Woman speaker shatters stereotype

Speaker Catherine Hanaway resides in Warson Woods.

Speaker Catherine Hanaway resides in Warson Woods.

Virginia Fairchild

Being the first woman to ever hold the most powerful position in the Missouri House of Representatives is just icing on a “gigantic” cake for Catherine Hanaway.

Hanaway embarked on her fourth year at the Capitol in January 2003, and this year she has another title to tag on to her name, speaker of the House.

“It feels like an awesome responsibility and not because I am the first woman speaker, but because I’m speaker,” Hanaway (R-Warson Woods) said.

“Regardless of gender, it’s an awesome responsibility to be speaker of a state with more than five million people in it and a budget of about $19 billion.”

Others at the Capitol agree the job is tough, but believe Hanaway can handle it.

“She’s working for interests of the state just like I am,” said Rep. Neal St. Onge (R-Ballwin). “I don’t see any problems with her being female or male. She’s going to try to do the best job she can as speaker.”

Although Hanaway has opened a door that his been shut forever in Missouri history, she doesn’t like to think about it. She said if she does, it would “paralyze” her.

“You just have to do the job,” Hanaway said. “What’s opened more doors for women, more than anything else, is just to go and do a good job.”

“It’s pretty neat that a woman is in power,” said Diesha Rogers, freshman elementary education major. “It’s pretty inspiring.”

Besides all the responsibilities she holds at the Capitol, Hanaway has a life back home, one that includes a husband and a 4-year-old daughter. Balancing it all, Hanaway said, isn’t achieved with any “magic formula.”

“You just keep moving your feet,” she said. “You have to be flexible. Your life doesn’t look like anyone else’s life, and you learn to make fun where you can find it.”

It also doesn’t hurt to have somebody there for support.

Hanaway said, besides her husband maintaining a demanding career, he’s also a single parent four days a week.

“He thinks it’s important,” she said. “If he didn’t, there’s no way he’d make the sacrifices that he makes for me to be able to be down here.”

Hanaway was born in Nebraska and raised there and in Iowa. In the 11th grade, Hanaway said she “caught the bug” when she was given a choice to pick from writing a paper on politics or working on a campaign. She chose the campaign, and her feet hit the ground running.

Hanaway went on to attend the University of Missouri for a few years, ultimately attaining her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1987 from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.

Journalism was inspired by her father, who she said wanted her to get a degree she could find work with. But, in the end, Hanaway said it was “superb training for law school.” She graduated in the top 10 percent of her class in 1990 from Catholic University of America with a J.D. degree. A job offer from a firm in St. Louis brought Hanaway to the Show-Me State. She said she worked on political campaigns on a volunteer basis, but after becoming involved in a campaign for U.S. Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) in 1993, she has not looked back.

“I’d like to say I’m a recovering lawyer,” Hanaway said.

In regard to her goals for higher education, she said she plans “to make sure that higher education does not bear a disproportionate amount of the cuts.

I think that it already had more than its fair share of cuts.”

Prior to settling into her chair for a photo, she paused and smiled.

She opened her desk drawer and pulled out a tube of lipstick.

“There is one thing that is different about being a woman in this position,” Hanaway said.