From President William H. Taft 1878 to President George W. Bush ’68, Yale’s famous male political alumni dominate the presses and the history books. But Yale’s female alumnae are far less visible in the political world. Many may be surprised to learn, then, that Yale is the home of the only women’s campaign school in the country.
In an effort to redress the gender imbalance in politics and help women learn to conduct successful political campaigns, the Yale Law School and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program have for a number of years sponsored the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University.
Established in 1993, the Women’s Campaign School aims to prepare women to be candidates for public office and senior level campaign staff members. WCS, which focuses on the techniques of campaigning rather than the issues at stake in particular elections, calls itself a “non-profit, non-partisan, non-issue” institution. Since it was founded, WCS has trained 1,800 women from 38 states and 15 countries.
“The aim of the school is to get women elected,” WCS President Fayne Erickson said.
Offering one-day and five-day intensive sessions held on Yale’s campus, the WCS features lectures covering such topics as “Secrets of Successful Fundraising” and “Public Speaking and Media Skills.” Forty percent of WCS graduates have campaigned for office or won a political appointment.
Connecticut congressional candidate Diane Farrell, currently a first selectwoman of Westport, Conn., attended WCS in 1996. Farrell, a frequent guest speaker at WCS, said her training there has helped her in her campaigns.
“I gained a sense of empowerment and confidence from attending the program,” Farrell said. “You learn to put together a campaign with the nuts and bolts.”
An active member of the National Woman’s Political Caucus and the National Democratic Women’s Leadership Forum, Farrell said WCS exposed her to a diversity of political views.
Erickson said the school tries to keep tuition affordable in order to attract women from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds.
“You meet women with different political philosophies,” Farrell said.
During the sessions, women practice their debating skills, listen to national speakers and start to do some important networking. The teachers are politicians and campaign managers, not Yale political science professors.
Farrell said she believes there is a need for more women to participate in politics because “men and women complement each other in solving problems.”
In the new Iraqi elections, 25 percent of the elected positions are reserved for women, Farrell said. In America, however, only 13.8 percent of the Congressional seats are held by women, and only 29 women have held cabinet level positions in the executive branch, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.
In addition to more substantive lessons, WCS also teaches women how to best project their personal images. Erickson said image is an important component of campaigns, irrespective of gender. Lillian Brown, who served as an image consultant for Al Gore’s presidential campaign, teaches a segment on image, Erickson said.
“Women have to project a certain image but so do men,” she said. “It is part of getting elected, whether you like it or not.”
Despite some criticism, WCS has a number of well-known alumnae, including New York Times columnist Gail Collins, Women’s Political Caucus President Anita Ferguson, and Susan Bysiewicz, Connecticut’s secretary of state.
WCS Executive Director Carol Smullen said the school is currently working on expanding the awareness and influence of the program.
Yet, despite its well-known alumnae and professors, some Yale students remain unaware of the School.
“I haven’t heard of the school,” Bevan Dowd ’08 said. “But the goals and ideals sounds like something that the community of Yale should support.”