Women's History at Yale University: Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, delegate to the United States Congress representing the District of Columbia.*
A nationally recognized civil rights leader who is currently serving her twelfth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is a third generation Washingtonian who was educated in the District of Columbia’s public schools, received an undergraduate degree from Antioch College, and simultaneously earned a law degree and Masters’ in America Studies at Yale.
While in college and graduate school, she was active in the civil rights movement and an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. By the time she graduated from Antioch, she had already been arrested for organizing and participating in sit-ins in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Ohio. While in law school, she traveled to Mississippi for the Mississippi Freedom Summer and worked with civil rights stalwarts like Medgar Evers. Her time with the SNCC inspired her lifelong commitment to social activism and her budding sense of feminism. In the early 1970s, Eleanor Holmes Norton was a signer of the Black Woman’s Manifesto, a classic document of the Black feminist movement.
After a clerkship with Judge A. Leon Higginbotham of the U.S. District Court, Norton was an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in New York and chair of the New York Commission on Human Rights before her appointment by President Carter as the first woman chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
She came to Congress in 1991 as a national figure who had been a civil rights and feminist leader, tenured professor of law at Georgetown University, and board member at three Fortune 500 companies. Congresswoman Norton has been named one of the 100 most important American women in one survey and one of the most powerful women in Washington in another. The Congresswoman's work for full congressional voting representation and for full democracy for the people of the District of Columbia continues her lifelong struggle for universal human and civil rights.
Yale Law School has awarded her the Citation of Merit for outstanding alumni, and Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has awarded her the Wilbur Cross Medal for outstanding alumni, the highest awards conferred by each on alumni. She is the recipient of more than 50 honorary degrees.
*The only other person to serve as the non-voting delegate to Congress representing the District of Columbia since the resurrection of the position in the late twentieth century was Walter Fauntroy, also a Yale alum, who received a degree from Yale Divinity School. Fauntroy served in the office from 1971-1991. Prior to Fauntroy, the last person to hold the office served from 1871-1875.