Known as “The First Lady of Pennsylvania Politics,” Genevieve Blatt (1913-1996) started her career in government less than 20 years after women earned the right to vote.
This week’s Pennsylvania Treasure, selected by CAP curator Carol Buck, is a collection of Blatt-related items that will be featured in the upcoming Pennsylvania Icons exhibit at The State Museum. Those artifacts include the nameplate from the office that she used at the Pennsylvania State Capitol during her tenure as Secretary of Internal Affairs from 1955 until 1967 as well as delegate badges she wore at two of the Democratic National Conventions she attended.
Before wrestling with domestic affairs, Blatt attended college in Pittsburgh where she earned her Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts and, lastly, her Juris Doctor degrees between 1933 and 1937. She earned those achievements at a time when many Americans, struggling through the Great Depression, were out of work.
After graduation, Blatt launched her career as a politician with the Democratic Party, serving initially as a Civil Service Commissioner and later as an assistant solicitor for the City of Pittsburgh. As a 1936 delegate to the Democratic National Convention, Blatt was one of the first to vote for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Under Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, employment opportunities for women outside the home were expanded beyond the usual professions of teacher, nurse, secretary or domestic worker. These new positions were professional, government jobs.. Blatt continued as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention for 36 consecutive years.
Though Blatt’s first run for office as State Auditor General in 1950 was unsuccessful, she persisted and ran again in 1954. This time, she won the election to became the State Secretary of Internal Affairs, making her the first woman to hold an elected office in Pennsylvania. Blatt was also a member of the Democratic National Committee. Her longest-held position was that of judge of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court as appointed by Gov. Milton J. Shapp in 1972. She served in this position for more than 20 years.
Over the course of her career, Blatt was no stranger to the challenges of being a woman working in what was traditionally a man’s job. She fought for equality, especially through her rulings as a judge. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania filed a sex-discrimination law suit against the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) whose by-laws prevented girls from competing against or practicing with boys in any sport. In 1974, the case reached Blatt’s desk in Commonwealth Court. Blatt felt these by-laws directly opposed the Pennsylvania’s Equal Rights Amendment. She rebuked any discrimination against women in regards to sports, thus opening opportunities to young women in the state to achieve their athletic goals.
About Pennsylvania Icons:
Featuring a diverse array of artifacts from the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania and other Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historic sites and museums, Pennsylvania Icons tells the story of our commonwealth, its people and the role they played in shaping the nation. The exhibit features historic artifacts ranging from a 1654 map of the Philadelphia region to pieces of the Walnut Street bridge in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Icons opens to the public on Sunday, November 8, 2015.
About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.