Catherine May ’20

Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, Boston, MA

Me and fellow interns, Lucy (Wellesley) and Paulina (Holy Cross), in the Great Hall of Flags at the Massachusetts State House before the hearing on the ROE Act.

This summer, I had the pleasure of serving as a legislative intern at the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, an independent state organization that was legislatively created in 1998 to advance women and girls to full equity across the Commonwealth. To fulfill this mission, the Commission holds four hearings each year to glean information about the issues affecting women, develops a legislative agenda to address these issues, and lobbies in support of priority bills in the state legislature.

To assist the Commission staff in their legislative and advocacy work, I wrote testimony for priority bills, attended multiple committee hearings at the Massachusetts State House, and researched and tracked legislation both within the state and across the nation. I also communicated with the offices of legislators to lobby for our priority legislation, to submit testimony, to request fact sheets, and to set up meetings.

My primary, long term project was the development of a Girls Coalition/Initiative. After the Commissioners decided that they would like to do more work to advocate for Massachusetts girls specifically, I was tasked with developing a program to fulfill this request. After doing extensive background research, I wrote several memos about the new Coalition, contacted many girl-serving organizations, prepared materials to launch the Coalition, and set up meetings with potential partnering organizations. The Girls Initiative will involve the convening of one, or several girls’ hearings across the Commonwealth this upcoming year, the development of a legislative/advocacy agenda that reflects the issues introduced at the hearings, the organization of a summit that will bring together girls from across the State to discuss issues affecting their communities, and finally, will provide girls with advocacy training. Creating a program from the ground up was difficult, yet incredibly rewarding, and I am eager to follow the work of the Coalition in the future.

Outside of the Commission Office at the Hurley Building in Boston.

There were many highlights of my internship experience. In June, I attended the ROE Act Hearing at the State House, a very crowded and contentious event. My fellow interns and I arrived at the State House at 8 a.m. to wait in line to get a seat at the hearing which would begin five hours later and last until midnight. The State House was swarmed by individuals who wanted to express their staunch support for or opposition to the ROE Act, which seeks to expand and protect abortion access across the Commonwealth, crowded the State House. After a long and stressful wait, I luckily got a seat inside of the hearing room and was able to hear important and fascinating testimony by experts on both sides of the issue.

I also had the privilege of preparing for and staffing the Commission’s 16th Annual Unsung Heroines Event, which honored 134 women across the Commonwealth who do exemplary work for their communities. It was so inspiring to hear about the incredible work that women are doing to support their communities and to celebrate their contributions.

In July, I attended a small meeting with a State Representative, members of the Mayor’s Office for Women’s Advancement, members of the Commission, members of the Caucus of Women’s Legislators, and a former Lieutenant Governor to discuss a bill to promote pay transparency and to establish a fund for pipeline advancement. Attending this meeting gave me an inside perspective into the nuanced lobbying process and all of the steps that must be carefully taken to ensure that a bill has the best chance of being reported favorably out of committee. It was also interesting to hear the perspectives of women who have extensive experience in public policy, women’s rights, law and state government.

In front of photos of Suffragists as 2020 is the Centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment!

This summer, I had the pleasure of working with an all-women staff. The Commission is comprised of an Executive Director, a Program Director, 3-4 interns and 19 volunteer commissioners. My daily interactions were primarily with our Executive Director and Program Director, although I also was in frequent contact with our Commissioners. Working in an all-women office was empowering. My fellow interns and colleagues were motivated and fascinated women who shared my passion for advocating for women and girls through public policy and legislation. Through our discussions in our office and at lunch, we learned a lot from one another and cultivated a true friendship. My supervisor, the Executive Director of the Commission, is a kind, brilliant, and devoted mentor who made my internship experience enriching and enjoyable. Finally, the 19 volunteers who make up the Commission are incredibly interesting, smart, and diverse. The work of a few of the Commissioners spoke directly to my interests, and I was able to speak with them about their careers and how their work applied to that of the Commission. The Commission is very small; there were rarely more than four people in the office at once, which created a very close-knit staff that relied heavily on the work of myself and fellow interns. As a result, I was given substantial and meaningful tasks, and was able to work closely with my supervisors. I would be interested in working for a small organization after graduation.

I leave this internship so excited and empowered to promote and protect women’s rights in my future career! Throughout the summer, I have acquired a toolbox of skills that I believe I can apply during my senior year and in my future career. This internship has improved my organizational, communication, writing, and researching skills. It has also taught me the importance of coalition-building when trying to meet a legislative or programmatic goal. As a co-chair and co-founder of Women in Political Science at Williams College, a club that seeks to improve the experience of women in political science and politics, I seek to coalition-build with other women-serving organizations on campus to ensure the most effective and fulfilling work possible. Finally, I hope to use what I have learned about issues affecting women across the Commonwealth to provide a new perspective to my academic work at Williams.

I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Dr. James Marver and the ’68 Center for Career Exploration for supporting my summer internship experience at the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women in Boston. I would also like to thank Jill Ashton, the Executive Director, for serving as an excellent mentor and supervisor throughout my time at the Commission. The support and guidance of Dr. Marver, the ’68 Center, and Ms. Ashton made this internship experience both possible and valuable. I will carry all that I have learned about the processes of writing, amending, and passing legislation, coalition building, and the importance of advocacy for women and girls long after I graduate from Williams.