Pauline Menes

(1924 - 2009)

With more than forty years of public service in Maryland, Pauline Herkowitz Menes stands as a legendary role model to women in government and politics across the nation. She has not only advocated for parity of female leadership in government but also for the rights of women in their everyday lives. Ms. Menes played a fundamental role in the establishment of the Women's Legislative Caucus of Maryland in 1972 (now the Women Legislators of Maryland). Menes extended the ideals and strategies of the Maryland caucus into national women's politics by organizing Women Legislators in 1974.

Born and raised in New York, Ms. Menes earned a Bachelor's Degree in Geography and Economics from Hunter College in 1945. During WWII, she responded to the nation's need for supplemental female 'manpower'. Ms. Menes moved to Washington, D.C. to work as an economist for the Office of Quartermaster General alongside the thousands of women filling men's occupations to release them for military duty overseas. Following the war, she married and then raised three daughters. During this time, she was active in public service with local electoral and voter registration activities that shaped much of her ambition to run for public office.

In 1962, Ms. Menes ran for her first public office, Register of Wills for Prince George's County; however, she lost this election by a mere one hundred votes. With this experience fresh in her mind, Ms. Menes promptly ran again, for a seat representing the 21st district in the Maryland House of Delegate. She won the seat in November 1966, as was continuously reelected by her constituents until her retirement in 2007.

During her first term, Governor Spiro T. Agnew appointed Ms. Menes as chair to the Commission on the Public Library Laws. As chair, Ms. Menes experienced her first successful leadership position in public office, where she impressively coordinated the legislation that universalized Maryland's statewide library system. From her new perspective, she recognized the extraordinary challenges that women leaders faced by their routine exclusion from important policymaking meetings and committees. Male legislators were accustomed to making policy decisions after hours in private without female legislative input. To counter this exclusionary atmosphere, Ms. Menes joined with eleven female delegates and founded the Women's Legislative Caucus of Maryland in 1972, a unified organization of female legislators who agreed on policy agenda and legislative approach. As the first elected chair of the caucus, Ms. Menes helped express their concerns to the governor calling for more women in leadership roles, especially on boards and committees. Her efforts resulted in an annual meeting between the governor and the Caucus. The Caucus continues to pursue the rights of women's citizenship, particularly critical issues central to women and family, reproductive rights, education, and economic autonomy. Maryland's female legislative caucus stands as an innovative, successful model to many states for the discussion of women's policy initiative across America.

Ms. Pauline Menes is most notably remembered for accepting Speaker of the House Thomas Hunter Lowe's appointment as Chairman of the Women's Restroom Committee, a time when she became the first woman to stand on the rostrum during session. She gracefully accepted the inappropriate appointment as an opportunity to address House membership issues. Ms. Menes groundbreaking public service accomplishments have visibly inspired many women in Maryland to run for public office. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, Maryland reached the rank of first in the nation, in 2005 and 2006, for the highest percentage of women state legislators. An enormous accomplishment compared to the small group of isolated women that she joined in 1966.

With a never-ending list of committee, council, and board memberships, Ms Menes helped pass over 2,000 bills and policy changes during her career in the Maryland General Assembly. Ms. Pauline Menes remains significantly recognized, by her peers and citizenry, with numerous recognition awards for her extreme dedication to public service, mentorship, women's advocacy, and distinguished female leadership.

Biography courtesy of the Maryland Commission for Women, 2008.

© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2008