Rosa DeLauro has served Connecticut’s third congressional district since 1990 and has been a powerful champion for women’s causes. During her time in Congress, she has taken on some of the most pressing issues including making healthcare more affordable, providing tax relief for working- and middle-class families, and helping women achieve equal pay for equal work. Known as a tenacious leader, DeLauro is Connecticut’s longest serving female congressional representative.
Born in 1943 in New Haven, Conn., DeLauro grew up in an Italian-American family. All four of her grandparents immigrated to the United States from Italy, her father Theodore arriving at the age of 13 without knowing any English. He worked hard and eventually became a successful New Haven Alderman affectionately known as the “Mayor of Wooster Square.” DeLauro’s mother, Luisa, was also active in community politics and went on to become the longest serving member of the New Haven Board of Alderman, from 1965-1999. Growing up, Rosa learned the value of hard work and education from her parents and saw them help members of their community take on difficult issues and problems.
After graduating from the Academy of Our Lady of Mercy, Lauralton Hall in Milford, DeLauro attended the London School of Economics and, in 1964, graduated with honors from Marymount College. Two years later, she received an M.A. in International Politics from Columbia University. Returning to New Haven, she campaigned door-to-door with her father and also became involved in community organizing, working with Frank Logue’s New Haven-based institute to train neighborhood volunteers for work in President Johnson’s War on Poverty and with the National Urban Fellows, an urban leadership development program seeking to create good job opportunities for minorities and women.
In 1975, Logue challenged New Haven Mayor Bart Guida, an incumbent democrat, and Rosa DeLauro became his campaign manager. The campaign was difficult but successful, and DeLauro became the first woman to hold the top administrative post in City Hall when she served as Executive Assistant to Mayor Logue. While working on Logue’s campaign, DeLauro also met her future husband Stanley Greenberg. The couple married in 1978.
Though she had never been involved in statewide politics, in 1979, Christopher Dodd tapped DeLauro as campaign manager for his first Senate race. She was the first woman in Connecticut to run a statewide campaign, and she was so successful that Senator Dodd asked her to be his Chief of Staff, a role she held for seven years. During this time, DeLauro was diagnosed with Stage 1 ovarian cancer and underwent several months of radiation treatment before being declared cancer-free. She credits this experience with fueling her passion for healthcare reform and her advocacy efforts on behalf of women’s health research.
In 1987, DeLauro left Senator Dodd’s office to pursue independent advocacy work. She became executive director of Countdown ’87, a group which lobbied Congress to end military aid to rebel forces in Nicaragua, and successfully brought U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan Contras to an end. She went on two years later to serve as the first director of EMILY’S List, a national organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in elected office.
When Connecticut Congressman Bruce Morrison decided to run for governor in 1990, Rosa DeLauro was encouraged by Nancy Pelosi to run for his seat. Her first platform focused on family issues, jobs and taxes, and she ran against Republican Tom Scott. The race was close, but DeLauro defeated her opponent 52% to 48% and has not faced such a close election since.
Throughout her time in Congress, DeLauro has focused on issues like education, healthcare, food safety, access to food and nutrition programs, pay equity for women and paid sick leave. She has also been a strong voice in Congress, often recognized by members from both parties for her outstanding leadership and dedication to her work. In 1999, her colleagues elected her assistant to the Democratic Leader, making her the second highest ranking female Democrat in Congress at the time. She has been recognized as one of the House of Representatives’ top “workhorses” by Washingtonian magazine.
A lifelong resident of New Haven, DeLauro has actively sought to make an impact on her local community. In 1991, she established the Ted DeLauro Scholarship in memory of her father and funds the scholarship through donations of Congressional pay raises and cost-of-living adjustments. In 2002, she founded the Maria Baez Perez Scholarship to honor a former staffer who helped constituents through her work on immigration, social security and healthcare before passing away at the age of 33. Another program, Rosa’s Readers, was established in 1999 to increase interest in reading among 3rd district first graders. She has been recognized with numerous awards including the 2010 Ovarian Cancer National Alliance Hope Award, the 2012 Connecticut Multicultural Health Partnership Public Service Award, and the 2013 Champion of Science Award.
Rosa DeLauro currently serves as co-chair of the House Steering and Policy Committee and is the ranking member on the Labor, Health, Human Services and Education Appropriations sub-committee. She splits her time between Washington, D.C., and her Congressional district.
During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice
Feminism in the late 1960s was aided by President Kennedy, who formed the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, and his successor, President Johnson, who backed passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Difficulties in implementing the law through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) led a group of women in 1966 to create the National Organization for Women (NOW), demanding “action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now.”
A younger group called for a more radical approach to social change than simply considering what was possible to achieve politically. “Women’s liberation” demanded freedom without limitation. Some took part in consciousness-raising groups, others demonstrated against the Miss America pageant, and many discussed their expectations of mutual enjoyment of sex. They established rape crisis centers, domestic shelters, and women’s studies programs. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act also increased pressure on universities to hire more women faculty and expand the number of female college athletes. Activist protest among gays and lesbians, such as the Stonewall Riot, symbolized this group’s potential to resist oppression.
Under pressure, many states repealed legislation prohibiting abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized its availability to women in Roe v. Wade. Also in 1973, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the ERA, and states began its ratification.
Yet, dissension arose in the ranks of the movement, as it had earlier after passage of the 19th amendment. Feminists disagreed as to whether pornography should be banned or protected as a form of free speech, and whether lesbian identities should be kept secret or disclosed. Black women were more concerned with poverty and welfare in their communities than with personal career advancement; for them, sterilization abuse was more important than abortion, and they were deeply insulted by attacks on the African American family as matriarchal and dysfunctional.
A backlash was growing in the 1970s, along with a New Right in politics. The ERA was defeated and opposition to abortion increased. Conflicts between pro-life and pro-choice candidates have impacted every presidential campaign since then.
Still, gains have been made in many areas. From 1960 to 2000, increasing numbers of women sought entry to higher education, and bachelor’s degrees awarded to them increased from forty to sixty percent. Definitions of marriage have changed, as when courts gave full rights and responsibilities and the name of marriage to same-sex civil unions in Connecticut in 2008. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 highlighted concern about sexual harassment on the job, and the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the EEOC have increased, as have judgments in favor of the women. Finally, in 2009, women crossed the fifty percent threshold and became the majority of the American workforce. Once largely confined to repetitive manual jobs, now they are running organizations that once treated them as second-class citizens.
The Women’s Movement has changed women’s lives, influenced the economy, and made debate about their roles, family life, and sexual conventions central to national politics and American history.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.