Kay Hagan and Senate Pool

by Julie Graber | on 29 Oct 2019

Numerous news sources have reported on the death of former Senator Kay Hagan, just the 36th woman to serve in the US Senate, who died on Monday (October 28) at the age of 66. Hagan defeated Elizabeth Dole in 2008, and served one term in the Senate from 2009 to 2015.

The article in The Charlotte Observer is worth a read if you’re not familiar with Hagan’s story; she started as an intern in the Senate in the 1970s and has a long history of political service. It covers Hagan’s life up to and including her service in the Senate, and provides the basic details on her battle with encephalitis, the disease that claimed her life.

Included in the article is a brief mention of Hagan’s role in opening up the Senate pool to women. Seems that when Hagan arrived as a senator-elect in 2008, she discovered that the Senate pool was still restricted to “men only” (according to one source, it was restricted because some of the men liked to swim naked). Hagan took up the issue with Sen. Chuck Schumer and was eventually successful in opening up access to the pool for both men and women (and presumably bringing to an end the custom of skinny dipping).

Maybe it’s the former lifeguard in me, but seriously, that one stopped me - as recently as 2008, the Senate pool was men-only. You would think that I would be beyond being surprised at anything at my age. But as the students in my Women in Political Leadership class would point out, this is something that has happened in their lifetime (which for some, determines whether or not the event is worthy of their attention). Just a decade now of access to the pool.

I know it is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the long road it’s been for women to break down the barriers and customs that have treated them as second-class citizens in the hallowed halls of Congress. But it’s nice to know that among her many accomplishments, Sen. Kay Hagan scored one small splash for women in the Senate pool.

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