Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Beverly Barton Butcher Byron
MSA SC 3520-1981

Extended Biography:

Beverly Barton Butcher Byron is a former member of the United States House of Representatives whose commitment to her community, her state, and her nation are clearly demonstrated through the immensely important work she has done both in and out of Congress. Of her atypical ascent to Congress, Byron has said, ''I did not come out of a legislative body. But that doesn't mean that because I came out of my kitchen, I can't be an effective member of Congress.''1 True to her words, it has been her authenticity, conscientiousness, and rationality that allowed Byron to be a key voice of bipartisanship in the House for 14 years. Her focus on the well-being of military personnel and families, as well as her passion for national parks can be exhibited throughout a career that has continued outside of Congress, and which acts as an inspiration to all women today.

Beverly Barton Butcher was born in 1932 in Baltimore, Maryland to Harry and Ruth Butcher. As a girl, she was raised in Washington, D.C., where her father, a former captain in the Navy, was Vice President of CBS, and later became an aide-de-camp for General Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II.2 3 4 Byron graduated from the National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C. in 1950. Two years later, she married Goodloe Edgar Byron, son of the politically active Byron family of Western Maryland. In the early 1960s, Mrs. Byron discovered her passion for politics while attending Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. She served as treasurer for the Maryland Young Democrats in 1962 and again in 1965 while her husband was climbing the local political ranks. From 1963 to 1967, Goodloe Byron served in the Maryland State House of Delegates, and was later elected to the State Senate where he served from 1967 to 1971. In 1971, Mr. Byron began representing the 6th congressional district of Maryland in the United States House of Representatives where he would stay for four terms. Mrs. Byron was incredibly active during her husband’s rise in the political arena. She left her job as a high school teacher to help run his campaign for the House of Representatives and diligently kept up with political issues, so that she could represent her husband and help collaborate on his political agenda. Upon his election to the House, Byron worked as her husband’s unpaid aide, and was even known to step into local debates for him when he was unavailable.5 6

While in the last stages of the campaign for his fifth term, tragedy struck one month before the general election of 1979, when Representative Byron died of a heart attack while training for a marathon. Beverly Byron had little time to think about future plans for herself or her family, because the following afternoon Maryland’s Democratic leaders called on her to take over her husband’s bid for the House. She barely had 24 hours to decide as the Democratic State Central Committee would convene the next night to decide on a nominee.7 She recalled this swift period saying, "In 24 hours, I became a widow, a single parent, unemployed and a candidate for Congress… I knew I needed to work. It was the only job offered to me."8 A bitter irony also pervaded this situation as many remembered how Goodloe Byron’s own mother, Katharine Edgar Byron, also had to take over her husband, William Devereux Byron’s, congressional seat for Maryland’s 6th district after he unexpectedly died while in office. In the end, Byron entrusted her decision with her childrenm, who hastily told the Democratic leaders that their mother would run. “It was the best decision they ever made," recalled Byron, who went on to win her seat in the House with 90% of the vote.9 10

When it came time to join the House, Byron was single mother of three. She quickly learned to balance her work in Congress, public exposure, the commute between her home in Frederick and Washington, D.C., and time with her family. Not only was Byron contending with this abrupt shift in her life, but she also had to contend with a political sphere that was not yet fully open to women. In her first Congress, Byron was one of only sixteen other women in the House. Byron and other notable women in the House like Geraldine Ferraro, Shirley Chisholm, and Barbara Mikulski were trailblazers for other women in politics today. They would all help break down barriers and set the tone of professionalism within Congress that has impacted the women legislators who followed in their bold footsteps; however, Byron was not quick to concern herself with the gender problems in the House. Not having felt that she dealt with gender inequity in her life, she said that, “It’s hard for me to understand people who have had doors closed on them.”11 Despite this, Beverly Byron ended up voting for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). If it had passed, the ERA would ensure the equality of rights under the law regardless of sex. Byron was actually undecided on the bill up until the day of voting, when she was swayed by what the ERA would ultimately mean for her daughter.12

This thoughtful reservedness in regard to the passage of the ERA demonstrated Byron’s more moderate political stance; though it would often vex her fellow Democrats, her measured political standpoint allowed her to more readily collaborate across the aisle. As a conservative Democrat she also represented her right-of-center 6th district very well. Her moderate stance allowed her to easily win her six consecutive re-elections with well over a majority of the vote. 13 14

For the entirety of her 14 year career, Byron would take up her husband’s committee work and serve on both the Armed Services and Select Committee on Aging. In the 97th Congress, she also added the Interior and Insular Affairs committee, where she served on the National Parks and Public Lands and the Water Power Offshore Resources subcommittees. Later she was also appointed by the Speaker of the House to serve on the Leadership Task Force on AIDS and the Task Force on Health in 1988 and 1989 respectively.15

It was in her Armed Services committee work that Byron made one of the most groundbreaking accomplishments in her career, when she was the first woman elected to chair a subcommittee of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee (HASC). In 1987, Byron beat out her senior representative, Patty Schroeder, for the chairmanship of the Military Personnel and Compensation Subcommittee (MilPers) by appealing to both Democrats and Republicans.16 In MilPers, Byron had oversight of 46% of the Defense Department’s budget and became a leading liaison between Congress and the military.17 Byron was also able to work for the rights of those in the armed services, a duty she remains committed to today. When she was awarded Democratic Woman of the Year in 1995, the colleague introducing her noted her unwavering commitment to the military: “Simply put, no one did more for the individual soldier or sailor over the last two decades than Beverly Byron.”18Byron also had a strong diplomatic hand in dismantling the Warsaw Pact, a treaty made between communist nations during the Cold War.19 The 1991 dissolve of the Warsaw Pact was monumental, as it would also spell out an end to the Cold War.

