GW Law Dean Dayna Bowen Matthew interviewed the Pennsylvania congresswoman and GW Law alumna in celebration of Women’s History Month.
By Tatyana Hopkins
Although there is currently a record number of women in Congress—with women making up just over a quarter of all members of the 117th Congress—one of the truest measures of progress will be a representative share of women lawmakers in leadership positions, said U.S. Rep. Susan Wild (D -Pa.).
“Leadership is really the important thing in Congress,” she said. “It determines what our agenda will be and... what we will be looking at in terms of legislation. So, it’s not enough to just think about the number of women but also to think about the number of women who have risen to leadership positions.”
Noting Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) historic role as the first woman to serve as speaker of the House, Ms. Wild, J.D. ’82, also noted the growing number of women chairing the legislative body’s “really important committees” including the oversight, appropriations, financial services, and science, space and technology committees.
“Given how many women we have now, and also how accomplished many of them are, I expect that we are going to continue to see growing numbers of women in leadership positions in the House, and I think it's incredibly important,” she said.
Ms. Wild, who represents Pennsylvania’s 7th district, spoke Tuesday with GW Law Dean Dayna Bowen Matthew, the first woman to lead the law school, as part of a virtual event celebrating Women’s History Month.
Joined by Ms. Wild’s son, Clay Wild, who also graduated from GW Law last year, the two discussed her journey as a woman leader, becoming an advocate for mental health after her partner’s suicide in 2019 as well as her experience in the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attacks and her co-sponsored bill to install a memorial education exhibit about the attack.
Dr. Matthew noted Ms. Wild’s milestones, such as entering Congress among the largest class of women House representatives, being the first woman to represent her district in Congress, serving as the first woman solicitor general of Allentown, Pa., and attaining partnership in her hometown firm.
“When you set out on your career you don't set out to become the first of this or the first of that,” Ms. Wild said. “You just want to land a good job that fits your personality and your interests.” She said she credits much of her success to the “strong” education she received at GW Law as well as the support of faculty and staff who walked her through the student loan process when she struggled to pay for school while working three jobs.
“I thank GW for the fact that I even finished,” Ms. Wild said. “I’ll always be grateful to GW for that break and for allowing me to get launched.”
Additionally, she said she believes she was “very fortunate” to have graduated from law school at a time when law firms were “actively seeking women lawyers.” However, she said she continues to recognize the necessity of fighting for women’s rights.
“There are vast numbers of women who are shut out of the workforce, who because of childcare issues are unable to have a meaningful or well-paying job,” Ms. Wild said. “There are women who are making far less than their male counterparts, and we know that for African American women and Hispanic women, that number is considerably less than their white male counterparts. So, these are all things that we have to fight for.”
In addition to supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed Constitutional amendment designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex, she said she has advocated for a number of women’s rights pieces of legislation to the fullest extent possible as a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor.
On the committee, Ms. Wild said she has supported efforts to make sure public schools, particularly those in underserved areas, have adequate resources and advocated for universal preschool. She has also called for transformation of the nation’s childcare industry and infrastructure, introducing an amendment to the National Apprenticeship Act that would allow childcare to “earn as they learn.”
“Those are the kinds of things that I'm very focused on,” Ms. Wild said. “Most of them tend to do with younger children because I do believe that that's where the seeds of success start to grow. You can never overlook the value of helping people at a very young age.”