Women's Law Caucus honors U.S. Sen. Patty Murray

(April 3, 2012) The Women's Law Caucus at Seattle University School of Law presented its 2012 Woman of the Year Award to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.

The first woman from Washington elected to the U.S. Senate, Murray has been a champion for women and families. She has spearheaded efforts to close the pay gap, protect women in retirement, and increase access to child care. Murray helped write and pass the historic Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and helped reauthorize it in 2000 and 2005.

WLC with MurrayWLC Co-Presidents Hannah McDonald ((left) and Stacie Naczelnik presented the award. During an inspiring speech, Murray recalled how a visit to the state Capitol to try to save a parenting program helped guide her into an unexpected life in politics. One male legislator told her she was just a "mom in tennis shoes," who couldn't make a difference.

She went on to serve on the Shoreline School Board and in the state Senate before becoming the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992 and now serves as chair of the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations subcommittee, which oversees the nation's transportation and housing budget.

Long before she entered politics, though, she was determined to make a difference and level the field for women. She led efforts to change Washington State University's policy that women had to wear dresses to dinner when she was in college. The year she was elected to the Senate in 1992 - bringing the number of women in the Senate to six - she discovered there was no women's restroom near the Senate chambers.

When she mentioned her interest in serving the Transportation Committee, the all-male committee wondered what a woman could offer. "Any mom who drives carpool has an interest in transportation," she said.

And when the on the eve of the government shut down, the deal hinged on eliminating funding for women's health care, she said, "Then shut the government down." She spread word to her colleagues, and the funding remained.

"It makes a difference to have a woman in the room," she said.

Murray, whose daughter, Sara is a graduate of Seattle University School of Law and works as a public defender, said she appreciates the law school's focus on social justice and empowering leaders.

She urged the members of the Women's Law Caucus and the legal community to find a way to make a difference, and not be deterred.

"When someone tells you you can't make a difference, it's because they are afraid you will."