Posts Tagged ‘Christine Todd Whitman’

Remembering Millicent Fenwick on her Birthday

February 25, 2021

During this past year consumed by the pandemic and the tumultuous election, aftermath, and insurrection, I’ve been thinking a lot about Millicent Fenwick who would have turned 111 today, February 25. I think in this period when politics has become so partisan, Millicent Fenwick would have been a voice of reason and led by example. What has been surprising, and rewarding, is that her memory is alive and well nearly 30 years after her death in 1992. 

How do I know this? Because over the past year I have received snail mail and emails from readers who have discovered Millicent Fenwick: Her Way. As an author, there is no greater gift than hearing from readers, especially about a book that was published 18 years ago this month. Millicent Fenwick’s biography has far outlived the typical shelf life of most books. The one regret I have is that there never was a paperback edition. I just went on to amazon and the cost of the book has skyrocketed which I guess indicates demand. 

How do I know this? Because over the past year I have received snail mail and emails from readers who have discovered Millicent Fenwick: Her Way. As an author, there is no greater gift than hearing from readers, especially about a book that was published 18 years ago this month. Millicent Fenwick’s biography has far outlived the typical shelf life of most books. The one regret I have is that there never was a paperback edition. I just went on to amazon and the cost of the book has skyrocketed which I guess indicates demand. During this past year consumed by the pandemic and the tumultuous election, aftermath, and insurrection, I’ve been thinking a lot about Millicent Fenwick who would have turned 111 today, February 25. I think in this period when politics has become so partisan, Millicent Fenwick would have been a voice of reason and led by example. What has been surprising, and rewarding, is that her memory is alive and well nearly 30 years after her death in 1992. 

Another indicator of demand was book events which have continued over the years with the most recent being in October when the Hoboken Historical Museum included Millicent Fenwick in their “NJ Women Make History!” series. 

Earlier today, Stephen Grant, a fellow biographer, sent me a FaceBook post from Joseph Esposito remembering Millicent Fenwick. What was clear from his post, and the comments, is how much Millicent Fenwick still resonates with those who knew her and those who did not. She was a principled, outspoken, dedicated and passionate public servant who in her day was dubbed the “Conscience of Congress” by Walter Cronkite. When John Lewis died, the same was said of him. I think they both are in good company. 

Not only does her memory continue to live on, but so do her legislative achievements, most notably the establishment of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Public Law 94-304 of June 3, 1976, signed by President Gerald Ford which promoted the monitoring of human rights in accordance with the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 signed by 35 nations including the United States and the Soviet Union. Bill Canis, one of Fenwick’s former staffers sent me this link to an article published this past year commemorating Fenwick’s role in establishing the commission: https://www.csce.gov/international-impact/representative-millicent-fenwick

Another discovery I made this year is a Millicent Fenwick high school curriculum from the New Jersey Historical Commission as part of their “It Happened Here New Jersey” series. At a time when many are looking for civility and reason, I am glad to know that the next generation is learning about role models such as Millicent Fenwick. educators are leveraging the many lessons gleaned from Fenwick’s life. As former Governor Christine Todd Whitman said, “Millicent Fenwick was really ‘My Way.’ And she did it with class and style …She showed that a single mother could make it, that you could be independent and balance things, and that women could be very credible policy advocates.”

At Millicent Fenwick’s funeral her grandson, Jonathan Reckford, now CEO of Habitat for Humanity, delivered the eulogy. He said the following, “She brought elegance to the most mundane matters and showed that indeed one can fight for change without breaching decorum.”