Lois Pulliam of Bedford will be honored by the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts Sunday as one of 36 “formidable women” who have made significant contributions to the League at national, state, and/or local levels.
Lois Pulliam is 92 years old. She is ambulatory, thanks to her walker. Her entry into politics was a silly song about President Hoover. She respects people with opposing positions.
Seriously, how “formidable” is that?
Actually, one definition is a perfect fit: “arousing feelings of awe or admiration because of grandeur, strength.”
Sunday’s event is part of the League’s centennial celebration. Pulliam, still involved after more than 70 of those 100 years, will participate from her home at Carleton-Willard Village. Brown Pulliam, her husband of almost 65 years, “is my Zoom director,” she laughed.
“I was always interested in politics and how the government ended up doing what it would do,” she said. That investment may have started at age four, when Pulliam and her brother burst into a conversation between her parents and a couple of ministers and chanted, “Roosevelt is our man; throw old Hoover in the garbage can! We were so pleased with ourselves. It was our entry into politics.”
The Roosevelt administration continued for another 12 years, and “I was already an enthusiastic Democrat in those days.” She remembers listening to national political conventions on the radio, charting each state’s preference. “So even before I went to college I was interested in politics and I knew that politics affected government.”
Pulliam’s career with the LWV began in 1947, as a junior at the University of Kentucky. “They didn’t call it the League of Women Voters then; they called it College League. You could join for one dollar because we were underage. We couldn’t vote, but we had meetings and discussed government issues and what was going on in the world.”
She earned a master’s degree at Syracuse University, where she worked as an assistant dean of women. Her next stop was as social science librarian at the University of Maryland, in 1957. That’s when Pulliam began “getting active in the League, more than just being a member.” The Pulliams moved to Bedford in 1960, and “Mickey Webber took me to my first League meeting, at Ellie Mildram’s house. All I had to do was transfer my membership. And I have been involved ever since.”
Bedford’s chapter was active and large, Pulliam recalled. When she was membership chair in 1961, “we had between 100 and 120 members and three meetings a month, mostly in private homes. There were daytime meetings when “Pat Leiby and I sat on the floor with our babies so we wouldn’t have to get a sitter.” The Pulliams had six children in a 10-year span.
During the year the chapter sponsored candidates’ nights and other public meetings. “In those days the League would not take a stand on a local, state, or national issue until we studied it.”
For decades, Pulliam has been involved with LWV causes at the national level. Early on she was part of a study on water quality and supply, she noted, focused on regional priorities, as “water is a different problem in different places.” The League, she said, was forward-thinking, realizing that water issues would eventually be a challenge.
“I got active in pro-choice because at the time we were trying to get some kind of national legislation,” she said. “I represented the state League on the Massachusetts Coalition for Choice. I also testified at the State House on women’s insurance rates because they were slanted very heavily toward men. I used to testify on that every year.”
Other national topics have included affordable housing, education, wilderness,or park areas. “Local Leagues can pick whatever we want. We can worry about our airport. State and national levels focus on broad issues that affect the country.”
“The original setup of local Leagues supported lengthy studies. There are fewer long-term studies on issues, simply because the makeup of the League has changed. Like many other civic and volunteer organizations, the membership is simply down because so many more women are working. I have been a lifetime member of the American Association of University Women which also has lost members. Activity level is difficult. They have to deal with their interests in a different way, a different schedule.”
At the local level, Pulliam said, she has served in almost every position, including co-president, once with Joan Bowen and once with Nancy Asbedian. “I was Equal Rights Amendment specialist for our League and went all over the state representing us.” She was a strong advocate for METCO on behalf of the League.
It wasn’t all studying and proselytizing. “I did write a lot of skits and poems about events and activities.” She also participated in fundraising, which often took place in “some business office with 10 telephones. I loved doing that. But I did not love being a treasurer – I first learned that in 1947-48.”
One time, she said, “I was asked by a member of our church if I would run for state representative. I told the person that I thought I had enough to do, and I didn’t think I would be good with the state budget. I felt I would be falling down on my district.”
“Old-time Leaguers remember having civics courses in school and learning about the different parts of the government. Fewer people are getting that today.”
“I always have had good friends who are Republicans,” Pulliam said. She laughed remembering that in college one of her best friends was the mother of the current right-wing commentator Ann Coulter. “Of course, if you go to lobby, you have to be able to speak respectfully and honor the other person’s right to have an opposing opinion.”
Now, navigating a pandemic, “I wish we had more opportunities for people in big groups to talk. Even at the Historical Society, you could meet people whom you knew had different opinions, but you could talk about other things and everything was pleasant.”
“Over the last four years, it has not been easy to be in a reasonable or logical conversation with a sincere Trump voter. I don’t think I’ve been very good at persuading anybody.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763
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