evy is now looking for the union label on celestial garments. Which means UNITE HERE! might soon be receiving a heavenly host of authorizing cards from Local One at The Pearly Gates.
Susan Scanlan is President of the Women's Research and Education Institute.
The following tribute was excerpted from the website of the Women’s Research and Education Institute.
Evelyn Dubrow … devoted her entire life to making life better for America's workers—particularly the women who clothed the nation. She was the “guilded” patron saint of seamstresses, hemmers, and buttonhole girls.
Evy blazed the trail for women in Washington. The first female lobbyist on Capitol Hill, she arrived in 1956 to represent the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, the ILGWU. That’s when the minimum wage was $1 an hour.
…Always one to apportion the credit and share the spotlight, Evy not only welcomed the women who followed in her footsteps, but encouraged and mentored them: “Work both sides of the aisle. Never threaten and never beg. Say ‘thanks.’ Remember that tomorrow will bring a new fight and another opportunity to work together.”
… In an historic gesture of respect and affection, House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill instructed the doorkeepers off the House floor to yield their seat to Evy when a vote was called and she needed to make her case with incoming Members.
Until very recently, Evy shared lunch each year with the WREI Fellows to tell them about the labor union movement’s history and importance. She'd proudly proclaim herself a lobbyist and explain that it was "a noble profession, written into the Constitution."
Another favorite memory: Evy lecturing 6' 6" Senator Bill Bradley on a key amendment to the Occupational Safety and Health bill. The former New York Knick basketballer almost bent in two to get down to her level. She used this leverage to her advantage in advising him to protect the working people of New Jersey. After such personal persuasion, the Senator straightened up and voted the right way.
More on Evelyn Dubrow, 1911 - 2006
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Evelyn Dubrow, 1911 - 2006." (Viewed on September 30, 2023) <https://jwa.org/weremember/dubrow-evelyn>.