It’s been nearly a month since America lost Elijah Cummings, the U.S. House Representative from Baltimore, Maryland. All his life, Cummings was known for his attention to civil rights advocacy and his prioritization of the needs of marginalized groups. But not many people know that he was also a proud feminist, and he did years of work championing women’s rights.
Cummings, known for “giving hope to the hopeless,” was a great leader in Congress from his election in 1997 up until his passing in October. The Baltimore Democrat worked tirelessly to uplift the people in his community he was chosen to represent. He was keen on demonstrating social justice and ensuring the livelihood of the less fortunate. This meant presenting to Congress issues surrounding discrimination, policing, and poverty reform in urban cities.
In 2002, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) gave Cummings a score of 87 percent on his tendency to vote pro-civil rights. Many of his beliefs aligned with the ACLU’s values, which are to “extend rights to segments of our population that have traditionally been denied their rights, including Native Americans and other people of color; lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people; women; mental-health patients; prisoners; people with disabilities; and the poor.”
During his time in Congress, Cummings used his power to protect the basic rights of women. In 2013, Cummings voted yes to reauthorize the 1994 Violence Against Women Act –– an amendment reauthorization which extended the age at which assaulted women were considered “youth” and provided additional factors that affect a woman’s ability to access victim services.
Cummings actively disuputed gendered wage discrimination. Shortly before his death, he sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act, a labor law which adds protections to the 1963 Equal Pay Act and increases information on wage data so women are more able to enforce their right to equal pay.
He often sought to raise awareness of women’s health issues, particularly the inaccessibility to healthcare surrounding women’s sexual and reproductive rights. In Maryland and across the country, Cummings lifted the voices of women impacted by political attacks on In 2016, the Planned Parenthood of Maryland awarded Cummings the Betty Tyler award, the organization’s highest honor for “demonstrating outstanding leadership in protecting and advancing reproductive rights in Maryland.”
Whether directly or indirectly, Rep. Cummings has impacted and helped the lives of women across the country. In fact, he was such a feminist, he issued the creation of a Rosa Parks postage stamp and called for a redesign of the twenty-dollar bill to feature Harriet Tubman’s face!