From Wellesley to the Massachusetts State House: What Three Alumnae Have Learned about Leadership

November 7, 2017
Members of the MA State Legislature: Carolyn Dykema ’89, Harriette Chandler ’59, and Diana DiZoglio ’11
Credit:
Massachusetts State House Photo Department

Wellesley teaches students to be leaders in any field. For three alumnae—Harriette “Harlee” Chandler ’59, Carolyn Dykema ’89, and Diana DiZoglio ’11—that training and a desire to strengthen their local communities eventually led them to run for seats in the Massachusetts State Legislature. They recently talked to Daily Shot writers about why women are needed in public service and what they have learned about leadership and perseverance.

 

Massachusetts State Sen. Harriette “Harlee” Chandler ’59 (D) was the first woman from Worcester to be elected to the Senate; she’s also the second woman in Massachusetts history to serve as assistant majority leader and the second woman to serve as majority leader, a title she currently holds. Prior to becoming a state senator in the 2001, she served five years in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

In 1995 Chandler spearheaded a bill to ensure a hospital stay of up to 48 hours for women who gave birth vaginally and 96 hours for a cesarean delivery. “We passed that bill in my first year. It has since become a model for other states, and Congress passed it as a federal law, which is important because federal law trumps state law,” she said. “You can get so much done, as long as you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Chandler believes women make effective leaders in part because they are adept at juggling many things at once. “Women are also used to listening to others, carefully and thoughtfully, and we’re more attuned and sensitive to other people’s feelings and responses. We are also quite good at bringing people together,” said Chandler, who has three grown children.

Chandler, a political science major at Wellesley, did not imagine herself entering public service when she was in her 20s. “My generation was on the cusp between women who were full-time wives and mothers and those who decided in the 1960s that they could do other things as well,” she said. “At that point, the most common jobs for women were secretary, nurse, or teacher.”

Yet like other members of her class, including Madeleine Korbel Albright ’59, Chandler was determined to make a difference. She taught American history at a high school in Worcester, and in 1973, she earned a PhD in international relations and government at Clark University. Ten years later, she earned an MBA from Simmons College, where she began to “learn the unwritten rules [about the business world] that most women don’t even realize are in effect, but can make a huge difference in what you can accomplish.” That background, along with serving on the Worcester School Committee from 1991 to 1994, prepared her to run for other public offices.

“It’s essential to have women ‘at the table’ and for younger women to see strong role models,” she said. “Hillary [Rodham Clinton ’69] running for president was a major thing in women’s lives. We have to see women at every level of leadership.”

 

Massachusetts State Rep. Carolyn Dykema ’89 (D) believes young women should consider running for office. “Government is where we can make a difference in climate change, health care, and so many issues that have a direct impact on families,” she said. “Women are needed in this arena because we bring a collaborative message.”

Dykema didn’t plan to enter politics when she was a student at Wellesley. She majored in French, partly because she wanted to spend her junior year in Aix-en-Provence, France. (She had studied Spanish in high school.) That time abroad was transformative, she noted, because she developed an interest in painting and using a variety of media to communicate ideas to an audience. During her senior year, she interned at a local advertising firm and won a national award from Advertising Age magazine for an ad she created that urged teenagers not to drop out of school. 

After graduation, she worked in advertising for a year, then held various positions at Fidelity Investments, where she had “great access to the marketing folks,” and also met her husband, with whom she has three children. She later earned an MBA.

Her interest in public service began in 1999 when she learned that her town planned to install a septic system that could contaminate the local water supply. She volunteered to serve on a town panel that would focus on that issue; then she served on the planning board for five years, after which several residents asked her to run for state representative. She has served in that role since she was first elected in November 2008.

As a representative, Dykema has worked on legislation to protect clean water resources in Massachusetts and to support veterans who return from service with PTSD. “As a legislator, I can help people who have exhausted all options to become happier and more secure. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning,” she said.

Every day, Dykema draws on lessons she learned at the College. “Wellesley teaches you to see things from other people’s perspectives and to try to understand where they are coming from,” she said. “It also teaches you the importance of collaboration, respect, and civility. Compromise is not a dirty word.”

 

Massachusetts State Rep. Diana DiZoglio DS ’11 (D) majored in psychology and Spanish as a Davis Scholar at Wellesley. “I always wanted to help address the issues people in my community care about,” said DiZoglio, a native of Methuen, Mass. I thought I would do that by working for a nonprofit or a youth center.”

Her first job after Wellesley, however, was as a legislative aide in the Massachusetts State House, where she saw firsthand the profound role government can play in the lives of residents. “I fell in love with the service aspect of public service, which deals with everything from health care issues, to potholes on the street that need to get fixed, to helping residents get access to social services or unemployment assistance,” said DiZoglio, who was raised by a single mother. “When I was growing up, there was no youth center in Methuen, so one of my focal points has always been helping children who are falling through the cracks receive the outreach and assistance they need.”

After eight months as a legislative aide and four months as chief of staff for the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts, DiZoglio decided she wanted a more hands-on role in her community. She decided, at age 27, to run for the state representative seat in her district against a 14-year incumbent.

That meant months of knocking on people’s doors and campaigning at community events. “When I first started out, many people didn’t expect me to succeed,” said DiZoglio. One man told her, “It’s cute that you actually think you are going to win,” and an older woman teased, “Don’t you have to be 18 to run?”

DiZoglio persevered. “Wellesley gave me the confidence to beat back the critics during tough times,” she said. “It also taught me that sometimes you must go big or go home, and you have to be able to identify those seasons when you must bear down, overcome distractions, and be strong enough not to cave under pressure.”

She won the primary and, a few months later, the general election. She was sworn in in January 2013 and has been reelected twice since then.

DiZoglio is proud that she has served on the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery and worked with other legislators to craft (and pass) a comprehensive bill that addresses the opioid epidemic through preventive measures, education, and treatment. “There’s so much skepticism and distrust of public servants, but if you keep your eyes set on little victories, that will move you toward the larger victories,” she said. “That’s something I learned at Wellesley.” 

 

Pictured: (from left) State Rep. Carolyn Dykema ’89, State Sen. Harriette Chandler ’59, and State Rep. Diana DiZoglio ’11.

If you are or know of an alumna who holds public office, tell us on social media.