Kassebaum Baker will be at WSU for suffrage celebration

12:39:45 PM CDT - Thursday, August 25, 2005

By Shannon Littlejohn

When former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker accepted the Wichita League of Women Voters' invitation to speak in honor of the 85th anniversary of American women winning full voting rights, she was typically gracious. She told organizers she would be happy to come to Wichita while visiting her family ranch in the Flint Hills of Kansas.

She was also typically ready with a timely talk that applies as easily to today's struggles for diversity and equality as it does to the suffragists' push for passage of the 19th amendment.

Kassebaum Baker will speak about "The Challenges of Change" at 7 p.m. this Friday night (Aug. 26) at WSU's Eugene M. Hughes Metropolitan Complex. The event is co-sponsored by the departments of political science and women's studies.

It's a community event but women's studies and political science are glad to be involved. Students of either academic discipline have much to learn from a veteran politician who has certainly seen plenty of change, said David Ericson, chair of political science.

"She's been a role model for many women in the state, all around the country, and now in the world," he said. "Students might ask, how does one get to be in that position? I think seeing her will be uplifting and be kind of a lesson in life."

As Nancy Landon Kassebaum, she served Kansas in the U.S. Senate from 1978 to 1996 when she decided not to run again. Those 18 years saw significant changes in national policy and politics, and helped build her reputation as a nationally respected consensus builder. Kassebaum Baker has also traveled the world with recently retired U.S. ambassador to Japan her husband, former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker.

"Her topic is broad-ranging; she's talking about change," said Ramona Liera-Schwichtenberg, chair of women studies. "But I think students will get a sense of the kind of determination that it takes for a woman to become a prominent figure in politics. And I think even if she doesn't overtly address that, it would still be there as part of what she has to say."

Born during the Great Depression, Kassebaum Baker experienced many of society's limitations on women. But as the daughter of former Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, she grew up in a politically active family that encouraged participation. Although her years as a university student, a young married woman and mother of four children kept her too busy for much political life, her interest in her children's education in Maize, Kan., finally led to her first elected position on the local school board.

Then, her children nearly grown, Kassebaum Baker accepted a position in Washington as an aide to U.S. Sen. James Pearson from Kansas. That was in 1975, and when he decided to retire at the end of his term, she joined eight other Republican candidates in a bid for the empty Senate seat.

Kassebaum Baker's 1978 campaign for the U.S. Senate drew support from some of the most well-connected women in the state many of whom helped purchase a large bench in her honor in WSU's Plaza of Heroines. You can see a list of her donors at http://plaza.wichita.edu/heroines/index.asp.

Mel Kahn, professor of political science, plans to attend the Kassebaum Baker event and is encouraging his students to go, too.

"She was a very effective senator and a prime mover," said Kahn, who admires Kassebaum Baker for her skills in working across party lines on issues. He tells a personal story about having had a foreign student from Malawi whose father was a political prisoner in South Africa. Kahn tapped then-U.S. Rep. Dan Glickman for help to free Chakufwa Chihana, but Glickman suggested that Sen. Kassebaum would be better connected on such international issues. After Kahn contacted her, Kassebaum Baker went to work with Sens. Bob Dole, Ted Kennedy and Paul Simon, who was chairman of South African Affairs.

"They got the job done," Kahn said of the Republican/ Democrat coalition. "It shows how legislators can work together."

"Sen. Kassebaum earned a wonderful national reputation for her years as a senator," said Mary Knecht, a member of the League of Women Voters and chair of the executive committee working on the yearlong celebration. "And of course Kansans have always loved her. She was our first choice for marking the exact date of the suffrage movement's ultimate success."

August 26th marks the date in 1920 of final ratification of the 19th amendment. It was the culmination of a struggle of more than 70 years, with generations of women devoting themselves to the issue.

The Aug. 26 presentation by Kassebaum Baker is part of a series of events sponsored by the League of Women Voters to mark the 85th anniversary year. More than 40 local organizations and businesses have joined in planning events and fund-raising.

The next big event will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18, at the Hughes Metropolitan Complex when Eleanor Clift, White House correspondent and television commentator, discusses her book "Founding Sisters and the 19th Amendment."

For more information about events, and volunteer and donor opportunities, call 261-5313, e-mail womenvoteict@hotmail.com or visit www.allaboutwichita.com/lwv.

Nancy Kassebaum Baker will speak about "The Challenges of Change" at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26, at the Eugene M. Hughes Metropolitan Complex, 5015 E. 29th Street N. (29th and Oliver). The event, which is co-sponsored by the women's studies and political science departments at Wichita State University, is free and open to the public. A program of patriotic music by the Sweet Adelines of Newton and folk singer Ann Zimmerman will begin at 6:30 p.m.

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