Veteran Feminists of America

ROXANNE BARTON CONLIN
CIVIL RIGHTS LAWYER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF NOW’S LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUN, AND CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATE

One of the One Hundred Most Influential Lawyers in America...National Law Journal

I was born in Huron, South Dakota on June 30,1944. When I was a little girl, probably inspired by Roy Rogers and Sky King and the other Saturday afternoon movies, I wanted to be a cowboy and a pilot. It was easy for me to see who had the power and what could be done with it. My best friends were boys and I could run as fast and climb as high as they. I wasn't exactly a tomboy though, because I loved pretty things and nice dresses and shiny shoes. I went to Catholic schools so the gender lines were pretty clear. I just ignored them.

By junior high, I had decided to become a movie star. My homeroom teacher, Sister Mary Katrine, was appalled. She was the first to suggest that I become a lawyer so I could use my flair for the dramatic as well as my brain. So I agreed to do that first, and then become a movie star.

I was able to enter college at 16 through a special program based on test scores and grades. All I needed was a recommendation from my high school principal. She refused because I was such a rebel and she wanted another year to try to straighten me out. By rebel, I don't mean anything serious, but for example, I refused to button the top button of my uniform blouse and spoke up in class more than was ladylike. My little Irish mom went to see the principal. I don't know the content of the conversation, but afterwards, the principal consented, though she did tell me that I would never make it and she was not sure she would take me back when I flunked out of college. I am forever grateful to her for that. Nothing is more motivating to me than for someone to tell me I can’t do something. I sent her my report card from my first semester at Drake University.


I was definitely not flunking out. I then went to law school and finished my last year of college at the same time, graduating with a BA at 19 and from law school at 21.

Law school was horrible. There were only three women in my class and the other two were returning students much older than I. There was open discrimination by the professors who wanted nothing more than to see us fail and did everything within their power to make that happen.

I married James Conlin in March of my junior year (1964) and spent the first semester of my senior year pregnant. That was a first for the law school. No one called on me for fear of upsetting me and causing me to go into labor. More seriously, I was not permitted to interview for jobs in my “condition." I graduated near the top of the class.

In 1963, I read Betty Friedan. I realized I was a feminist and always had been. Like so many other women I was relieved that there was a name for my unshakable belief that women were equal and entitled to equal rights. In 1968, I gave my first speech on Women and the Law to a church group. I am lucky I didn't get stoned on the spot. Looking back, almost everything I advocated in that first speech and thousands of others has come to pass.

In 1971, I founded and was the first chair of the Iowa Women’s Political Caucus. I wrote the first law protecting the privacy of rape victims and managed its passage in February 1972. I wrote many other laws and corrected code references, tried the first sex discrimination case in Iowa in 1972 and hundreds of others over the years, and moved the law forward in many areas by litigating individual cases on behalf of individual clients.

TODAY:
For several months, party leaders in Iowa asked me to run for the United States Senate against Senator Charles Grassley. Grassley has been in the Senate for 30 years and in public office for 50 -- a popular politician in Iowa with a reputation as an independent and a caretaker of taxpayer dollars. I didn’t think I could win. But in August, he came home to Iowa and spoke at Town meetings. During one meeting, he told a questioner that we should be very afraid that the government would decide when to "pull the plug on Grandma" and assured his supporters in a fundraising letter that he would never vote for "Obamacare." In Washington, he was pretending to negotiate in good faith toward a bipartisan bill, but in that he committed the cardinal sin for Iowa leaders: hypocrisy. His favorability ratings plummeted. I began studying his record and saw that he voted wrong on nearly everything -- including the Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay bill and the minimum wage bill on 4 separate occasions. So, on November 9, I filed my papers with the FEC and officially became a candidate.

As a veteran feminist, I fought the early wars. I got knocked down hundreds of times and always got up. I was criticized, threatened and even fired from a job because of my outspoken advocacy for reproductive freedom. I wrote the first law in the nation to protect the privacy of rape victims and got it passed by the Iowa legislature and signed by the governor in 1972. Dozens of other pieces of legislation I wrote or had a hand in also passed in that and later years. I brought the first sexual harassment lawsuit and hundreds more over the years. I won the first state Supreme Court decision declaring discrimination based on pregnancy was discrimination based on sex and therefore illegal under Iowa law.

We need more senators who will speak to issues of equality and fairness, and I will be such a senator. I hope you will get excited about my candidacy. Please visit my campaign web site: roxanneforiowa.com - watch my video and check out my law firm website, too: roxanneforiowa.com.

And please register and make a donation or offer to help if you can. We are on FaceBook at Iowans for Roxanne.

Roxanne Conlin for U.S. Senate, P.O. Box 876, Des Moines, IA 50304.

IMPORTANT INFO ABOUT ROXANNE’S CAREER:
Roxanne was born to Marion W. and Alyce M. Barton on June 30, 1944 in Huron, South Dakota. The family moved to Des Moines, Iowa in 1958.. She is the oldest of six children and the family struggled to make ends meet. She went to work at 14 and worked her way through college and law school. She attended Drake University in Des Moines, earning a B.A., J.D. and M.A. in public administration. She married James Conlin in 1964 and has four children.

She served as Deputy Industrial Commissioner in Des Moines from 1967 to 1968, then Assistant Attorney General for the state of Iowa for seven years (1969-1976). She headed the Civil Rights Section of the Iowa Department of Justice. Jimmy Carter appointed Conlin United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa in 1977, one of the first women ever appointed as a U.S. Attorney.

Roxanne served as the first female president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA). She also founded and was the first chair of the Iowa Women's Political Caucus and was president of NOW's Legal Defense and Education Fund. Conlin has been involved in the Democratic Party and ran unsuccessfully for governor of Iowa in 1982. She is now a candidate for the United States Senate.

Contact Roxanne Conlin: rconlin@roxanneconlinlaw.com

Comments to Jacqui Ceballos: jcvfa@aol.com

Back to VFA Fabulous Feminists Table of Contents