Paula Hawkins, the first female to be elected to the United States Senate in her own right, died on Friday. She was 82 years old. Hawkins was also the first and only female elected to the Senate from Florida and according to the Orlando Sentinel, she fought hard to get through the "good ol' boys" club."
She was working as a Republican committeewoman when she decided to run for the Public Service Commission in 1972. She campaigned as a populist and a consumer advocate, and won a second term in 1976. In 1974 she ran unsuccessfully for the United States Senate -the seat was won by Jack Eckerd- and in 1978, Eckerd ran unsuccessfully for governor, with Hawkins under him as Lieutenant Governor on the Republican ticket. In 1980, she beat out Democrat Bill Gunter with 52% of the vote, finally earning herself a spot in the United States Senate. She served only one term.
"Senator Paula Hawkins broke the glass ceiling for women like me to be able to pursue public service at the highest levels. She blazed a trail by winning statewide office at a time when being an elected Republican woman wasn't very common in the Sunshine State, needless to say in the United States Senate," Florida State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Paula Dockery told the Orlando Sentinel.
While Senator Hawkins didn't enjoy being called a feminist, she considered herself a champion of children's and women's rights. She backed legislation that would help homemakers get jobs upon becoming widowed or divorced and wanted to equalize pension benefits for women by considering the years they spent raising children. She fought for tax breaks on child care expenses and to get day care for children of Senate employees. She also fought hard against drugs and child abuse, disclosing that she had been molested as a child, while speaking at the Third National Conference on Sexual Victimization. This led to her penning a book in 1986, Children at Risk, My Fight Against Child Abuse: A Personal Story and a Public Plea.
She was pro-life and opposed abortion-on-demand, as well as the Equal Rights Amendment. She also refused to join the Congressional Woman's Caucus because she thought women's issues were "family issues" and concerned more than just women. She as quoted as saying, ""I did not like the Equal Rights Amendment. I predicted that it would bring about the downfall of the father's responsibility to support the family."
Hawkins also served as the Vice President of Air Florida from 1979-1980 and director of the Rural Telephone Bank Board from 1972-1978. In 1988, she was named the director of Philip Crosby Associates, a consulting company started by Winter Park businessman and author, Philip B. Crosby. In 1997, she joined the board of Nu Skin Enterprises. Nu Skin Enterprises is a direct selling company that sells cosmetics, nutritional supplements and technology services.
Hawkins was born on January 24, 1927 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and grew up in Utah and Georgia. She was married to Gene Hawkins and they had three children, Genean, Kevin, and Kelly Ann. She attended Utah State University and was a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints.
It is reported that Hawkins died in her home in Winter Park, Florida, after complications from a fall. She had also recently suffered a stroke. Florida Governor Charlie Crist ordered all flags lowered to half-staff and Dean Cannon, Florida House Speaker-designate, held a moment of silence on Friday.