While working with HASC and eventually chairing MilPers, Byron became a champion for women’s equality in the military. Several military actions occurred while she was in office, including the Cold War, Grenada, Panama, and the Gulf War. Though she was initially against combat positions being opened to women, Byron switched her stance in 1991.20 In all of the military engagements that Byron observed, she would also increasingly see women in combat situations, despite the fact that they did not possess the ability to rise in rank. Eventually she would co-sponsor her former political rival Patty Schroeder’s successful amendments to admit women into combat positions. She rallied for an end to military limitations that are put upon women in the armed forces citing that, “It is only natural that women who have chosen a military career want to rise in rank like their male counterparts. Unfortunately, numerous assignments in the services are off limits to women because of existing laws and regulations governing combat exclusion. We are, therefore, losing those women with the experience, talent, and the know-how to make a difference.”21 Not only did Byron work for the rights of women soldiers, but also for the families of soldiers. She sponsored legislation for things like better childcare resources at military sites worldwide and health care reform for soldiers and veterans.

Byron proved herself to be a critical leader in handling national crises as well. As the chair of the Military Personnel subcommittee, Byron’s leadership was crucial during the Tailhook Scandal, a series of incidents that surfaced in 1991 where over 100 Navy and Marine Corps male officers were alleged to have sexually assaulted at least 83 women and 7 men. Byron fielded the press frenzy for much of this controversy and co-authored the Department of Defense report on the incident with the chair of the Armed Services committee, Les Aspin.22 Deftly maneuvering this charged situation, Byron pressured the military to eradicate sexual violence, and took a no tolerance stance toward the situation.23

Her leadership during this controversial situation led to a strong consideration for her appointment as Secretary of the Navy, and her 1995 installation by President Bill Clinton onto the U.S. Naval Academy Board of Visitors, a group of high-level advisors hand picked by the President, Vice President and Congress. that inquires into the state of the Academy. Contributing to her appointment onto the Board of Visitors, Byron was known for her hands-on approach when it came to military inspections. She would often travel directly to military sites for firsthand examinations. In 1985, Byron became the first woman to fly in the premier spy plane, the SR-71, which was dubbed the “Blackbird,” a vessel that had the capability to fly at 3 times the speed of sound.24

In interviews about her time in Congress, Byron also proudly looks back on her contribution to the national parks that she made while a member of the National Parks and Public Lands subcommittee. She helped draft bills such as the Rails to Trails Act of 1983, which strengthened the Rails to Trails initiative, a project that converted unused railways to recreational trails and parks. Through this same Act, Byron also designated the Potomac Heritage Trail (PHT) as a National Scenic Trail corridor, a title which recognizes the PHT as a site of both natural beauty and national pride. The PHT is an 830 mile network of trails that connects historic sites in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia. Byron also sponsored the legislation that designated the American Discovery Trail (ADT). The ADT was an incredible innovation in trails and national parks as it connected the west and east coasts of the continental U.S. through more than 6,800 miles of continuous trails that passed through cities, towns, forests, mountains, forests and deserts.25

Byron lost in the Democratic primary in her bid for re-election to the 103rd Congress in 1992; however, she continued to persevere in both the public and private sectors. President George H.W. Bush appointed her to serve on the 1993 Defense Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) Commission, which recommended changes and closures for military bases to Congress. She remained on the Board of Visitors for the Naval Academy, served on the Secretary of Defense’s Advisory Committee on Women in Service, helped to build the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, VA. In the private sector, she has also worked on several corporate boards, including that of Maryland’s Technical Development Corporation (TEDCO). 26 With TEDCO, Byron strengthened Maryland’s research industry by ensuring a market for the goods they produce, and thereby nurturing Maryland’s corporate, job, and economic bases.

She has also gone on to receive many awards and honors. In 1993, she was awarded the President's Medal by Johns Hopkins University and received honorary degrees from Boston University, Mount Saint Mary's College and Frostburg State University.27 While presenting Byron with the President’s Medal, the president of Johns Hopkins, William Richardson, remarked: “Congresswoman, humanitarian and esteemed leader… Since being elected to the House of Representatives in 1978 [sic], you have worked tirelessly for the good of the community.”28

Byron also continues to educate young minds on history, politics, and the nation. Byron has many speaking engagements with groups like Congress to Campus and Civics Connection, both of which engage current and former Congress members as teachers of the next generation of citizens.29 30 31 She has also been active with the American Association of University Women’s (AAUW) Elect Her initiative, which advocates for women’s political leadership through workshops, networking, and mentoring. She joins the AAUW chapter in her hometown of Frederick for meetings that aim to inspire young women to go into politics.32

Beverly Byron has committed her life to the well-being of not just her beloved 6th district of Maryland, but to our entire nation. Throughout her life, Byron has shown a stalwart loyalty to the betterment of the U.S. armed forces, a commitment to our national parks, and a persistent dedication to inspire young people, and especially young women, to get involved in ensuring the strength and beauty of our nation. Byron’s constant work to better our country and communities, especially as a woman who has set so many standards in our Congress, encapsulates the spirit of the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.


