My former Congresswoman, Lindy Boggs, died today at the age of 97. I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Boggs several times and she lived up to her reputation for graciousness and kindness on each occasion. She was the ultimate steel magnolia as well as a helluva politician. She was also responsible for ensuring women equal access to credit back in 1974:
When Boggs requested appointment to the House Banking and Currency Committee, she planned to use the position to further urban renewal in the New Orleans area. But she soon found another cause that would help her reshape the country's social landscape.
Newly single, she suddenly encountered the difficulties women faced when they sought credit. "I had not been aware of the discrimination against women until I became an easy prey to it myself," she wrote in her 1994 memoir.
Boggs realized that women could only get credit cards in their husbands' names. If a woman divorced, her credit cards were automatically cancelled. Even a middle-aged woman had to get her father's signature for a loan. Married women, even those who worked, could establish no credit history.
By 1974, Congress was set to pass a lending rights bill that outlawed discrimination on the basis of race and age. Boggs, however, noticed that women had been excluded. "I thought I should add 'or sex or martial status,' " she recalled, adding that she wrote that addition on her copy of the bill and made a photocopy for each committee member.
Then, relying on her considerable Southern charm, she announced to her colleagues, "Knowing the members composing this committee as well as I do, I'm sure it was just an oversight that we didn't have 'sex' or 'marital' status included. I've taken care of that, and I trust that it meets with the committee's approval." It did. Her amendment to the Equal Credit Employment Act of 1974 passed unanimously.
The impact of those few words? In 1972, only 4.6 percent of small businesses(402,000) were owned by women. By 1982, women owned 23 percent of small businesses (2.9 million), the vast majority of them established with their personal credit. Today, 30 percent of all privately held businesses (8.3 million) are owned by women.
Other than her first campaign to succeed her husband in 1973, Lindy faced only one tough political race for Congress. In 1983, her district was redrawn to give it a black majority. A year later, she was challenged by then-former Judge Israel M. Augustine, the first black judge at Criminal Court and a beloved figure in the black community.
Alarcon, her campaign manager, recalls that Boggs never lost her composure during that race, even though her campaign team was scared stiff at the prospect of her having to run against a popular black figure in a black-majority district. One event from that campaign, he says, remains etched in his memory as a defining moment.
“One morning a longtime supporter who ran a small and no-longer-very-significant political organization came in with this ridiculous budget for his ballot,” Alarcon says. “He wanted $5,000 — and about that time money was really tight. Herman Kohlmeyer, her treasurer, practically had a stroke. I had the unfortunate task of giving Lindy the bad news.
“Lindy, of course, said, ‘Give it to him.’ We complained to her that it wasn’t worth it, that we were running low on cash, but she just smiled and said, ‘You have to remember that there are angels everywhere. You just have to look for them.’
“That afternoon we took her to a local housing project to campaign for black votes, not knowing what kind of reception she would get. Almost as soon as we arrived, dozens of women came pouring out of their apartments, some of them clutching letters they had received years earlier from Lindy, or even Hale. Several of them said, ‘Don’t worry Miss Boggs. We remember that you were always there for us. We’re gonna be here for you now.’
“She then turned to me and said, ‘You see. There really are angels everywhere. You just have to look for them.’”
Boggs won re-election handily, capturing more than a third of the black vote.
Now that she is gone, Alarcon said through tears, “We don’t have to look too far to find this angel.”
We won't see Lindy Boggs' like again. She will be missed.