Heckler, Margaret M. (1931—)

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Heckler, Margaret M. (1931—)

American politician and Republican Congressional representative from Massachusetts (1967–1983). Name variations: Mrs. John M. Heckler. Born Margaret Mary O'Shaughnessy on June 21, 1931, in Flushing, New York; daughter of John O'Shaughnessy and Bridget (McKeown) O'Shaughnessy; Albertus Magnus College, B.A., 1953; postgraduate work at the University of Leiden (Holland), 1953; Boston College Law School, LL.B., 1956; married John M. Heckler, on August 29, 1952; children: Belinda West Heckler; Alison Anne Heckler; John M. Heckler.

Margaret N. Heckler was born in Flushing, New York, on June 21, 1931. She earned a bachelor of arts from Albertus Magnus College in 1953 and did postgraduate work at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. Heckler continued her education at Boston College Law School, where she edited the college's law review while earning her degree, and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1956. She began her political career in 1962 when she won a seat on the Massachusetts Governor's Council to which she was reelected in 1964. She was a member of the Republican town committee of Wellesley, Massachusetts, from 1958 until 1966, when she decided to run for a seat in the House of Representatives.

On September 16, 1966, Heckler challenged incumbent Joseph W. Martin for the Republican nomination to the House. She faced the daunting task of halting one of the legendary political careers in Massachusetts politics. Martin had been a Congressional representative since 1925 and had served as House Republican leader for 16 years. In her campaign, Heckler used the same argument against the 81-year-old Martin that he had used when he originally ousted the 83-year-old incumbent: that the district needed a more vigorous individual in Washington. She won the Republican nomination and was victorious in the general election over Democratic candidate Patrick H. Harrington, Jr.

Heckler devoted much of her energy to veterans' affairs and became the second-ranking Republican member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee. As an advocate of childcare, Heckler was critical of President Richard Nixon's 1971 veto of a comprehensive child-development program. She was tireless in her work for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and cosponsored a 1977 joint resolution to extend the deadline for its ratification. She also drafted the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 and worked with New York Representative Elizabeth Holtzman to organize the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues in 1977. Heckler opposed the use of federal funds for abortions and endorsed tax credits for parents with children in private, non-profit schools.

In 1982, when the electoral map underwent redistricting, Heckler's Tenth District was removed, and she found herself competing with the Fourth District's Representative Barney Frank. Although she lost the race, she was nominated by President Ronald Reagan as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on January 12, 1983, and won confirmation by the Senate on March 3 of that year. In this role, Heckler established new guidelines for the Social Security disability program and campaigned to increase federal funding for research and care for patients with Alzheimer's disease and AIDS.

In 1985, she was named ambassador to Ireland and remained in that position until October of 1989. Following this appointment, Heckler returned to Wellesley.


Office of the Historian. Women in Congress, 1917–1990. Commission on the Bicentenary of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1991.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland