As interesting as it is to learn about the lives and contributions of family members from generations past, it is equally as fascinating, and perhaps even more inspiring, to learn about those who yet today are making the world a better place. Dorothy Jensen Rupert, currently of Boulder, Colorado, is one such woman, the wife of my third cousin, on my father’s side.
Dorothy was born on a farm in eastern Nebraska in 1926. Her father abandoned the family during the Great Depression, forcing her mother to make the difficult decision at one point to place her children in an orphanage because there just wasn’t enough food for them to survive on. Nevertheless — or perhaps because of the fortitude of this woman under difficult circumstances — Dorothy’s mother was one of the most powerful influences in her life.
Dorothy graduated from high school and from Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln and became an English teacher. Richard Channing Rupert (“Dick”), also a Nebraskan, served in the military during World War II, then attended Nebraska Wesleyan, where he met Dorothy. They married and moved to Colorado, first in Denver and then in Boulder, where they had two children and Dorothy earned her Master’s Degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1967.
Dorothy was ahead of her time, insisting on natural childbirth and breastfeeding in a day when those choices were unusual. She became a driven activist, writing letters to Congress about public health issues. In her work as a teacher and counselor, she became concerned about the lack of mental health services for young people, youth whose untreated problems led to a life of crime or death by suicide. In 1966 Dorothy helped organize Attention Homes, a non-profit organization providing residential treatment, counseling, and a safe home to Boulder youth.
When she was 60 years old, Dorothy decided to run for public office so that she could help make important changes in the law. She served 14 years in Colorado’s State Legislature (from 1986 to 2001) — eight years in the House and six years in the Senate.
ConsciousWoman.org wrote of Dorothy:
As a liberal Democrat in a Republican-dominated state legislature, Senator Rupert faced many challenges. While in office she focused her energies on: services for women and children, access to health care and education, the environment, prison reform, civil rights for minorities, the lesbian/gay/bisexual/ transgendered community, hate crimes, and crisis intervention for youth. She was always in the minority and constantly battled claims by her opposition that her proposals were “socialist.” For many years she tried to create a joint House-Senate Committee on Children and Families.
In the years after her terms in the legislature, she remained active on the political scene and in organizations working to change the world. She traveled to China and the Soviet Union to meet with peace groups and is a member of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which works to achieve world disarmament, equal rights, racial and economic justice, and an end to all forms of violence.
In the 100-year history of the Nobel Peace Prize, only six women as individuals (not jointly) had received the award. In 2005, as a way of highlighting this inequity, 1,000 female leaders from throughout the world were jointly nominated. Dorothy Rupert was among the 42 nominees from the United States. [The 2005 Nobel Peace Prize went jointly to the International Atomic Energy Agency and its (male) Director General.] I have no doubt that Dorothy cheered loudly when, in 2014, 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize, even if it was jointly with a male activist for children’s rights.
Dick Rupert suffered a stroke in 2001 and then developed Alzheimer’s Disease. Colorado does not cover nursing home care for veterans, so Dorothy was forced to move him to a nursing home in Louisiana near their son. “Ironic,” she told ConsciousWoman.org, “that my legislative health care agenda, identified by the majority as ‘Socialist’ and always defeated, included reforms to address exorbitant costs.”
Dick died in 2009, but Dorothy, 90 years young this year, continues her work. She currently teaches in the INVST Community Leadership Program at Colorado University, which focuses on leadershp training for young people who are passionate about social and environmental justice. One week ago, on Feb. 17, 2016, Colorado State Senator Pat Steadman tweeted “My friend former Sen. Dorothy Rupert was in the Senate this morning with the class she’s teaching.”
You go, girl!