As written by Carol Cronheim, Chair, Fundraising Committee, NJ Women Vote
One of the hardest aspects about this pandemic is that while life stands still for most of us, it goes relentlessly on for others. New Jersey – and the nation – suffered a great loss with the April passing from cancer of Ruth B. Mandel, the recently retired director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers and the pioneering co-founder of its Center for American Women and Politics.
When I heard the news, my mind immediately traveled back to a visit I made to Eagleton a few days post-election. I found Ruth and the Eagleton staff, many of whom were part of CAWP, inconsolable over the outcome. They finally thought a woman was going to be president, something they had hoped for fervently.
But it wasn’t 2016 – it was the spring of 2008, after the primary season had wound down. At the time, Ruth was not quite 70. Her disappointment was tempered by the knowledge that the election of a female president could still happen in her lifetime, even if it most likely would be at least eight years away.
Fast forward to 2016 and…well, you know what happened. The same scenario repeated itself with a vengeance. This time, no matter your politics, it is undeniable that a completely inexperienced man – an outsider to government — beat a very accomplished woman who was the ultimate insider. The disappointment, and sadness, were palpable.
Yet, Ruth persisted. She kept working to encourage and support women as voters, candidates, policy makers, and elected and appointed officials. She offered warm support as I pursued my doctorate in public policy, but I knew she was way more delighted when I immediately went back into government after graduating. Ruth took special pride in Eagleton alumnae elected to office and appointed to serve in the executive branch at all levels of government.
That her passing should come during the 100th anniversary year of women’s suffrage seems both jarring and apt. The New York Times called her “a voice for women in politics” in its expansive obituary. The Star-Ledger obituary called Ruth “a national voice at Rutgers on women’s role in politics” and eulogized her passing as a great loss to New Jersey in an editorial as well. But I think The Washington Post hit on the best phrasing: she was “a champion of women in politics,” and we’ll all be worse off for her absence from the arena.