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After 40 years, Linda Young still fights for women’s equity

Linda Young’s office is a testament to the four decades she has spent fighting for women’s rights. It is decorated with all kinds of awards: the national women’s leadership Athena Award (she was the first Texan recipient), the Medal of Honor by the Veteran Feminists of America, and the Women of Wealth Magazine Political Influence Award, among others.

There are framed pictures depicting Young with prominent politicians like Nancy Pelosi and Ann Richards, and a signed poster-size photograph of Liz Carpenter, one of the founders of the National Women’s Political Caucus.

Since 2011, Young has been president of the caucus, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing women’s participation in the political field and creating equality for women. She recently participated in the launching of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program for girls in Africa. Earlier this month, she spoke at the United Nations as part of a global watch to reduce exploitation in women and children.

She currently also serves as special assistant to the president of external affairs at Austin Community College and has more than 25 years of experience in higher education.

Despite her impressive resume, she doesn’t distinguish herself from the rest.

“Linda makes you feel that your conversation with her is the most important thing she’s doing,” says Marsha Endahl Kramer, a member of the local chapter of the American Association of University Women. Young is the university representative to the Austin branch of AAUW, which has a mission to “advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research.”

“Linda embodies the mission of AAUW,” says Anita Knight, the association’s Austin president. “She’s such a role model for women … so passionate and dedicated.”

Young smiles when she reminisces about her years working for former Texas governor Richards as executive director of the Automobile Theft Prevention Agency. In five years, she wrote millions of dollars’ worth of grants to help reduce auto thefts. She laughs when she recounts picnics with Carpenter in the Barton Hills neighborhood. But she gets serious when she discusses women’s equity.

“We talk about the glass ceiling, and, boy, it’s there,” Young says.

Feminism isn’t a hard topic to grasp: it’s about human rights, says Young. Women just happen to be human, too.

Growing up in Texas

Young is a true Texas woman. She lived in a number of places across the state growing up, including the Panhandle and a small town called Olney in North Texas. Her family raised horses — she owned her first pony at the age of 2 — and she always envisioned herself living on a ranch as an adult. From a young age, she thought about teaching, but she lacked a focus until years later.

Young received her master’s in education and early childhood from Sam Houston State University in 1971 and completed all but her dissertation for her doctorate in family systems (a degree blending sociology, psychology and early childhood) at Texas Woman’s University in the 1980s.

Family is very important to her. Her husband, son, stepdaughters and grandchildren continue to play an integral role in her life.

Young first became interested in women’s issues as dean of the Work Force Programs at San Jacinto College in Houston. She taught a class about personal development, intended to help students — both male and female — define ways to better communicate and succeed. The large number of women who came to her to talk about the challenges they faced in their personal lives, including partner abuse, alarmed her.

“After there were so many of them asking for appointments after class, I began to realize there were so many women who weren’t getting that chance to communicate,” Young says.

After reaching out to certified counselors within the college, as well as professors from the psychology and sociology departments, Young put together a volunteer council for students to access professional counseling free of charge. The organization kept going until after she left the college in 1988.

While her involvement in women’s equity spans many organizations, her current most important role, president of the caucus, came after serving on the national board for 18 years and as president of the Texas branch twice.

The NWPC is the oldest national organization dedicated exclusively to increasing women’s participation in political and public life. It provides campaign training, financial donations, technical assistance and advice. Most importantly, it is a support group for female candidates running for all levels of office, regardless of political affiliation.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, attended a NWPC campaign training in San Antonio in the early 1980s after a woman scheduled to go canceled at the last minute. At the time, she was running a pharmacy and raising her children — she had no intention of running for office — but the event helped her in managing other aspects of life.

“It was an amazing type of training and it’s very much needed,” Van de Putte says. “Eight years passed before I used it, so you never know.”

The main mission of the NWPC is to recruit, train and help elect qualified women to office. The need stems from the lack of confidence that women tend to have when deciding to run for office.

“Women want to make sure that everyone thinks it’s a good idea,” Young says. “We don’t want to look arrogant, so we let someone come and ask us.

“Women need more encouragement, they need more support. That’s why it’s so important to take this time and reach out to women, and women of color especially, because if we don’t change where we are now, what’s happening to our daughters and granddaughters in the future?”

The work continues

Young represents the NWPC as its national spokesperson, giving speeches to inspire women of all ages across the country.

“Her speeches remind people why they have gotten involved in the women’s movement,” Kramer says. “You walk out after listening to her with your head held higher.”

The caucus is also involved in trying to pass legislation, particularly mandating equal pay regardless of gender and the Equal Rights Amendment. The organization was founded in 1971 in an effort to try and pass the ERA, which would give women equal rights as part of the Constitution.

“Some people say that women have rights and we don’t need it,” Young says. “But sexism isn’t over — women still have to do more than a man to achieve the same status.”

The NWPC continues to work in getting women elected to office, including in Congress, which is less than 20 percent female.

“If we have a representative sample, we are more likely to meet the needs of all Americans,” Young says. “You wouldn’t have one of anything. That’s kind of like what’s happened in the leadership: we’ve had men mostly. This country is made up of men and women.

“Any effort and increment that we make is a success. It’s another mark of justice. We have to keep working at it. I won’t stop, as long as I’m breathing.”

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