Collins, Cardiss (1931—)

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Collins, Cardiss (1931—)

U.S. Congresswoman (January 5, 1973–January 3, 1997). Born Cardiss Hortense Robertson in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 24, 1931; only child of Finley (a laborer) and Rosia Mae (Cardiss) Robertson (a nurse); attended Bishop and Lincoln Elementary Schools, Detroit, Michigan; graduated from High School of Commerce, Detroit; attended Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois; married George Washington Collins, in 1958 (died, December 8, 1972); children: one son, Kevin.

Cardiss Collins was elected to fill her husband's unexpired Congressional term after his death in 1973. She went on to become the longest-serving black woman in the history of Congress and devoted herself to providing better living and working conditions in her predominantly black district in Illinois. As evidence of her popularity, she ran unopposed in 1988.

Collins was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and moved to Detroit as a child. After attending Northwestern University, she remained in Chicago, where she worked for the Illinois Department of Labor and later as an auditor in the Department of Revenue. With her marriage to rising politician George Collins in 1958, she began her political career, serving as a Democratic committeewoman and supporting her husband's campaigns. By the time he was elected to Congress, she was so immersed in his career that when he was killed in a plane crash in 1972 she seemed the perfect candidate to fill his unexpired term. It was difficult, however, for Collins to leave her son in the care of his grandmother so that she might work in Washington; she always regretted the lost time with him. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block to her first years in Congress, however, was her intense shyness. "I was basically an introvert, but once people learned I had something to say, I gained confidence. But it took a long time to come out of my shell and realize I was here, doing this alone." Eventually, she was respected among her peers not only for her toughness, but for her wit, candor, and homespun charm.

Collins' long tenure in Congress was marked by several firsts. She was the first woman and the first black to chair the House Government Operations Subcommittee on Manpower and Housing, and the first woman to chair the Congressional Black Caucus. She was also the first black and the first woman to serve as a Democratic whip-at-large. From 1981, she was a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce and also sat on the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. She was reelected to 11 succeeding Congresses.

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Collins, Cardiss (1931—)

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