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Mass. political trailblazer Betty Taymor celebrated at age 100

Betty Taymor (left) spoke with three students in the Gender, Leadership, and Public Policy graduate certificate program at UMass Boston. She helped found the program.
Betty Taymor (left) spoke with three students in the Gender, Leadership, and Public Policy graduate certificate program at UMass Boston. She helped found the program.Picasa

Once an outsider in a world of politics hostile to women, longtime Democratic operative Betty Taymor will be honored Sunday by Massachusetts politicians at every level during a virtual event celebrating her 100th birthday.

“One hundred years in community, 100 years of advocacy. 100 years of trailblazing. Wow,” Representative Ayanna Pressley said in a prerecorded tribute video for the event.

“And why do I feel like you’re only just getting started?”

Taymor, whose birthday is March 22, is widely cited as a trailblazer in Massachusetts politics for a career that stretches back to the late 1940s. She rose to prominence in the 1960s as the state coordinator for the campaigns of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and Congressman Robert F. Drinan before two unsuccessful runs for the Massachusetts Legislature, according to the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at UMass Boston, which is hosting the event.

In addition to founding college programs to train women for politics, she was an eight-term delegate to the Democratic National Convention and was a member of the US National Commission of UNESCO, according to the center.

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In pre-recorded remarks, Senator Edward Markey called Taymor “one of the most special people that our country has known” and said her legacy is towering.

“Betty, you’ve blazed a trail across Massachusetts that can be seen from space,” he said in the video. “The Massachusetts Democratic party is what it is today largely in part because of the work you began 60 years ago.”

Markey and Pressley were among a whopping 38 speakers slated for the celebration, including feminist icon Gloria Steinem and UMass system president Marty Meehan.

Every level of Massachusetts politics is represented among the honorary hosts of the event, including the Massachusetts congressional delegation; Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito; former governors Deval Patrick, William Weld, Michael Dukakis, and Jane Swift; current and former state representatives, and city councilors from Boston and Newton.

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The event, scheduled from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday, can be viewed free of charge online.

“Betty Taymor was a legend in her own right,” said Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson, director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, which aims to train women of diverse backgrounds for careers in politics. The birthday celebration also doubles as a fund-raiser for Taymor’s scholarship fund, which helps women afford the center’s graduate program.

“She was somebody who was a mentor, an encourager; she was someone who laid path for women that are in politics in this country now,” Nsiah-Jefferson said in a phone interview, also citing Taymor’s commitment to diversity.

In 1968, Taymor founded one of the first graduate programs for women seeking a career in politics, which she led for two decades at Boston College. The program later moved to UMass Boston, where Taymor was instrumental in founding the center that is celebrating her.

In a video tribute, Steinem, 86, cited Taymor’s educational efforts among other accomplishments, saying she was at the vanguard of efforts to add women’s voices into the political arena. “Dear Betty, you’re only a little ahead of me in years, but you’ve always been way ahead of me in everything else.”

Throughout her career, Taymor was outspoken about the difficulties facing women in politics, dubbing the experience “Running Against the Wind,” the title of her 2000 memoir.

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As she explained to a Globe reporter in a 1984 article, women were stymied in accessing funding and judged for being away from the home.

“A man running for office who has money can spend all his money on the campaign. Even though what’s his is theoretically hers, that’s not the way it goes for a female candidate. If she’s a wife, the money doesn’t belong to ‘them.’ It belongs to her husband, and she has to take out a loan,” she said.

“You just can’t be a political woman with a small child,” Taymor explained then. “Voters won’t think about a man, ‘Why isn’t he home with his family?’ But with a woman, both male and female voters will see her as neglecting her kids.”

Yet among the many inspired by her work was her daughter Laurie Taymor-Berry, 74, a longtime legislative advocate.

“Growing up, I sometimes felt the Democratic Party was my religion,” she joked in a phone interview Saturday, moments after removing from the oven a cake big enough — hopefully — for 100 candles, she said.

She recalled her mother meeting with an elderly Eleanor Roosevelt to discuss the low number of women in politics and how her mother reacted when Taymor-Berry’s first husband told her to chose between “politics or marriage” in 1971.

After going through pages and pages of the names of those associated with her mother over many decades, arranging an invite list, she said, “It’s really like [going through] history.”

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Taymor-Berry added later, “It’s [Women’s] History Month and she’s a looming figure in that for all these people in Massachusetts.”


Lucas Phillips can be reached at lucas.phillips@globe.com.