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Tribute to Martha Wright Griffiths

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise today to celebrate the life and mourn the passing of a friend, a mentor, and a personal hero: Martha Wright Griffiths, who dedicated more than 40 years of her life in public service to her State and her Nation.

But her death last month at 91 does not mean the loss of a flame. Rather it is the passing of a torch, for her causes continue.
Isaac Newton was once asked to explain the inspiration behind his many scientific discoveries that advanced our understanding of the world. He said: "If I have been able to see further, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants."

As I stand here today and speak as a proud member of the United States Senate, I understand Newton's humility. I know I stand on the shoulders of giants who advanced our understanding of what our world can be.

Martha Wright Griffiths—Michigan's first woman Lieutenant Governor—is one of those giants in the cause of equal rights and social justice in our Nation.

Consider her remarkable career. When Martha was born in 1912, women didn't even have the right to vote, let alone have the chance to serve their country as legislators, judges or elected executive officials.

A generation of women fought to change that and women like Martha stepped up and accepted the new leadership responsibilities that came with their new duties.

Martha's public service career began in 1948 with two terms in the Michigan Legislature. From there she went on to become the first woman judge in Detroit's old criminal court system.

In 1954, she became the second woman elected to the United States House of Representatives from Michigan, and began a distinguished 20-year career as a legislator.

In the House, Martha became an advocate for reviving our cities, increasing aid to education, promoting tax relief for struggling families and making sure that every man, woman and child in America had access to health care.

But Martha was best known for her work in civil rights and the rights of women. She was not only an early and avid supporter of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but she got Congress to approve an amendment she authored to include women in the bill by shaming the men in the House Chambers into voting for it.

"A vote against this amendment today by a man is a vote against his wife or his widow or his daughter or his sister," she told them.

In 1970, Martha gathered the 218 signatures needed for a rare discharge petition that forced the Equal Rights Amendment to the floor of the House after it had languished in committee for nearly 50 years.

Martha left the House in 1974, and joined several corporate boards including the former Chrysler Corporation and Consumers Power Company—companies that had never had women on their boards before.

In 1982, Martha began her final tour of public service when she was sworn in as Michigan's first woman Lieutenant Governor. I had the pleasure of working with her as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives through much of her tenure.

And the day she was sworn in as lieutenant governor, Martha also became the first woman in Michigan's history to serve in all three branches of government.

Giants such as Martha Wright Griffiths moved us closer to realizing our Nation's promise of equal justice and opportunity for each and every citizen.

Her passing reminds us that it is now our turn to square our shoulders and stand tall for the generations of Americans to come.

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