Women on the Hill

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In WOMEN ON THE HILL: CHALLENGING THE CULTURE OF CONGRESS, Clara Bingham explores the experience of four women in Congress following the 1992 election. The 1992 election was dubbed the “year of the woman” because of the unprecedented number of women elected to Congress. Yet women remained a small minority in both houses of Congress. Bingham identifies the roots of the “year of the woman” in Anita Hill’s harsh treatment by the all male Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991. She also gives the backgrounds of her four subjects, two of whom were new to Congress, Senator Patty Murray (Washington State) and Representative Cynthia McKinney (Georgia), and two of whom were Capitol veterans, Representatives Pat Schroeder (Colorado—first elected in 1972) and Louise Slaughter (New York—first elected in 1986), and all of whom are Democrats. Bingham devotes most of the book to legislative highlights (and disappointments) of the 103rd Congress, from the perspective of her four subjects. She closes with the rapid electoral shifts of 1994 and 1996, and the effects on her subjects.

Throughout, Bingham deserves praise for her clear writing and ability to draw economical but rich (and refreshingly candid) portraits of the four legislators. She also does a good job of pointing out the exhausting nature of work in Congress and sometimes deleterious effect on family life. Bingham’s research, based on numerous interviews as well as published sources, appears solid and includes at least one startling revelation involving Senate veteran Strom Thurmond.

On the other hand, the book lacks comprehensiveness, especially in light of its rather broad title and subtitle. Also, Bingham’s grasp of issues and Congress as an institution is sometimes shaky, as when she identifies Ross Perot as a Pro-NAFTA spokesman.

All in all, WOMEN ON THE HILL is informative (in a somewhat gossipy sort of way) and a good read.