In addition to her unsubstantiated distinction as Harvard’s first woman of color, it turns out that Elizabeth Warren may have also participated in a landmark event for women’s liberation. I’m of course referring to her status as the first nursing mother to take the New Jersey bar exam.
Unfortunately, Warren’s place in history as a feminist icon is in limbo because, once again, her claims can’t be substantiated. The Boston Herald reports:
“I was the first nursing mother to take a bar exam in the state of New Jersey,” Warren told an audience at the Chicago Humanities Festival in 2011, in a video posted on the CHF website. When asked how Warren knows that, her campaign said: “Elizabeth was making a point about the very serious challenges she faced as a working mom — from taking an all-day bar exam when she was still breast-feeding, to finding work as a lawyer that would accommodate a mom with two small children.”
Winnie Comfort of the New Jersey Judiciary, which administers that state’s bar exam, said there’s no way to verify Warren’s claim. Comfort said women have been taking the New Jersey bar exam since 1895, but she’s not aware their nursing habits were ever tracked.
Politicians are politicians because they self-promote and puff up their accomplishments shamelessly. Al Gore’s infamous claim that he created the Internet is one extreme example, and the same goes for most of the assertions that come out of Joe Biden’s mouth. The problem is when they cross the line into downright lies, like Richard Blumenthal’s false claim that he served in Vietnam. Was Warren’s assertion a lie, an exaggeration, or was she simply mistaken? We don’t know, and the issue is so minor and obscure that it’s probably not even worth investigating.
If the Cherokee controversy didn’t hurt Warren in the polls, it’s possible the nursing mother story won’t have an impact either. In fact, the nursing mother story probably wouldn’t even be an issue if not for the ancestry claims. On its face, Warren’s comments seem to be silly but harmless self-congratulation, and that’s how a lot of voters will probably see it. But it does speak to a pattern of exaggerating and stretching biographical details. It’s not just the substance of Warren’s claims that’s troubling, but the habit.