Elsie Hillman—prominent political leader, pro-choice activist, philanthropist, Pittsburgh icon, and self-described “housewife”—was not your typical feminist.
Elsie moved in the highest ranks of the Republican party, nationally and in Pennsylvania, and she was passionately, unshakably devoted to reproductive rights.
That combination often made her our most powerful ally throughout an era when those rights were under furious attack.
Elsie understood on a personal level that women’s dignity, equality, and economic security depend on our ability to determine whether and when we will bear children. With grace, she stood up for women in the corridors of power.
From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Elsie Hillman was known as a grande dame of Republican politics, although, with her relentlessly down-to-earth manner, she would doubtless have dismissed such a lofty title.
She had friends and proteges in both parties, but she was particularly known for nurturing the careers of a generation of moderate Republicans whose views overlapped her strain of fiscal conservatism wedded with more liberal attitudes on social issues.
Hillman nurtured the careers of Pennsylvania politicians such as former state governors Dick Thornburgh and Tom Ridge.
“She was a fighter for her party, for her state, her candidates, but especially for her fight for full inclusion of women and minorities in the political process,” Mr. Thornburgh said.
Like so many other Pittsburgh nonprofit women’s organizations, the Women’s Law Project benefited directly from Elsie’s generosity, which helped sustain our work.
On a personal level, she was a beam of encouragement and inspiration, as she reminded us that the values at the heart of the women’s movement are universal, and don’t belong to one political party or another. Her unique brand of feminist activism will be sorely missed. To read more about Hillman in her own words, we recommend this wonderful 2013 interview. Our sincerest condolences to Elsie’s husband, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and to the Pittsburgh community she has left behind.