Susan Saint James

Susan Saint James

Induction Category:
Arts & Humanities

Born: 1946

Inducted: 1994

Town: Litchfield

Award-winning television and film star and Special Olympics activist, Susan Saint James was born in California to a Connecticut family. Her mother and grandmother were both schoolteachers who attended Connecticut state universities. She was brought up with the expectation that women should lead active lives that combined career and family, yet as she explains, she was educated to write wonderful letters and to set a perfect table, to be a nun or a wife. Raised in Rockford, Ill., Saint James attended Connecticut College for Women before moving to California to pursue an acting career. She soon landed a contract with Universal Studios and starred in the successful series The Name of the Game. She went on to have a recurring role in It Takes a Thief and McMillan and Wife, opposite Rock Hudson.

Service, however, was always an important part of her life. While working on McMillan and Wife in California, Saint James was asked to help with the Special Olympics. Although she had no personal connection to the Special Olympics, she immediately felt a strong bond to the organization that would develop into service on the Board of Directors for the International Special Olympics.

Saint James returned to Connecticut in 1983 to star as Kate in the successful comedy series, Kate & Allie. Though she had a full-time job and a new baby, she sought out volunteer work to help her make new friends and to be of service. This was the beginning of her membership on the Board of the Connecticut Special Olympics. Four children later, she retired from television and decided to devote herself full-time to family and volunteer work.

Susan Saint James has received many awards as both an actress and a volunteer. She has been nominated for 10 Emmys, winning as best supporting actress in 1968 for her role as Peggy Maxwell in The Name of the Game. More than a dozen major organizations have recognized her commitment to the Special Olympics and her leadership role as a spokesperson for volunteerism. These honors include the Saint Coletta Award from the Caritas Society, The Gold Key Award from the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance and the Walter Camp Football Foundation Award, of which she was the first female recipient. Saint James holds honorary doctorates from five Connecticut institutions: The University of Connecticut, the University of Bridgeport, Southern Connecticut State University, Albertus Magnus College, and the University of New Haven.

During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice

Feminism in the late 1960s was aided by President Kennedy, who formed the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, and his successor, President Johnson, who backed passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Difficulties in implementing the law through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) led a group of women in 1966 to create the National Organization for Women (NOW), demanding “action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now.”

A younger group called for a more radical approach to social change than simply considering what was possible to achieve politically. “Women’s liberation” demanded freedom without limitation. Some took part in consciousness-raising groups, others demonstrated against the Miss America pageant, and many discussed their expectations of mutual enjoyment of sex. They established rape crisis centers, domestic shelters, and women’s studies programs. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act also increased pressure on universities to hire more women faculty and expand the number of female college athletes. Activist protest among gays and lesbians, such as the Stonewall Riot, symbolized this group’s potential to resist oppression.

Under pressure, many states repealed legislation prohibiting abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized its availability to women in Roe v. Wade. Also in 1973, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the ERA, and states began its ratification.

Yet, dissension arose in the ranks of the movement, as it had earlier after passage of the 19th amendment. Feminists disagreed as to whether pornography should be banned or protected as a form of free speech, and whether lesbian identities should be kept secret or disclosed. Black women were more concerned with poverty and welfare in their communities than with personal career advancement; for them, sterilization abuse was more important than abortion, and they were deeply insulted by attacks on the African American family as matriarchal and dysfunctional.

A backlash was growing in the 1970s, along with a New Right in politics. The ERA was defeated and opposition to abortion increased. Conflicts between pro-life and pro-choice candidates have impacted every presidential campaign since then.

Still, gains have been made in many areas. From 1960 to 2000, increasing numbers of women sought entry to higher education, and bachelor’s degrees awarded to them increased from forty to sixty percent.  Definitions of marriage have changed, as when courts gave full rights and responsibilities and the name of marriage to same-sex civil unions in Connecticut in 2008. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 highlighted concern about sexual harassment on the job, and the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the EEOC have increased, as have judgments in favor of the women. Finally, in 2009, women crossed the fifty percent threshold and became the majority of the American workforce. Once largely confined to repetitive manual jobs, now they are running organizations that once treated them as second-class citizens.

The Women’s Movement has changed women’s lives, influenced the economy, and made debate about their roles, family life, and sexual conventions central to national politics and American history.

Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.