Joy Rosenheim Simonson, 88; Activist Led Local and National Women's Groups
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Joy Rosenheim Simonson, 88, a longtime activist in local and women's issues whose abrupt dismissal in 1982 as chair of the National Advisory Council on Women's Educational Programs became a cause celebre in the women's movement, died of complications of pneumonia June 24 at the Washington Home hospice.
Ms. Simonson, who had been executive director of the council since 1975, expected to be replaced when the Reagan administration installed new members.
However, she was taken by surprise when she called the July 1982 meeting to order and the new council's first order of business was to fire her and appoint her replacement, a substitute schoolteacher who quickly proposed abolishing the council.
Women's groups immediately protested, and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), in a speech on the House floor, denounced the "purge" of Ms. Simonson. He then hired her as a staff member of the House Government Operations subcommittee on employment and housing, where she worked on the condition that she could have Fridays off for her weekly tennis game. She worked there until 1985.
"She was feisty, and here she starts a career on Capitol Hill in her 60s," said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families, which gave Ms. Simonson its Foremothers Award in 2005. "She was getting it done. She knew how to set a goal and achieve it. She wasn't on Capitol Hill to get a paycheck. She was there to make a difference. . . . She just would not take no for an answer. She was one of the women who have broken down every barrier there is for women of my generation."
A veteran volunteer, Ms. Simonson was past president of the Washington chapter of the League of Women Voters and vice president of the D.C. Home Rule Committee.
When she became D.C. league president in 1962, The Washington Post wrote that "she weighs a mere 100 pounds, is a slim 5 feet 2 inches tall, has smiling gray eyes and silky brown hair." Rather than succumbing to a stereotype, she told the reporter, "I love lobbying. It's my favorite Washington sport."
In 1964, she was the first woman appointed to serve as chair of the District's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, a position she filled for eight years, through a number of controversies.
In 1967, she initiated and organized the D.C. Commission for Women and served on it for almost 15 years. In 1970, she helped set up what is now the National Association of Commissions for Women and served three terms as president.
Ms. Simonson, a three-term president of the Clearinghouse on Women's Issues, was a member of the National Council of Women's Organizations that protested the exclusion of women from Augusta National Golf Club, which sponsors the Masters golf tournament.
"It all started because [club chairman] Hootie Johnson was so ill-advised and so rude in his response" to the organization's initial letter on the club's ban of female members, she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2002. "That escalated the thing. . . . He could have said, 'Thank you for your views. We'll consider them,' and then throw it away, and we would have sent another letter and so on. But he did what he did."
Ms. Simonson, a New York City native who graduated from Bryn Mawr College, moved to Washington in the 1940s to work for the War Manpower Commission. In 1945, she worked for the U.N. Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in Egypt and Yugoslavia at the end of the war, then as a civilian for Army headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, until 1948, when she and her husband returned to Washington.