What Ted Kennedy Did For Women

It’s easy to remember Edward Kennedy for the soap opera that was his life: His two brothers were assassinated five years apart; he survived a plane crash in 1964; he lost two beloved nephews in rapid succession in the 1990s; and rumors of alcoholism constantly followed him. And when I say the words “Ted Kennedy” and “women” in the same sentence, only one probably comes to mind: Mary Jo Kopechne, the 28-year-old campaign aide he was probably trying to sleep with, who was sitting in the passenger seat of his Oldsmobile when it careened into a river on Martha’s Vineyard in 1969. Kennedy escaped from the car and left Mary Jo behind, not calling the police until after her body had been discovered. (Required reading: Joyce Carol Oates’ Black Water, which tells the story, fictionalized of course, from her perspective.) To say it wasn’t his best moment is a gross understatement.

Yes, these are the details about Ted Kennedy that are titillating to talk about. But since the announcement of his death this morning, I’ve found myself thinking about the not-so-salacious details: his record over his 46 years in the Senate. For a dude, Ted did a heck of a lot for us ladies.

  • In 1972, Ted was a big champion of Title IX of the Education Amendment which said that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” This is the law that requires that women’s sports get equal funding to men’s in public schools. So if you played high school softball, thank Ted.
  • Ted Kennedy made it one of his life missions to get the Equal Rights Amendment added to the constitution. (For those of you who slept through this part of history class, this amendment, which states pretty simply, “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States,” was written by suffragette Alice Paul back in 1932. It’s still never been ratified.) He brought up the amendment in every Congress since 1982.
  • In 1984, Ted went to bat for Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for vice president, defending her for being a pro-choice Catholic and, some say, hurting his own standing with Catholic voters in the process.
  • Ted was one of the architects of the Family and Medical Leave Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1993, which guarantees you job protection while taking time off to care for newborn children. Before this law, it was up to individual businesses how much time off to give new parents and whether they’d take them back afterward.
  • Over the years, Ted has a pretty great record on protecting abortion rights. NARAL Pro-Choice America gives him a 100 percent positive rating.
  • Ted is the Senator who did the most pushing for the Matthew Shepard Act, which strengthened existing laws against hate crimes against women, gays, lesbians, and transgendered folks, and let prosecutors penalize folks who commit them with much stricter sentences.
  • He also had a large hand in the Violence Against Women Act, which gave $1.6 billion to investigate and prosecute crimes against women.
  • This is another one that hasn’t actually been signed into law yet, but it’s been brought up in every Congress session since 1994—Ted Kennedy sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would be an extra safeguard against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • And most recently, Ted was all for the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which lets women sue for each discriminatory paycheck they receive.
  • For all this and more, he’ll be missed. [Wikipedia , Jezebel, Boston Channel]