Exhibit captures changing face of Senate

Photographs highlight growing influence of women

Dole Institute of Politics Senior Archivist Morgan Davis opens the institute’s exhibit by photojournalist Melina Mara. The far left photo captures U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., almost being pulled off a stage by well-wishers. Mara took the photos in 2001-2003. She is now a photographer for the Washington Post.

Jacqueline and Larry Gadt, Lawrence, study photojournalist Melina Mara’s picture of Sens. Elizabeth and Bob Dole riding the U.S. Senate subway together. The exhibit “Changing the Face of Power: Women in the U.S. Senate” opened Friday and runs through July 21.

It’s all in the timing.

The new photographic exhibition “Changing the Face of Power: Women in the U.S. Senate” opened Friday at the Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University. It follows hot on the heels of the excitement generated by women’s successes in recent federal and state primaries.

The 38-photograph collection by photojournalist Melina Mara documents the unprecedented role of the 13 women who served in the Senate in 2001. Mara continued to record scenes through 2003, as their number grew to 14. The captivating black-and-white photographs show the women in various stances behind the scenes, in front of microphones and interacting with their male colleagues.

“There have only been 38 women in the entire history of the Senate, with 17 currently serving,” said Morgan Davis, senior archivist for the Dole Archive and Special Collections, as she opened the exhibition. “This exhibit highlights the growing influence of women in the Senate while also capturing the unique challenges they face. This last round of primaries drew attention to the growing trend of more women being elected to serve in public office, especially in the Senate. We hope people will come here and enjoy seeing the photographic record of some of our female Senators.”

Carolyn Tillotson, from Leavenworth, brought a group of friends to visit the exhibition. She understands and experienced firsthand some of the challenges and triumphs faced by women holding political office. She served in the Kansas Senate 1992-96.

“Of course I’ve always been interested in politics and the important role of women, so I wanted to bring my friends here to see this particular exhibit,” she said. “The photographic record is excellent and really is great journalistic photography. It captures the challenges women face in the Senate’s predominately male environment. I hope more women will be encouraged to step forward and be elected to political office because they can bring a different perspective to most issues.”

Lawrence retirees Larry and Jacqueline Gadt said they gained new insights from viewing the photographs.

“I particularly liked the shot angles and the starkness created by using black and white,” Larry said. “It helped capture the way the women’s presence seems to be helping change the Senate’s environment.”

Jacqueline said the use of the black and white drew attention to the imbalance of female representation. “When you look at the photographs and see the women surrounded by so many male senators, you realize how they are outnumbered,” she said. “I’m hopeful things will change in the future and we’ll have more balanced representation.”

The free exhibition runs at the Dole Institute through July 21.