Anne-Marie Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg might be hogging the limelight when it comes to the national debate over women in the workplace, but in little ol' Vermont, it's a veteran stateswoman who has taken up the banner for better access to childcare, paid parental leave and flexible work schedules — all factors that former governor Madeleine Kunin believes would encourage women's leadership and participation in the workforce.
That advocacy is on display in the new documentary Madeleine Kunin: Political Pioneer, which debuts tonight on Vermont Public Television at 9 p.m. and is also available to stream online. The hourlong documentary is charts the private and political life of Vermont's first woman governor. If you've been following the national debate about women in the workplace — or if you're just eager to see some particularly rad, 1970s- and '80s-era Statehouse archival footage — it's worth a watch. (Keep your eyes peeled for former governor Jim Douglas' particularly rad, plaid suit coat: fantastic.)
Writer, producer and director Catherine Hughes worked as a journalist for WCAX in the 1980s during Kunin's three terms as governor. "Even I, who had paid some attention to her career, was still amazed when I really sat down and looked at everything she's done," says Hughes.
Kunin, who fled Europe as a child in the early days of World War II, got her start in Vermont as a journalist at the Burlington Free Press. She joined the legislature as a representative in 1972, and went on to hold powerful positions within House leadership as the minority whip and chair of the appropriations committee. Kunin served two terms as the lieutenant governor, and then, after a failed initial bid in 1982, won the first of three terms as governor in 1984. She later served as deputy secretary of education of the United States under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, and in 1997 returned to her native Switzerland as the U.S. ambassador.
Seven Days wrote about Kunin's latest work in a cover story last May. As we pointed out then, the former governor, far from resting on her laurels in her retirement, is busy in the work of legacy building.
"It was really impressive to me, the breadth of what she’s accomplished and what she’s still doing," says Hughes. Even know, "she doesn't seem to say 'no' to too many things."
Kunin is interviewed extensively in the doc, alongside family (including Kunin's late brother, fellow Vermont lawmaker Edgar Mays), politicians, and former members of Kunin's staff.
Photo of 1984 gubernatorial debate courtesy of the Vermont Historical Society.