“My wish is for all of the world’s little girls to have access to a progressive education where their learning opens doors to whole new possibilities for them to live their dreams.”
- Former Senator Dorothy Rupert
Many of us are on the mailing list for Moms Rising, which worked relentlessly to assure that the interests of mothers and babies were heeded in this year’s presidential campaign. Inspired by their efforts, Conscious Woman has decided to honor a woman who would have received high grades with Moms Rising during her time in political office – and who, at the powerful age of 82, is showing no signs of slowing down her campaign for the interests of women and children.
Dorothy was born on a farm in Eastern Nebraska in 1926. Her father abandoned the family during the Great Depression. One of the most powerful influences in her life was her mother, who raised three children alone in very difficult circumstances. In the late 1930s her mother had to make the decision to place her children in a Children’s Home because there just wasn’t enough food for everyone to eat. Dorothy graduated from high school in 1944 and from Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln in 1948, and became an English teacher. After the war, she married Dick, a GI she met in college, and in 1950 moved to Denver, Colorado. Dorothy and her family settled in Boulder, Colorado in 1960, and she earned her Master’s Degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1967.
Dorothy had drug-free births and breastfed her son and daughter at a time when those things were not generally done. She read nutrition books and attended the free Emily Griffith Opportunity School in Denver, taking pre-natal classes to learn about birthing, baby care, etc. As a young mother she was one of few people she knew to write Congress about public health issues such as drugging chickens. She says that activism is “just IN me”.
Dorothy worked as a teacher and then counselor in the Colorado public school system for over 35 years. She quickly became alerted to the fact that young people in our society were lacking key mental health services – services that were typically made available to them only when they got into trouble. This was the 1960s, and as she was struck by greater numbers of suicide among youth, Dorothy embarked on a lifelong crusade to assure that the needs of young people were being met by our society. Among other things, in 1966 Dorothy was part of the group that started a 501(c)(3) organization called Attention Homes, which still operates as one of Boulder County’s oldest non-profit organizations providing residential treatment, counseling, and safe shelter to youth.
Dorothy also worked to get laws changed. One day, a friend asked her: “Why don’t you run for the legislature?” She was not ready then, but she was at the age of 60! Dorothy would later spend 14 years in Colorado’s State Legislature (1986-2001), serving eight years in the House and six years in Senate.
The issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was an issue in Colorado at the time of Senator Rupert’s service, in part due to the large African population residing in the Denver area. Dorothy wrote and sponsored a bill that required the executive director of the department of public health and environment, or the executive director’s designee, to carry out education, prevention, and outreach activities in communities that traditionally practice FGM.
FGM became a crime of child abuse in Colorado under two conditions: 1) those who circumcise, excise, or infibulate the genitalia of a female child; and 2) those parents, guardian, or other person legally responsible for a female child to allow such mutilation of the child’s genitalia. In addition, it specified that consent to such conduct or belief as a matter of custom, ritual, or standard practice was not a defense.
As a liberal Democrat in a Republican-dominated state legislature, Senator Rupert faced many challenges. While in office she focused her energies on: services for women and children, access to health care and education, the environment, prison reform, civil rights for minorities, the lesbian/gay/bisexual/ transgendered community, hate crimes, and crisis intervention for youth. She was always in the minority and constantly battled claims by her opposition that her proposals were “socialist.” For many years she tried to create a joint House-Senate Committee on Children and Families.
In 1995, Senator Rupert traveled to Beijing to attend the UN Women’s Conference. While there, she spent time in the African tent where she was inspired by a remarkable 16 year-old Kenyan woman who had been “cut” (what some refer to as “circumcision”, but is more accurately identified as Female Genital Mutilation or FGM) as a 7 year-old girl. Returning home, Dorothy brought doctors, nurses, and victims representing various nationalities to the Colorado State Capitol to testify and help put an end to the practice of FGM in her home state. Despite harsh opposition, she managed to make FGM a felony in Colorado. She also made it a felony to transport a female under the age of 16 out of the state to be cut.
Senator Rupert’s capitol office walls were filled with plaques from various groups showing their appreciation for her work, which demonstrated her effectiveness as a political leader.
Although term-limited out of office, Dorothy’s devotion to public service remains strong. She stays active in Colorado’s political scene, recently chairing Joan Fitz-Gerald’s Campaign for Congress. She supports our community through serving on varied public and non-profit boards and committees, teaching Civic Engagement courses at the University of Colorado and conducting union ceremonies for same-sex and heterosexual couples. In addition to her local and state work, she is an officer on the boards of the following national organizations:
• Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), a membership organization that works to redirecting budget priorities away from the military and toward human needs.
• CDR Associates, an organization providing professional facilitation, mediation services and training to transform conflicts into opportunities for positive change.
Dorothy has traveled to China and the Soviet Union to meet with peace groups. She is a proud 45-year member of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which works to achieve world disarmament, full rights for women, racial and economic justice, an end to all forms of violence, and to establish the political, social, and psychological conditions which can assure peace, freedom, and justice for all.
In the 100 year history of the Nobel Peace Prize, only six individual women had received the award. To highlight this inequity, in 2005 1,000 female leaders from throughout the world were jointly nominated. Dorothy was among the 42 nominees based in the United States.
In the spring of 2008, Dorothy traveled to Niger to visit a former student who was in the Peace Corps. While there, they met the three Nobel nominees from Niger for coffee. The group is pictured below. To view a list of all 1,000 women from across the globe who were nominated for the Nobel Prize in 2005, click here. The biographies of all 1,000 nominees were published in 1000 PeaceWomen Across the Globe, a KONTRAST book, published by the Association 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize (2005).
Dorothy’s husband had a stroke in 2001 and then developed Alzheimer’s Disease. Since Colorado does not cover nursing home care for veterans, Dorothy was forced to move him to a nursing home in Louisiana near her son. “Ironic,” she says, “that my legislative health care agenda, identified by the majority as “Socialist” and always defeated, included reforms to address exorbitant costs.” She currently lives alone in an apartment in central Boulder, and is always on the move. Her family includes two children and their spouses, and three grandchildren. Dorothy recently celebrated her 82nd birthday by traveling to London with her grandson.
Her greatest challenge? “Maintaining hope in the face of global uncertainty about how human beings will figure out how to live on this earth together. ”
A challenge for all of us.