Moment of Indiana History

A Woman’s Bid For The Highest Post

In 1984, Virginia Dill McCarty became the first Hoosier woman to run for governor.But it was not Virginia Dill McCarty’s first “first.”

ERA activists

Photo: archive photo

Supporters of the proposed federal Equal Rights Amendment, ratified by Indiana in 1977 thanks to the efforts of the Indiana Women’s Political Caucus, in which Virginia McCarty played a vital role.

Indiana’s current Lieutenant Governor, Becky Skillman, is now serving her second term. Skillman, who was part of Mitch Daniels’ ticket in the 2004 gubernatorial election, is the first woman to reach the state’s second-highest office. But she was not the first woman to run for a position in the state’s executive branch.

Twenty years earlier, in 1984, Virginia Dill McCarty became the first Hoosier woman to run for governor. McCarty ran in the Democratic primary and lost to the eventual nominee, Wayne Townsend. Townsend, in turn, was defeated by the incumbent, Robert Orr. During the spring 1983 primary season, McCarty crisscrossed the state, rubbing elbows with local citizens, giving interviews and speeches, and—equally as important—inspiring women and girls alike to get involved in politics and government, as they finally saw someone who looked like them reaching for the highest of state political offices.

Running for governor was not Virginia Dill McCarty’s first “first,” however. In 1976, she was the first woman nominated by a major party for Judge in Marion County. She was also the first woman to be nominated as the Democratic candidate for Attorney General of Indiana in 1976, when—although she lost—she led both the national and state tickets by getting more votes than any other Democratic candidate since 1968. And, in 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to be the nation’s first female U.S. Attorney to serve a full term.

McCarty, who practiced law at the Indianapolis firm of Landman and Beatty up until the day she died, at the age of 81 in 2006, was a native of Plainfield, Indiana and a fifth-generation Hoosier. She attended Indiana University in Bloomington as an undergraduate and IU’s law school in Indianapolis, where she graduated first in her class in 1950. Throughout her stellar legal and political career, which she pursued while raising two children, McCarty remained committed to public service and to securing equality for women in all areas of society.

In fact, McCarty was one of the women tapped by the National Women’s Political Caucus, a powerful, multi-party organization in the 1970s, to found—and lead—the Indiana state branch. The Indiana Women’s Political Caucus helped gain Indiana’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1977, and also worked on issues ranging from equal pay to housing discrimination. McCarty loved Indiana, and she worked tirelessly throughout her career to make it a better place not just for women, but for all Hoosiers.

A Moment of Indiana History is a production of WFIU Public Radio in partnership with the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. Research support comes from Indiana Magazine of History published by the Indiana University Department of History.

Source Articles: Lieutenant Governor Becky Skillman web site, www.in.gov/lg/2938.htm; Landman & Beatty, www.landmanbeatty.com/mccarty.html; Indianapolis Star online obituary, www.tributes.com/show/Virginia-McCarty-89240887. For more information, see also: http://www.indianahistory.org/our-collections/collection-guides/indiana-womens-political-caucus-1967-1983.pdf.

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