Glass Ceiling Initiative, Budget Hawk, Teacher = Lynn Martin

Lynn Martin
Only one member of the Illinois House of Representatives has gone on to serve as President of the United States. Others have been Members of Congress; including one Speaker of the U.S. House; a famed general, Governors of Illinois, leaders in business and industry, professors and, in the case of former State Rep. Lynn Martin (R-Rockford), U.S. Secretary of Labor.

Lynn Martin is the daughter of an accountant and a department store clerk. She grew up in Chicago and lost her first race for office: a campaign for 8th grade class President against her boyfriend, who beat her by a single vote. She later said she voted for her opponent because she thought it would be polite, and “learned my lesson: if you believe in yourself, vote for yourself.”

While teaching high school in Rockford, Martin became concerned that the local government was losing touch with the community. In 1972, she ran for and won a seat on the Winnebago County Board. She then made the jump to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1976, where she was appointed to the Appropriations Committee.

It did not take long for Martin to earn the nickname, “the axe” because of her efforts to reduce spending. Her budget cutting mentality was unwavering. Martin believed government had been growing and spending out of control since the 1960s, and when she arrived in Congress in 1981, she said, “all bureaucracy doesn’t have to last forever.”

Martin swept into Congress in the Reagan landslide of 1980, winning more than 67 percent of the vote. Her fellow Illinoisan, Minority Leader Robert Michel, named her to the House Budget Committee as a freshman, where she remained a budget hawk, even opposing some aspects of President Reagan’s military budgets.

Martin quickly earned the respect of her colleagues, and in 1984 was elected Vice Chair of the House Republican Conference, the first woman to be elected to the Republican leadership team in Congress.

While controlling spending was a priority for Rep. Martin, she was also concerned with working conditions for congressional staff. In 1987, she fought successfully to extend the protections of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to the more than 30,000 employees of the Congress, specifically female staff members whom Martin argued were underpaid.

In 1990, Rep. Martin was given the opportunity to continue her fight for better working conditions when she was appointed as Secretary of Labor by President George Bush. During her time at the Department of Labor, Secretary Martin gave a high priority to programs for workforce development. Looking ahead to the next century, she started the Job Training 2000 youth apprenticeship program. She sought to make employment and training services more accessible to Americans and encouraged the promotion of women and minorities to management positions in corporations and unions. She also pushed a “Glass Ceiling” initiative to help women in the workplace.

With the end of the Bush administration in 1993, Martin returned to teaching, working at Northwestern University. She continued her civic involvement, chairing a University of Illinois study, “The Future of the Health Care Labor Force in a Graying Society.”

Now retired from public service, Lynn Martin lives in Chicago.