Libby Anderson Cater Halaby was the first woman student body president of the University of Alabama, the first woman to be asked to run for Congress from Alabama, Assistant Executive Director of President Carter’s Commission on Women, First Lady confidante, and has worked for some of the world's foremost thought leaders. But what she's best known for is advocating for a place for women at the leadership tables of the world.
I graduated from the University of Alabama in 1946 with a degree in commerce and business administration—and an excellent academic record. Expecting the Dean of the Commerce School to give me words of encouragement, he instead essentially told me that I would make a great assistant to male leaders.
I thought he was going to tell me, “Go for it. You can go as far as you want to go.” Instead he told me, “Know your place—as assistant to the guy at the helm.” He added, “In reality, you will be the one running the place.”
What a double standard! Of course I followed his advice, but I knew it wasn’t fair. From that moment on I decided to try to forge a different path for women.
After serving in the Public Relations Department of U.S. Steel’s Birmingham office, I was tapped by newly elected Congressman Laurie Battle to join his Washington office staff, where I worked my way up to be his top political assistant. After serving several successful terms, he decided to run for the U.S. Senate. The Democratic Party elders then asked me to run for his vacated House seat, my wildest dream. But eight months pregnant with my first child, I felt it wasn’t an option. Nonetheless, I continued to work as I raised my four children. We could not afford for me not to work, but I like to think I provided a role model for my children. I was Special Assistant to Ladybird Johnson, Assistant to the President of the National Endowment for the Arts, and Assistant Executive Director for President Carter’s Commission on Women, among other positions.
I have always worked to expand the role of women in leadership. I founded a seminar at the Aspen Institute, an international think tank, because there were so few women represented at the discussion tables. It was called "The Changing Role of Women," and I enlisted extraordinary men and women from around the world to participate, like (Texas) Governor Ann Richards and the filmmaker James Brooks. We published a book based on the discussions.
Recently, I returned to my alma mater, the University of Alabama, to talk about women in the workforce and in leadership. In honor of my role as the first woman student body president, the University founded The Anderson Society, a leadership honorary society that recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the University.
My husband, the educator and Presidential Advisor S. Douglass Cater Jr., served as President of Washington College, and our collaboration with TIAA has brought untold peace of mind and satisfaction to my now very long life.
At this point in my life, I try to live in the moment, looking with awe at the world around me. I have a very large family, though my husband left us over two decades ago. I live each day surrounded by people I love, trying my best to be a blessing in their lives. I am blessed.