July 24, 2013

KITCHELL: Glass ceiling gone, but glass roof remains


---- — As a 13-year-old junior high student in 1971, I can still remember the night a little history was made in Logansport.

For the first time, a woman had been elected to the Logansport City Council. When Ellen Glendening broke the city council version of the “glass ceiling” that prevented women from entering public service because of tradition in a male-dominated society, she set an example for more women to follow. She had been active in the community, a wife and mother. In those days, there were few women at any level of Indiana politics, save the courthouse jobs and city clerk-treasurer posts that were more open to women.

Glendening served three terms on the council, and wasn’t known for asking dumb questions. In fact, she asked some darned good ones. When the time came for her to leave the council, she served on the Utility Service Board and broke the glass ceiling there as well. No women have served on the board since she left.

Glendening’s precedent for the council was followed by Mary Cotner, another Democrat, then Republican Janet Carr. Mercedes Brugh, Linda Klinck, Vicki Mason, Amy Sweet and currently Teresa Popejoy also followed in those footsteps. But even with that glass ceiling gone, a glass roof remains in many respects in local politics. Jone Wilson came out of nowhere to win a three-way race for mayor in 1979, but no woman has come close since. Republicans have tried, putting a stamp on former Cass Treasurer Carolyn Beauchamp and Auditor Chod Gibson, but to no avail.

Mary Margaret Muehlhausen went from auditor to the Cass County Council in 1988 as the first woman ever to serve on that body. Sarah Jane Crimmins and Gibson followed suit, but no female Democrat has ever served on the council.

Kelly Thompson Mitchell won two terms as the District 2 county commissioner, but there have been no female candidates from either party who have won one of the three seats since she left.

Even though Glendening and Cotner both sought state legislative seats from the area, no woman has ever represented Cass County in the Indiana House or Senate. Glendening made a brave run against former Indiana Hous e Speaker Pro Tem Nelson Becker in the 1980s. Glendening fared well against Becker, who lived just blocks from her. She had a limited budget and she refused to accept Political Action Committee funding. It was a tough race to win, and had she run in 2012, there probably would have been more funds from state Democrats to help her.

But the reality of the political atmosphere in Logansport and Cass County is that we lag behind the state and the nation in fielding and electing women in government offices. Indiana has never had a female governor, but its last three lieutenant governors have all been women. This area has never had a congresswoman, but Indiana currently has two – the most it has ever had. In the past 30 years, five women have represented Indiana in the House of Representatives.

The time will likely come when more women are on the ballot. To put Glendening’s own lifetime in perspective, it should be noted that she was born seven years after women first gained the right to vote in this country. She lived long enough to see women elected to virtually every level of government in the United States except the presidency. She saw two women become vice presidential nominees and one from her own party who ran an aggressive campaign for president in 2008 that even made a stop at Lincoln Middle School, the same place where Glendening’s own children attended.

The glass structure over our heads is a little bit higher than it used to be – call it a glass roof if you will. Don’t expect it to be there much longer.

Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached through the newspaper at