Margaret “Midge” Costanza was the first woman appointed as Assistant to the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter (1977-1979). There she promoted civil and human rights, curbing world hunger, supporting minority rights as well as the arts and humanities. Midge has a long list of lifetime work in the community and the nation. She passed away in March of 2010.
Midge was born on November 28, 1932 in LeRoy, New York and grew up in Rochester. Her parents had emigrated from Sicily and owned a sausage-making business. Upon finishing high school, Midge worked as an administrative assistant to a Rochester real estate developer. It was through this job that she became involved in her community.
Midge began her career in politics in New York, as a volunteer in William A. Harriman’s successful campaign for governor in 1954. In 1964, she became the county executive director for Robert F. Kennedy’s Senatorial campaign. In 1973, she became the first woman elected to the Rochester, New York City Council. Her victory garnered the largest number of votes in city history. During Carter’s presidential Campaign in 1976, she became co-chair of his New York operation. Upon being appointed Assistant to the President, Midge served as a liaison between the President and groups that previously had limited access to government, such as young people, women, seniors, veterans, minorities, and the disabled.
After leaving her work at the White House, Midge continued to be involved in her community and her work in politics. She coordinated Senator Barbara Boxer’s campaign in 1992 and served as special assistant for women’s issues in Governor Gray Davis’s administration. For her service, she has received countless awards and honors including the Susan B. Anthony Award from the San Diego Chapter of the National Organization for Women, and the Woman of the Year award by Times Newspaper of San Diego.
Former President Carter remembered Midge’s dedication and passion for human rights:
“Midge was my ‘Window on America,’ representing the needs and interests of a wide range of groups, including labor, business, ethnic and racial minorities, women, the LGBT community, youth, and the elderly. She was passionate about equality and believed deeply in the democratic system. She demanded that we all fight harder for justice and inclusion.”