Shortly after she graduated from college nearly 10 years ago, Kathy Wilson took a job in hotel sales with a Kansas City, Mo., firm and rapidly became the leading salesperson.
She was so good, in fact, that the company asked her to train two new men. It was then she made the shocking discovery that the two trainees were getting $100 more a month than she was.
Stunned, she quit the job a week later and joined the women's movement, eventually helping to form four state chapters of the National Women's Political Caucus, including the Northern Virginia chapter which she chaired in 1979. Today, the 29-year-old Alexandria woman is the national head of the organization, formed to elect public officials sympathetic to women's rights issues.
"It hit me like a Mack truck," said Wilson, recalling the experience with job discrimination that brought her into the national caucus.
Elected to a two-year term at the caucus' national convention July 13, Wilson is the second Republican in the organization's 10-year history to hold the post. Because of her party affiliation, Wilson hopes the Reagan administration will be more receptive to the goals of the caucus.
The organization's members, she said, are "principle pragmatists . . . who approach economic and societal discrimination from a political perspective."
Her Republicanism, nurtured during her youth at family dinner table discussions, may be "helpful, in that the criticism of this administration won't always be coming from Democrats," Wilson reasons.
"I think that there was a sense that with this Republican administration, if all the criticism of it was not to be dismissed as partisan potshotting, that it was important to have Republican leadership criticizing this administration as well," she adds.
First attracted to the now 55,000-member caucus because of its "distinct bipartisan approach" to issues, Wilson said the caucus has a "staunch Republican feminist membership which allows us to talk to both sides of the aisle. During the last three presidential elections, it has really been caucus women who have been responsible for interjecting what feminism there is" in the Republican party platform.
And there is not nearly enough, she contends. Wilson is one of several caucus members who attended last year's GOP national convention to press for what she calls more "sensitivity" to women's issues.
At that convention, Wilson, who was then pregnant, wore a "pro-choice" button that she says caused a furor with anti-abortionists. Her daughter Casey Rose is now 9 months old.
While she is "very pleased" with the nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor to the U.S. Supreme Court, Wilson says, she is still unhappy with the administration's opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment and, on the abortion issue, its "encouragement of this Congress to 'nationalize' a woman's body. . . .
"When you couple that with the dearth of women appointees and the near total lack of participation by women running this government, I'd have to say that (Reagan) is generally not off to an auspicious beginning with regard to our issues."
The administration, she notes, says it is concerned about improving the economy and giving people incentives to work. Yet, she adds, Reagan "never seems to concern himself with the fact that women earn 59 cents of every man's dollar--women, who comprise 52 percent of the population and 42 percent of the work force.
"I want to stress the economic costs of inequality," she adds. "I know there are women out there who are worried--not about the passage of the ERA or federal funding of abortion or the number of women who get high federal jobs. What they're worried about is just making it through another day because they have so little money."
Wilson says she plans to take her daughter on trips with her to demonstrate that feminism and traditional family roles are not mutually exclusive. Until her baby was born, Wilson worked as a career consultant at the Department of Labor. She holds a bachelor's degree in special education and a master's degree in counseling psychology, both from the University of Missouri at Columbia.
On several walls of her downtown K Street office are pictures of "Joanie Caucus," the cartoon character in the Doonesbury strip by Gary Trudeau, who named her after the National Women's Political Caucus and has been a major fund-raiser for the organization.
There has been another "male feminist" in Wilson's life: her husband Paul, who works for Bailey, Deardourff & Associates, a leading campaign consulting firm which is handling J. Marshall Coleman's Virginia gubernatorial campaign. Her husband, Wilson says, is "certainly dedicated to feminism" and has worked to help elect moderate Republicans.
But, speaking of her own career, Wilson says there is a major goal she hopes to accomplish before she leaves her nonpaying job in two years: "I want to some way help women realize their economic significance in this country, to be able to demonstrate their economic power and to realize that power, instead of just realizing the potential.
"What we're dealing with now in the women's movement is the potential of power. If we can realize that power in terms of numbers, I'll feel I will have contributed something."