When former Glendale Councilwoman Eileen Givens went knocking on doors to campaign for the first time, some residents told her they couldn’t vote for her because there was already a woman on the council, as if the token seat was occupied.
When she became mayor years later, she rode on the city’s Tournament of Roses parade float with her husband. As the float rounded a corner, she recalled a newscaster exclaiming: “There comes the Glendale float with the mayor on it. Hello, Mr. Mayor!”
“There was still in the outside world, there was the stereotype that the mayor was going to be a man, the councilman was going to be a man and you might vote for one women, but for heaven sakes, you wouldn’t vote for two,” Givens said.
That was in the 1990s.
This year, when recently elected Councilwoman Paula Devine canvassed neighborhoods, she didn’t have the same experience as Givens, although there was already a sitting female council member: Laura Friedman. Voters weren’t concerned about her gender, but some women were surprised she was venturing into public office at all, despite her years on a city commission.
“The perception of difficulty, on so many levels, is daunting to most,” Devine said by email. “However, if more women would lead the way for our younger generation, set good examples as politicians and be good role models, I believe more women would get involved.”
While current and former female council members said they don’t think gender greatly impacts policy-making skills, they said it was important to have women leaders and equality on the council. The trail was blazed long ago — the first councilwoman, Ann Bartlett, held her position from 1920 to 1921 — but the number of women on council has been sparse.
In Glendale’s 108-year history since incorporation, there have been seven female council members, including Devine.
There were long stretches of time between when women held office. After Bartlett, who held a position on what was then called the “Board of Trustees,” left office, 32 years would pass before Zelma Bogue would clinch a council seat. Bogue served for 12 years and was the first female mayor, holding the title between 1957 and 1959.
While on council, Bogue didn’t bite her tongue when she saw her male colleagues exclude her, according to past Glendale News-Press stories. When the councilmen would meet at the Verdugo Club, an all-male establishment at the time, to eat and discuss how they planned to vote, despite a 1953 state law preventing such meetings, she aired out their activities publicly.
The Scholl Canyon Landfill and traffic safety were the big controversies during her terms, much like today.
After repeatedly being referred to as the first female mayor, Bogue would point out she wasn’t a “woman’s mayor,” but rather governed on behalf of all citizens, according to past news stories.
Givens shared a similar sentiment. She served with two different women on council, Ginger Bremberg and Mary Ann Plumley, and while they agreed on some issues, they disagreed on others. Although some may have expected a women’s voting block to emerge, that wasn’t the case.
“Always, there was that temptation to stereotype that women would vote the soft, friendly way and the guys would vote the hard, business way, but that just wasn’t true,” Givens said.
Plumley expressed a similar sentiment, adding that she tried to make it a point to erase the gender issue when she ran.
“’Don’t vote for me because I’m a woman,’ I’d say. ‘Vote for me for what I stand for,” Plumley said, noting that she doesn’t think much sets women apart when it comes to policy-making.
Dora Kingsley Vertenten, public policy professor at USC, said gender differences aren’t apparent on the dais, but rather on the campaign trail.
Getting elected is much harder for women, she said, because woman are expected to put family first, while men are not. In addition, men tend to be appointed to more political commissions, giving them a leg-up, she said..
“Once they’re elected, there really is no difference,” she said.
When elected in 2009, Friedman made it a goal to appoint qualified women who had applied for boards and commissions to increase diversity.
“There’s no reason in today’s world that women can’t be as well represented as men,” she said.
Before Givens ran for council, she used to teach workshops to encourage women to apply for political appointments and to run for office in her role as president of the California division of the American Assn. of University Women. One day, a friend told her she should practice what she preached, prompting her to throw her hat into the ring.
Similar workshops are still taught today.
“Having two women up there goes a long way in showing women and girls there’s a place for them in government,” Friedman said. “If you don’t have those examples in real life, or in your neighborhood, a lot of girls don’t really understand or believe that this is something that you can achieve.”