Ladies and gentlemen:
In this great East Room of the White House many ceremonies are held, but perhaps none that symbolizes a great change in the political life of this country more than this one today.
A year before the 19th amendment was adopted the League of Women Voters was founded, and that organization, in the past 50 years, has played a major role in this Nation on a nonpartisan basis of stimulating creative thought, new ideas, discussion on the great issues confronting the American people.
I have a special relationship to the League which Mrs. Benson, the present president, and Mrs. Gundersen 1 would not know about. But it happened that when I first ran for Congress--and I am sure that as I see other Members of the Congress around here today they have probably had similar experiences--when I first ran for Congress the first joint appearance I had with my congressional opponent was before a candidates' meeting set up by the League of Women Voters of Pasadena, California. It was called a debate, incidentally. And I won that debate.
1Mrs. Alfred Gundersen, chairman of the 50th anniversary committee.
But through the years all of us who are here--and I see so many Senators and Congressmen in this room have appeared on forums sponsored by the League. We know the nonpartisan character. We know the tremendous interest of the organization in all of the great issues. I speak for all of my colleagues who have been candidates in thanking you for making it possible for us to reach more people to present our points of view, as you have.
Also, in speaking today about this 50th anniversary, I should tell you I was rather surprised when I walked into the reception room and found Mrs. Benson and Mrs. Gundersen--Mrs. Gundersen is from Wisconsin; Mrs. Benson, incidentally, has something in common with my daughter, Julie; she is a Smith girl married to an Amherst man--but also John Gardner, the former Secretary of HEW and now the head of the Urban Coalition.
I asked John Gardner how he was able to work into this group--and incidentally, Senator Fulbright was also there; I found that he was there just covering all the bases--but John Gardner pointed out that he had the very special responsibility this year to head the fund-raising drive for the League of Women Voters. Now, when a man takes on the responsibility of raising money for the women, believe me, that is the kind of, shall we say not "bipartisanship," but you can call it something else, that we need in this country.
Now, at this point I would like to add perhaps one word of perspective about the role of women in politics in America. Last night I spoke to 4,000 Republican women who were here in Washington, D.C. Their Democratic counterparts will also be here in the months ahead and through the years we have seen, particularly, I would say, since about 1947, a tremendously escalating role of women in politics in the United States.
We all know the important role that women play as Members of the Senate, Members of the House, members of State legislatures. We all know of the appointments that they have carried out with great distinction in various government positions, the Federal Government, the State government, the city government. We know, too, of the role that they play in political action and, of course, most are in that field, virtually all are, as a matter of fact.
I often say that men do the talking and women do the working in campaigns and that often happens as we get into our campaigns and find that those great groups of women workers will make the difference in a close election; who has more; who has the greatest excitement among them. All this we know.
Then, of course, as we look at the past 50 years we wonder what could happen in the next 50 years. Now, I can speak with some sense of--shall we say "complacency"--on that score as far as my own position is concerned at this time. But as I look around the world and as I find that India has a woman Prime Minister, Ceylon has a woman Prime Minister, Israel has a woman Prime Minister, certainly in the next 50 years we shall see a woman President--maybe sooner than you think.
Whatever the case might be, whether that happens or not, and I notice that polls have been taken recently by Gallup and Harris indicating that that is something that very well might happen in the United States in the near future, what is even more important is not to think in terms of whether a woman could or should be President, but I think we should all say that by reason of the role women have played in politics in America a woman can and should be able to do any political job that a man could do. That I know and that you know.
But what is more important is what the League of Women Voters stands for. What is more important is to have this tremendous participation, this motivation, involvement, which the League of Women Voters has brought not only to women, but also to men, in their first 50 years. I just hope it continues. That is what the country needs.
We have so many issues that are not partisan in character. The issue of peace in the world is not a partisan issue. The issue of making our cities more livable, not only in terms of the enforcement of the law and the safety of our streets, but also in terms of the total environment of our cities--that is not a partisan issue.
The problem of holding down the cost of living and taxes, that is not a partisan issue. The problem of how we progress to the kind of life we want--all of these issues we find Republicans and Democrats not breaking down on strictly partisan lines, but breaking down on the basis of their honest convictions with regard to that issue.
As I know the League of Women Voters, that is the way you approach the problems-not on the basis of partisanship, but on the basis of the facts of what the best interests of the Nation may be. Then you encourage your members to participate in the parties of their choice and to be active in working for whatever side of an issue that particular individual honestly believes in. That is the American system.
That is the way it works best. It is because the League stands for that, perhaps as much or more than any political organization that I know in America, that I have issued a proclamation today,2 a proclamation asking the people of the United States to join the League of Women Voters in commemorating this 50th anniversary.
Now with that, since I often, around the dinner table, have deferred to a girl from Smith, I now turn this microphone over to the president of the League of Women Voters, Mrs. Benson, a graduate of Smith College.
[At this point Mrs. Bruce B. Benson spoke. The President then resumed speaking.]
Believe me, I have never been lobbied more graciously than that. Even though he doesn't know that I am going to call on him, I do think that we would like to hear from John Gardner, a distinguished educator and a distinguished leader of the Nation in so many ways.
John, would you say a word to us?
Before the Secretary--I call him the Secretary because once a Cabinet officer, always one. In any event, the one rule we have in the White House is that, generally speaking, we do not have fund-raising dinners or anything of that sort because that would have a partisan context, but we shall break that rule and if you want to make a fund-raising pitch here to those television cameras, you may do so, or even for the Urban Coalition, if you like.
[At this point Mr. Gardner, chairman of the League's national sponsors committee, spoke. The President then resumed speaking.]
We have so many distinguished guests here today that I do not want to pick them out by name, but I wonder if all of those who are members of the Supreme Court would please stand. I see one of the Justices here, at least. Justice White represents all of the Court very well right here in this room today. [Applause]
Then I see several Members of the Senate. I wonder if the Members of the Senate would please stand. [Applause]
As you know, we will go all the way from Massachusetts to Hawaii here, so we have a very good representation there.
Are there any Members of the House here? [Applause]
Again, a broad cross section.
Thank you very much. We hope you all enjoy your visit to this house. You can stay and look around--and coffee--but don't take anything else, please.