Author discusses woman's influence on moderate politics

Women's roles in politics has grown over the past few decades, but progress has been slow moving.

Author Sarah Fitzgerald, who spoke Thursday to an audience of about 15 on Thursday in the Park Library Auditorium, discussed her new book, "Elly Peterson: Mother of Moderates." The book highlights the life of a woman whose life and work was a revolutionary force in Michigan politics during the 1960s. Peterson was the first woman to chair in the nation to chair a Republican State Central Committee and to run for the a seat in the United States Senate in 1967.

"Peterson's story was one of those many missing chapters in American women's history," Fitzgeraald said.

Though Peterson had always identified herself as a Republican, in the later years of her work she felt disenfranchised from a party that was shifting further toward the right, Fitzgerald said. She faced much sexism and discrimination during her time in politics and worked on many key feminist issues in the 1970s.

Peterson continued to distance herself from the Republican party and later identified herself as an Independent.

"Politics has changed, but not for the better," Fitzgerald quoted Peterson as saying. "It's all about money, the raising and spending of it."

Peterson's political career was closely tied with the Romney family, having worked in politics with Mitt Romney's parents, George and Lenore Romney. Fitzgerald said this connection is largely influenced Mitt's political positions seen in the current presidential race.

"When he was the governor of Massachusetts, he pursued a more moderate course," Fitzgerald said. "But when seeking a national election, he must take the more conservative position."

Although progress has been made for women in politics, there is still more improvement that needs to be seen, Fitzgerald said. Many other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, have already had female prime ministers and other high-achieving women in the political realm.

"From a national standpoint, (America) still really lags behind," she said.

Audience member Dick Snyder said that as a former high school principal, he has seen firsthand much of the inequality between the genders that Fitzgerald discussed and Peterson lived through.

"It's so hard to convince some really capable young women to continue education beyond high school," the Clare native said. "It's not the role that's perceived for girls. They are absolutely as capable as the men, if not more capable. We have not capitalized on 50 percent of the population."

Frank Boles, director of Clarke Historical Library, said Fitzgerald was invited to speak to stir up an important discussion about the current political sector.

"There's been a shift to the right in the Republican party, and many will view that differently," Boles said. "Elly Peterson felt disenfranchised. Many others say it's simply a return to the roots."