In the halls of Washington D.C., the role of women in government is often measured by glass ceilings, sound bytes, and spousal achievements. But for Elizabeth Dole, these metrics are window dressing for her long and substantial career in American politics. While she may be overshadowed by her equally decorated husband, retired senator, and presidential runner-up, Bob Dole, Elizabeth has blazed her own trail over a 40-year-plus career in executive and legislative roles. Since the 1960s, she served in five consecutive administrations before supporting her husband’s 1996 presidential bid, which she followed up with her own brief run for the White House in 2000 — even appearing as a front-runner for George W. Bush’s vice-presidential pick. Throughout her career, she always maintained a personal connection to her home state of North Carolina, ultimately representing it in the U.S. Senate from 2003-2009. Still, Duke University, her alma mater, has always been a foundational cornerstone.
Dole received her undergraduate degree in political science from Duke, with distinction, in 1958, continuing her post-graduate studies at the distinguished University of Oxford in England. She followed those impressive feats with post-graduate and law degrees from Harvard University — educational achievements that exceed those of many of her male contemporaries. She was one of 24 women to receive their Juris Doctorate in a Harvard Law School class of 550 students, an early example of Dole actively competing against the odds. After cutting her teeth as a staff assistant in the Lyndon Johnson administration, she served President Nixon on the Federal Trade Commission, the first of several executive roles she would hold during her long career. After that, she was a Secretary of Transportation under President Reagan and Secretary of Labor for President George H. W. Bush, representing her own blend of conservative values and women’s liberation.
Since losing re-election to the Senate in 2009, Dole has focused her time and energy on the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Established in 2012, the Foundation raises money to support the caregivers of America’s “wounded warriors,” veterans injured in battle who require higher degrees of care. Her foundation has been praised for its efforts in recognizing the “hidden heroes” of American veteran care and supporting military family caregivers as well.
As an advocate for others, Dole has left her fingerprints on the issues of feminism, veterans’ care, and compassionate conservatism, but her legacy of breaking the “glass ceiling” of American politics is equal, if not greater.