HomeLearning CenterRemembering My Mother: Susan Catania, Champion of the ERA

Remembering My Mother: Susan Catania, Champion of the ERA

Originally published by Sara Catania for Ms. Magazine

Four days after Thanksgiving, my mother Susan Catania—former Illinois state legislator, a relentless advocate for the ERA, and a fearless champion of critical but politically unpopular causes—died. The cause was a fire that broke out during the early morning hours of Nov. 27 in our family cabin in Northern Wisconsin, where she’d moved to spend her retirement.

My mom’s tenure in the Illinois House of Representatives paralleled my elementary school years, and as a child whose earliest memories include collating campaign materials on the dining room table, her legislative career seemed completely normal to me. It was anything but.

She was white in a nearly all-Black district on Chicago’s South Side, a Republican in a city of big-D Democrats, and a young mother at a time when very few women—and even fewer who had children—ran for public office.

On top of all that, she had no experience in politics and no connections to the all-powerful political machine of Mayor Richard J. Daley, who maintained his white-ethnic grip on Chicago politics even as three other major U.S. cities—Los Angeles, Atlanta and Detroit—made history by electing their first African American mayors.

The birth of my sister Amy, a year after my mom’s election, made the story even more unusual. The first time I saw my new baby sister was on the front page of the Chicago Daily News, her small patch of dark hair done up by the nurses in a bow.

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