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May 18, 2009

Longtime lawmaker Pauline Menes dies

Del. Pauline Menes died last weekend.

The following is an obituary prepared by Sheilah Kast of WYPR in Baltimore:

Pauline H. Menes, co-founder and first chair of the caucus of women legislators in the Maryland General Assembly, died of pneumonia Saturday, May 16. She was 84.

Mrs. Menes was elected to the House of Delegates by the same Democratic wave in 1966 that brought Benjamin Cardin and Paul Sarbanes to the House and Steny Hoyer to the State Senate. Del. Menes represented College Park, Beltsville and other areas of the 21st District in Northern Prince George’s County for 40 years, until she retired, in 2007, having served longer than any other current member of the General Assembly.

She was the first woman to serve on the Judiciary Committee, from 1979 on, and used the assignment to work on legislation for juvenile justice and criminal justice, as well as aging, the arts and a broad range of women’s issues.

For many years she chaired the Special House Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse. She successfully sponsored legislation mandating AIDS testing of prisoners, setting up needle exchange programs and requiring that suspected child abuse be reported by medical personnel, teachers and social workers.

She also served on the Rules Committees, and in her last few terms she was the House’s Parliamentarian. When she announced her retirement, Speaker Michael Busch of Annapolis said, “No one knows the rules and procedures of the House better than Pauline.”

In 1967, there were eleven women in the General Assembly – six in the House, five in the Senate. She told an interviewer that women were not given substantive committee assignments, and she felt resented by many of the male legislators. Forming the
Women’s Legislative Caucus, she said, was a way to fight the intimidation and isolation.

One of the best documented episodes sprang from the fact that there was no ladies room near the House chamber. The female delegates had to walk to the other side of the Capitol, across a hallway often filled with lobbyists, to reach the public rest room. After Del. Menes’s female colleagues picked her to talk to Speaker Thomas Hunter Lowe about the problem, he named her chair of the Ladies Rest Room Committee in 1971.

The following year, at the suggestion of the late Sen. Rosalie Abrams, D-Baltimore, the female legislators started their caucus. Del. Menes said it was the first in the nation, before there was a women’s caucus in Congress. Several years later she organized the women’s Legislative Network of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

She was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame last year. The Maryland National Organization for Women gave her the Ann Landon Scott Award for Legislative Excellence in 1976, and the College Park Business and Professional Women’s Association named her Woman of the Year in 1978.

Pauline Herskowitz was born in New York City in July 16, 1924. After graduating from Grover Cleveland High School, she earned bachelor of arts degrees in business economics and geography from Hunter College in 1945. As soon as she finished college, she came to the Washington area to work as economist in the Office of the Quarter Master General. It was a temporary wartime job, and she trained a young officer named Melvin Menes to replace her. They fell in love, and were married Sept. 1, 1946.

Mrs. Menes worked as a geographer for the Army Map Service in 1949 and 1950.

Her husband died in 2000. Survivors include three daughters, Sandra Ashe of Atlanta, Robin Elvord of Chicago and Bambi Menes of San Francisco, and a sister, Shirley Schwarz (cq) of Coconut Creek, FL.

In lieu of flowers, expressions of sympathy can be made to The Pauline Menes Fund at the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center, PO Box 719, Brooklandville, MD 21022-0719.

Sun columnist Laura Vozzella wrote this cute item about Menes during the lawmaker's final days in the Assembly, in 2006:

Why say it with flowers when muskrat will more than do? Del. Pauline Menes, a 10-term Democrat from College Park who is retiring at the end of the session, received a muskrat-covered toilet seat the other night at a surprise party thrown by the women's caucus and the House Judiciary Committee.The odd gift was just like the one then-House Speaker Thomas Hunter Lowe had presented to Menes 35 years earlier. This time, the seat was meant to honor Menes, not embarrass her.

In the early 1970s, Menes and the handful of other women in the House had to put up with lots of indignities. Among them: no ladies' room in the State House and no women chairing any standing committees. Menes complained about the former, and Lowe presented her with a furry toilet seat during a legislative session. It was his way of appointing her chairman of the Women's Restroom Committee.

The gag backfired, dashing Lowe's hopes of running for Senate, Menes, 81, recalled: "The mail and the calls came down on him. It was right at the beginning of the women's movement."

Of course, the stunt couldn't have hurt Lowe's reputation too badly, since the delegates' office building was named in his honor.

Even so, Menes had the last laugh. The new seat hangs on the wall of her office in the Lowe Building. A photo of the late speaker sits in the center.

Not that easy to find on eBay

Where can you get a muskrat-covered toilet seat anyway? Grace Mary Brady, Menes' longtime assistant, said it came from Del. Adelaide Eckardt, a Republican from Dorchester County.

"She lives on the Eastern Shore," Brady said by means of explanation.

"She had three people get the muskrats. It's handmade. It's a gorgeous toilet seat."

What happened to the original? Menes says Lowe, who died in 1984, took it back. "I'm sure it went in a trash can," Brady said.

Posted by David Nitkin at 6:16 PM | | Comments (0)

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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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