Ken Plum: The lady’s got clout
Each year the Library of Virginia honors women who have distinguished themselves in many different ways in the state’s history. Publicity is given to the women selected who many times may not have gotten much attention during their lifetimes (Virginia Women in History). One such honoree this year is the late Delegate Dorothy Shoemaker McDiarmid with whom I had the honor of serving in her last years in the House of Delegates.
Delegate McDiarmid, who preferred to be called Dorothy, became in 1959 the first woman ever elected to represent Fairfax County in Virginia’s General Assembly. She and her husband Hugh made their home near Vienna where she was an active member of the PTA. She ran for public office the first time in opposition to the Byrd Machine’s Massive Resistance policy to school desegregation that threatened to close the public schools. When I first announced my candidacy for the House of Delegates in 1973, Dorothy was already well-established as a highly regarded and respected member of that body.
Needless to say I was a bit in awe and highly honored to be elected with her in 1977 as part of the delegation from a multi-member district. I learned so much from her and Hugh about placing principles above politics, always doing the right thing, and persevering. She was kind and gentle in her approach reflecting in part her Quaker background but steadfast in her resolve on behalf of issues in which she believed. She was the chief patron of the bill to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Hugh was likewise a very kind man once you got to know him, but he could be brusk and tough–especially in defending Dorothy. As a constant companion by her side with a seat in the back of the House of Delegates, he was often referred to as the “101st delegate.”
Delegate McDiarmid and others with the help of many court decisions were able to defeat and discredit the Massive Resistance effort, and Dorothy set about improving the schools that had been poorly funded under the Byrd Machine. She is most famously known for her successful work to get public kindergarten in the state. She also worked successfully on getting programs for handicapped students in the public schools, and with the revision of the state constitution in 1971 was able to get the right to a public education written into the constitution. She was also instrumental in getting George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College established. In her later years as a delegate she could be especially helpful to these programs when she became the first and to this date the only female chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. In 1989 she won the first ever Outstanding Virginian Award.
Upon her retirement from the House of Delegates in 1989, the Fairfax County Public Schools Board passed a resolution honoring her. In her usual self-effacing and gentle way, she responded that everyone in the room supported education and quoted Aristotle when she said that “…the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.” The slogan of her last campaign–“The Lady’s Got Clout”–was true, and she used it for good purposes.
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.