It was standing room only on a rare sunny Saturday in March 2005 for the inaugural event of the Vermont Women’s History Project honoring the 20th anniversary of the Kunin administration.
Two hundred plus former members of the administration, representatives from women’s organizations, feminists, and interested members of the public enthusiastically received remarks from Gov. Kunin and Liz Bankowski regarding their tenure in office and the current state of affairs for women in Vermont.
Kunin humorously launched the event with the notion that she has to "get used to the idea that I am history" and went on to reflect on her first day as Governor. The morning after the election, upon learning of her victory, the new Governor "walked in to the red carpeted executive office in the State House and felt the disapproving stares of the somber, dark, bearded portraits of Governors – and I stared right back, and said, ‘I belong here now, just as you once did.’"
Governor Kunin considered the many appointments of women to positions of power in her administration as one of the more significant differences from past governors: "I now think the greatest power that a leader has is the power to empower others. I took risks – the women’s resumes did not look exactly like those of the men who had preceded them – they had gaps – time taken off for raising children, going back to school. From my own experience I knew those gaps were filled with community work, volunteerism, and raising families. All valuable attributes in public life."
Governor Kunin went on to emphasize the importance of women’s participation in political life: "Politics is competitive – not only in getting elected, it is competitive in setting the agenda. Those who care passionately, and persist, succeed in getting their issues on the agenda. That is why it is important for women to be there…Twenty years have not dulled my passions. There is so much work to do. I feel a great sense of possibility, despite or perhaps because of the sharp divisions in our political culture. Our voices are needed more than ever."
Rousing applause was followed by a reception and open house at the Vermont History Museum hosted by the Vermont Women's History Project. The reception brought together old and new friends to reflect on the accomplishments of this first woman Governor of Vermont, and to ponder the next steps of women’s participation in civic and political life in Vermont.