US Congresswoman, Social Reformer. She was elected to represent New York’s 12th District in the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1968 to 1982. Born Shirley St. Hill in New York City, she was the eldest daughter of a Guyanese father who worked in a burlap bag factory and a Barbadian mother. At the age of 3, she was sent to her grandmother's farm in Barbados, where she attended British grammar school, and picked up the Caribbean accent that would later mark her speech. When she was 11, she returned to New York City, and went on to graduate Cum Laude from Brooklyn College, and earn a Master's Degree from Columbia University. She began a career as Director of a day care center, and served as consultant to the city's Bureau of Child Welfare. Becoming active in Democratic politics, she served in the state Assembly from 1964 to 1968, and in 1968, won election to the United States House of Representatives, becoming the first Black woman to win office there. She went on to serve seven terms in the House of Representatives, and from her first moments there, demanded to be heard. When assigned to the House Agriculture Committee, which she felt was worthless due to her representation of an urban constituency, she was reassigned to the Veterans Affairs Committee. During her time in office, she would vote her mind, sometimes supporting better white candidates over black candidates, when she thought it would better serve the country as a whole. She ran for Democratic nomination for President in 1972, and when rival candidate George Wallace was shot, she visited him in the hospital. Two years later, when she needed support to extend the minimum wage, it was Wallace who got her the votes from the Southern members of Congress. In her book, "Unbought and Unbossed," a title that clearly described her years in Congress, she believed that the representative democracy in the United States was not working, because the Congress was controlled by a small group of old men. She left Congress in 1982, stating that she was a pragmatic politician and that conservatism was becoming more dominant in national politics. After her retirement from Congress, she taught at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, and later, became a speaker on the lecture circuit.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson
"UNBOUGHT AND UNBOSSED"