The White House

Office of the First Lady

Remarks by the First Lady at Women's Bureau 90th Anniversary Event

Department of Labor, Washington, D.C.

3:23 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you all so much.  (Applause.)  The sit sign.

Well, good afternoon! 

AUDIENCE:  Good afternoon!

MRS. OBAMA:  This is exciting.  It is a pleasure to be with all of you to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Women’s Bureau here at the Department of Labor.  This is very exciting.  A wonderful turnout.

I want to thank our Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.  She is not only an outstanding Secretary and a tremendous asset to this administration, but she has become a personal friend of mine.  She is always there, flying around with me, showing up to stuff that I ask her to.  Yeah, she does, all the time.  (Laughter.)  She is a gift to all of us, and she has been just an amazing supporter of this Bureau.  So let’s give Hilda a round of applause.  (Applause.)

And I also want to thank Representative Lynn Woolsey for her terrific work and for joining us here today.  Let’s give her a round of applause.  (Applause.)

I also have to recognize the current director, Sara, for all that you’re doing for this Bureau and for representing women across this country in such a tremendous way. 

But in addition to Sara, we also have the former Women’s Bureau directors who have taken the time to join us today.  And I want those women to stand if they haven’t already done so.  (Applause.)  Sara, you stand, too.  This is for you, as well.  (Applause.)  We have women going back nearly four decades, and we’re thrilled that you all could be here and grateful for your service.  It was an honor for me to get a moment to say hello to each of you backstage.

Now, as you all know, back when this Bureau was founded, women had yet to earn the right to vote.  There wasn’t a single woman serving in Congress or in the Cabinet.  Women were less than one-fifth of our nation’s workforce, and they often worked in dangerous and deplorable conditions. 

And back then, the establishment of this Bureau actually caused a lot of controversy.  And some people even argued that what you all were trying to do here was somehow “un-American.”

Well, for 90 years, whether fighting for workplace safety or equal pay, child care or family leave, the work of this Bureau has been driven by a simple truth.  It’s a sentiment that was articulated in an early bulletin from the bulletin -- from the Bureau which read, simply –- and this is a quote: “America will be as strong as her women.”  (Applause.)

“America will be as strong as her women” –- something that’s true -- just as true today in 2010 as it was back when this Bureau was founded in 1920. 

Today, women make up the majority of students in our colleges.  Women make up roughly half of our workforce, and mothers are the primary or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families. 

But despite all the progress that we’ve seen since this Bureau was founded, as you all know, there are still certain stubborn inequalities that still persist. 

Women in this country still earn just 77 cents for every dollar men earn.  There are still only 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs that are women. 

And to this day, too many women still face that daily juggling act to manage the needs of their families with the demands of their jobs.  They’re unable to take sick days to care for ailing children or aging parents.  They struggle to find affordable child care.  They feel like they’re burning the candle at both ends –- and in the middle. 

And this reflects a larger problem –- that for too long, policies that help people balance work and family responsibilities have been seen as niceties for women, rather than as the necessity that can benefit all of us, men and women alike.  So we still have our work cut out for us.  We've got a lot to do.

That’s why I am proud that the very first bill that my husband signed into law when he became President of the United States was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- (applause) -- because as he put it then, here in America, “there are no second-class citizens in our workplaces,” and there is no reason why women shouldn’t get equal pay for equal work. 

And I’m proud of what we’re doing to make the federal government more of a model for the kind of change that we’ve talking about, whether it’s expanding tele-work options to providing emergency child care and affordable day care.  There’s a lot that the federal government can do to model what is good and right in the workplace.

My husband has also proposed helping states that want to set up paid leave funds, and we’ve worked to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to more of our military families, which is something that should have happened a long time ago -- (applause) -- because the truth is, ultimately, these issues aren’t just women’s issues.  We all know that when women make less than men for the same work, that doesn’t just hurt women; that hurts families who find themselves with less income and have to work harder just to get by. 

When women don’t have the flexibility they need to fulfill their responsibilities as both employees and breadwinners and mothers and daughters, that doesn’t just hurt women; that hurts their children and their parents, it hurts their spouses and their partners, and it puts a strain on the entire household and ultimately on all of our communities.

Ultimately, as the proclamation my husband signed honoring this Bureau said, and this is a quote, “Equal economic opportunity and wage parity are not simply women’s issues –- they are Americans’ issues.”  And even after 90 years of hard work, we’ve still got a way to go. 

But let’s also never lose sight of how far we’ve come.  Just imagine what the first members of this Bureau would think if they could see us all here today.  Just look at this room, look at this country! 

Imagine the faces on their -- the looks on their faces if they could see a Madam speaker in the House of Representatives and so many brilliant women like Secretary Solis serving in our Cabinet.  That's amazing.  (Applause.)

Imagine what those founding members would think of the prospect of three women serving on our nation’s highest court and how proud they would be to see women -- (applause) -- to see women taking their places at the top of so many fields –- from science and business, to politics and the armed forces.

So much has happened in these 90 years –- so many barriers broken, so many glass ceilings cracked and shattered, so many dreams realized and goals fulfilled. 

And it’s really because of people like all of you and the folks who came before you, those folks who organized and mobilized and stood up and spoke out, determined to give their daughters and granddaughters opportunities they never dreamed of themselves.

And I stand before you today not just as a woman who has walked through so many of those doors that have been opened, but as a mother of two beautiful little women -- and they are becoming little women -- (laughter) -- who, because of their efforts, view the world truly as a place with limitless possibilities, who believe that nothing is beyond their reach, nothing is off-limits, and there’s nothing that girls like them can’t do.  And that is beautiful.
 
So I’m here today to thank you, and to honor this Bureau for all it’s done over these past years, not just for women, but for all of us –- and for this country that we love.  This is truly a cause for celebration.  Everyone should be proud.

Thank you so much.  God bless.  And Hilda and I will come down and say hello.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)

END
3:34 P.M. EDT

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