Though she comes from a Texas family with a tradition of civic engagement, Ilyse Hogue ’91, the newly-appointed president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, didn’t become politically active until she came to Vassar.
One of Hogue’s first experiences in political action took place in October 1989, when the Ku Klux Klan threatened to march in Dutchess County and Vassar students staged a countermarch against hate. “In the process of preparing for that march, there were sessions about nonviolence and civil disobedience, and that was so foreign to me,” Hogue recalls. “I subsequently went on to take classes in global justice and the role of movement building and nonviolent disobedience. We learned about Dr. King and the movement’s tactics, and that resonated with me.”
Even more empowering was her experience a few months earlier, in April 1989, when she and other Vassar students boarded buses to Washington, D.C., to join 600,000 marchers—with Marlo Thomas, Glenn Close, Bella Abzug, Jane Fonda, and others leading the charge—in the March for Women’s Lives, which advocated for access to birth control and safe and legal abortion.
“The power of that feeling of being in the middle of hundreds of thousands of people led by women standing up for women’s empowerment was mind-blowing to me,” Hogue says. “That’s the first time I remember seeing NARAL signs.”
Today, Hogue, 42, is a political animal, charming and personable, a genius at harnessing and communicating the peoples’ voice to those in power. Before taking the reins at NARAL, she was director of communications and political advocacy at MoveOn.org, the online-based liberal political group; co-founder and co-director of Friends of Democracy, which supports pro-campaign finance reform candidates; and senior advisor to Media Matters for America, which monitors bias in the press.
After earning a master’s in resource ecology management and policy from the University of Michigan, Hogue concentrated on domestic and international environmental activism. “There was an evolution at the time that shifted the paradigm from environmentalism to environmental justice and human equality,” she says. “I looked at how humans interacted with the environment, and one of the things that continued to pop for me was that where women were empowered, their communities, governments, businesses, and nations thrived.”
Hogue soon switched to domestic political work, becoming an advocate for women. In her role as NARAL’s president, Hogue sees continued access for all women to safe and legal abortion as foundational to women’s freedoms. “As much as we’ve been there to protect and support women who need or want to have a choice, we also want to be there when those women want to be mothers and support choices that help parenthood, such as equal pay and the Family and Medical Leave Act.”
“The generation born around Roe v. Wade was led to believe that equality was our birthright, and we’ve embraced that,” she says. “Women are believing in bigger dreams and, in 2012, we saw the appointment of the first-ever pregnant CEO of a Fortune 500 company. But this never would have been possible without Roe v. Wade and the cultural acceptance that women are entitled to make their own decision on when, how, and with whom we have a family.”
Hogue, who is engaged to marry communications/media coach and author John Neffinger in June, is excited for the movement’s future. “The next wave of the women’s movement will make sure that no woman is left behind, because the potential of every single woman matters.”
—Anne E. Stein
Photos courtesy NARAL Pro-Choice America