Lindy Boggs liked to tell the story about when she was growing up in the Pointe Coupee town of New Roads. She was raised primarily by aunts and went to school at a nearby convent. In this, our women’s issue, her story is worth remembering because it was at the convent, she recalled, that she first saw the power of women. The nuns were not just teaching and praying but driving trucks, doing carpentry, painting the walls and all the other daily chores of life. Decades before the media started running stories about women entering traditionally male-dominated careers, Boggs routinely saw women doing things that to her were already common to females.
Later in her life she would spend time doing traditional men’s chores around the house, only in this case it was the U.S. House of Representatives where she served with distinction for 18 years.
Boggs’ family name was Claiborne, a pedigree shared with Louisiana’s first American governor. She seemed destined for politics, especially when she married an ambitious young lawyer named Hale Boggs who was elected to Congress in 1946. In 1972, on the verge of being elected Speaker of the House, Hale Boggs was killed in a plane crash. Lindy was elected to fill his seat, but this was no mere gratuitous gesture toward a grieving widow. She had already proven herself to be a skilled political technician both handling her husband’s politics and as an activist in the Democratic Party.
Boggs brought something extra to the whole woman-doing-a-man’s-thing observation. She had the skills of her male colleagues, but also a more genteel nature that was valuable in getting along with people. Everyone liked her.
In 1976 she became the first woman to chair a political party’s national convention (Jimmy Carter was nominated.) In 1997 she was selected by Bill Clinton to be the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. (She would joke that she had the toughest job in politics, representing Bill Clinton to the Pope.)
During her time in Rome she got to know John Paul II. I would hope that at least once the Pope heard about the inspiration she drew from a special group of women, the nuns of New Roads.