Endnotes:

  1. “31 women, 31 voices on Capitol Hill,” USA Today, 1 April 1992. Return to text.

  2. Tom Bowman and Karen Hosler, “White House considers Byron as Navy secretary: [FINAL edition],” The Sun, 1 July 1992, ProQuest (ISSN: 19308965) Return to text.

  3. Beverly Byron’s Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Packet. Return to text.

  4. Robert Rudy, “Life Goes On For The Once-powerful,” The Sun, 7 February 1993, http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1993-02-07/news/1993038129_1_byron-member-of-congress-washington. Return to text.

  5. “BYRON, Beverly Barton Butcher,” United States House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives, accessed 3 June 2015, http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/10348. Return to text.

  6. Matthew Andrew Wasniewski, “Beverly Butcher Byron,” Women in Congress, 1917 - 2006 (D.C.: Joint Committee on Printing: 2007), https://books.google.com/books?id=Wz9OB2xLGecC&pg=PA583&dq=beverly+butcher+byron&hl=en&sa=X&ei=_kdvVcT_GvfLsAS26oHgAg&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=beverly%20butcher%20byron&f=false. Return to text.

  7. Lois Romano, “Women In the Line Of Succession,” The Washington Post, 13 October 1983. Return to text.

  8. Jodi Wilgoren, “Widows of Bono, Capps Are on Well-Worn Path to Office,” L.A. Times, 26 January 1998, http://www.latimes.com/la-na-widows-26jan26-story.html#page=1. Return to text.

  9. Ibid. Return to text.

  10. Romano, “Women In the Line Of Succession.” Return to text.

  11. Nomination packet. Return to text.

  12. Wasniewski, “Beverly Butcher Byron.” Return to text.

  13. “BYRON, Beverly Barton Butcher.” Return to text.

  14. “Election Information: Election Statistics,” U.S. House of Representatives: Office of the Clerk, accessed 3 June 2015, http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/electionInfo/index.aspx. Return to text.

  15. Nomination packet. Return to text.

  16. Wasniewski, “Beverly Butcher Byron.” Return to text.

  17. “Advisors,” Someone With Group, accessed 3 June 2015, http://www.someonewithgroup.com/our-advisors.html. Return to text.

  18. Brent Ayer, speech honoring Beverly Byron as Democratic Woman of the Year, 30 April 1995, in Women of Achievement in Maryland History by Carolyn Stegman (University Park: Women of Achievement, 2002). Return to text.

  19. Wasniewski, “Beverly Butcher Byron.” Return to text.

  20. Tom Bowman, “Byron’s stance on women in combat has softened,” The Sun, 13 May 1991, http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1991-05-13/news/1991133079_1_combat-byron-senate-armed-services. Return to text.

  21. Nomination packet. Return to text.

  22. “Byron for the Navy: [FINAL Edition],” The Sun, 8 January 1993, ProQuest (ISSN: 19308965). Return to text.

  23. Beverly Byron, “Women in the Military,” C-SPAN interview, 15 September 1992, http://www.c-span.org/video/?32426-1/women-military. Return to text.

  24. Wasniewski, “Beverly Butcher Byron.” Return to text.

  25. Nomination packet. Return to text.

  26. Matthew Hay Brown, “For former members, life after Congress,” The Sun, 3 January 2013. Return to text.

  27. Nomination packet. Return to text.

  28. “Johns Hopkins awards Byron its President’s Medal,” The Sun, 23 December 1992, http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1992-12-23/news/1992358206_1_byron-president-medal-johns-hopkins-university. Return to text.

  29. “Civics Connection,” The United States Association of Former Members of Congress, accessed 4 June 2015, http://usafmc.org/us-programs/civics-connection/. Return to text.

  30. ASU News, “Congress to Campus program brings former Congressional members Beverly Byron and Dan Miller to Appalachian,” University News, Appalachian State University, 19 September 2014, http://www.news.appstate.edu/2014/09/19/congress-to-campus/. Return to text.

  31. Beverly Byron and Sue Kelly, moderated by Ronald Shaiko, “Congress to Campus: What Is Wrong (and Right) with Congress?,” YouTube video, 1:19:38, posted by “Dartmouth,” 2 March 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cffgtmdE85c. Return to text.
  32. “Third annual ‘Elect Her’ event scheduled in March,” The Frederick News-Post, 27 February 2014. Return to text.

Biography written by 2015 summer intern Amelia Meman.

Return to Beverly B. Byron's Introductory Page


 
 
 


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