Caught in the shadow thrown by the half-closed door, House Majority leader John S. Arnick was barely visible, an unobtrusive guest at a legislative meeting.
For about half an hour he remained stationed near the door and then left without a word, his coat still folded between his arms. Pauline H. Menes, president of the Women's Caucus of the General Assembly, ran after him to ask if he did't want to return and bring up some matter before the women legislators.
No, he said, he just wanted to watch, see what was going on.
As uneventful as his visit was, Arnick's presence alone represented a benchmark for women's politics in Annapolis. Arnick was the first male legislator to take up the Women's Caucus' invitation to attend a meeting.
For as great an impact as the women's movement has had this decade, few women politicians have followed through and banded together to organize caucuses, as black politicians often have done. The U.S. Congress has yet to spawn a formal women's caucus and among the states only Maryland's legislature feels the influence of a true women's caucus organized with staff and leaders who monitor and write legislation, and go through the weekly drudgery of meetings and priority lists.
The caucus, which recently received a $2,500 grant to pay for its staff interns, was born in a demeaning episode that has taken on legendary proportions. Five years on legendary proportions. Five years ago Menes, a Democratic delegate from Prince George's County, asked former Speaker of the House Thomas Hunter Lowe for help in fixing up the women's rest room.
Aid was given as well as a new chairmanship. During a session Lowe announced that Menes had been named chairperson of the new Ladies' Rest Room Committee. The House broke out in laughter. "Ha, ha, big joke." Menes remembers but that was not the end of the matter.
Later, from the podium, Lowe presented Menes with a gift for her committee; a muskret-fur toilet seat cover that brought the House down.
That incident, Menes said, symbolized the frustration and powerlessness that most of the women delegates felt and a caucus of sorts was called, to meet three or four times each session.
But as the women's strength grew - they are new 21 in number in the Assembly of 188 members - the intent of the caucus expanded. This session, under Menes' presidency, the caucus has enlisted every one of the women into its membership from both parties and both chambers and most show up each week for their meetings.
"The attendance was damned good - the average was surprising," Arnick said of the meeting he watched. "If I could have stayed longer I would have given them some suggestions . . . but generally it looked very good."
In the past, most male legislators took a different approach to women and their bills. If a decidedly feminist issue came before the House the male legislators would hoot and howl much, as they still bark like dogs when bills regarding animals come to the floor.
Del. Loretta Nimmerichter, who opposed most women's rights bills, would then rise, thrust back her shoulders, and declare to the wildly be a woman and that "women could woman and that "women could get whatever they wanted if only they would use what God gave them."
She was defeated in a bid for re-election in 1974 and there is no such obvious division in the ranks today.
The caucus now wnats a woman to chair one of the standign committees and be part of the legislative leadership.Currently, Del. Ann Hull (D-Prince George's) is speaker pro tem, a largely ceremonial position that is remote from the center of power in Annapolis.
Although the women feel that the time has come for inclusion in the leadership, some men feel otherwise.
"Women are new, they haven't developed leaders yet," said one male legislator who did not want to be identified. Others said that women might not be "menat" for leadership, that men would not accept them as chair persons.
Yet in a survey of the institutes and centers that monitor women politicians, Maryland ranked high. Fred Wechsler of the National Women's Political Caucus said Maryland women - in the legislature and in Congress - "stand out, they just stand out."
Another woman, an academic, gave them equal praise: "Maryland's women legislators rank very high as a group.There are individual legislators across the country who work very hard on women's issues. There are groups of women legislators who meet informally or organize around one issue, like the battered wives bill in New York or the Equal Rights Amendment in unratified states, but there is nothing like the Maryland's Women Caucus that really watches legislation," said Ruth Mandel, director of the center for the American woman and politics at Rutgers University.
The caucus is exceptional, these experts say, because its members sift through all pieces of legislation determining how bills affect women and what position to take: to testify in favor or in opposition to a bill, lobby for the bill, or just decide how members out how most bills, not jsut the obvious ones, affect their female constituents. Women consciously seek out one major area of expertise, preferring to make women's issues a second priority.
Some male critics contend that the women can afford to do their homework better because many do not hold full-time jobs for support of their families.
"That infuriates me. This is my job, my other job is running a house and taking care of two children," said Del-Kay G. Bienan (D-Prince George's). "Most of the men are lawyers with down here in the legislature. It's the same with me: my husband is my partner."
The value of homemaking is major focus for legislation to aid women. Last year Del. Helen L. Koss (D-Montgomery) sponsored a successful bill that led to creation of a Home makers's Center in Baltimore to aid women in their work at home and as they re-enter the job market.
Del. Lucille Maurer, (D-Montgomery) who is known primarily for her expertise in education, is sponsoring legislation this year to ensure that a woman's economic worth is calculated into pension and insurance programs.
"During the last campaign I met a military wife whose husband was a major who had left her just before retirement, forcing her to live off welfare since she had no right to the pension," Maurer said.
Del. Marilyn Goldwater (D-Montgomery) made a campaign promise again" - to push through legislation her first term that would require all state agencies to hire permanent part-time employees. The bill did pass but Goldwater said she had to work almost exclusively on it and then had difficulties with the added burden of ensuring that it was enforced.
"The women brought it up but the idea of preserving the rights of part-time employees affects the handicapped, the retired," Goldwater said. "It's going to affect people's lives for a long time."
Like the many women delegates, Goldwater arrived in Annapolis through the volunteer circuit. If a rought profile of these women delegates were to be drawn, the woman mother, and a college graduate, with a decade of volunteer experience.