Sitting in Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola’s former office at the Catlett Law Firm on the 18th floor of the Tower Building in downtown, Caroline Hupp is the latest face of female leadership in Arkansas. The Executive Director of newly formed Hattie Caraway Foundation has big plans for the state.
“Certainly, we want to get more women running for public office,” said Hupp, “but more than that, we want women more involved in public life. We want women to be active on boards, councils and every part of government.”
The group has its work cut out for it. Depending on the source, Arkansas ranks anywhere from 40th to 50th place in the nation for the number of women in elected office and/or leadership positions. The board believes they can be successful in changing the landscape, in part, by looking at the state’s past and its namesake: Senator Hattie Caraway. She was the first woman from Arkansas elected to the U.S. Senate.
Caraway was originally appointed to fill out her husband’s term when he died in office. When the term ended in 1932, she ran to keep the seat and won. She famously told reporters, “The time has passed when a woman should be placed in a position and kept there only while someone else is being groomed for the job.”
The Senator was re-elected in 1938. She lost her primary bid in 1944 to J. William Fulbright, who went on to hold the seat for 30 years.
Hupp thinks raising awareness of the state’s progressive history is key to getting more women into office, “There are county committees all over Arkansas in both parties, where a woman has served for decades, and runs that area for her party, but she is the only person on the committee who has never been asked to run for an elected office. It’s not that anyone is being overly sexist. It just hasn’t occurred to them.”
Typically, a woman waits to be asked to run for office, and it usually takes three times for her to agree, Hupp said. “A man will wake up one morning and decide, ‘Hey! I think I’ll run for Congress.’ When we remind people of Arkansas’ legacy of women in service, it makes them start to think differently.”
The foundation filed its paperwork for organizing at the end of October. Since that time, the founding board has been working to establish a working board with four regional advisory councils, one in each of the Congressional districts. They plan to hold networking events, increase female voter turnout, identify potential candidates at all levels of government and support those candidates with money, volunteers and possibly endorsements.
Hupp says they are already talking with other women’s groups like Junior League, the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas and Women Lead Arkansas to determine how they can all coordinate without duplicating efforts.
The group is decidedly political, but not partisan, says Hupp who quotes Madeleine M. Kunin, when discussing why it’s important for women to have a seat at the political table, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”