Inducted into the Cleveland International Hall of Fame in a ceremony on May 9, 2012, Mary Rose Oakar came to be known as a changemaker in the Ohio political landscape for women and middle-eastern everywhere. This changemaker, who has been honored more than once, was born in a modest household in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 5, 1940, to parents of Lebanese and Syrian ancestry. She was the youngest of five children, father was a laborer, and her mother a homemaker.
An American Democratic politician and former member of the United States House of Representatives from Ohio, Mary Rose Oakar is the first Democratic woman elected to the United States Congress from that state. She was also the first woman of “Arab-American” ancestry to serve in Congress.
Working her way through school as a telephone operator, Mary Rose Oakar graduated with a B.A. from Ursuline College in 1962 and an M.A. from John Carroll University in 1966. She taught at Lourdes Academy, a Catholic high school for women, taught at Cuyahoga Community College from 1968 to 1975, and served on the Cleveland City Council from 1973 to 1976.
Oakar then went on winning the election to the House from Ohio’s 20th congressional district in Cleveland’s West Side and the surrounding suburbs.
In 1977, she took office, succeeding James V. Stanton, and served as President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) until 2010. The ADC is an active organization that describes itself as the largest Arab-American grassroots civil rights’ organization in the United States.
Oakar, one of only a handful of “Arab-American” members of the House, became regarded as an increasingly powerful member of the House. She was a high ranking member of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, and the House Administration Committee.
Her high placement on these committees allowed her to bring home to Cleveland large sums of money for urban renewal. She also forged strong relationships with Jewish groups in Cleveland.
Oakar ran in the 2001 Cleveland Mayoral Primary but did not succeed. She later served a single term in the Ohio House of Representatives from 2000 to 2002. In November 2012, she was elected to a four-year term on the Ohio State Board of Education where she represents District 11, which encompasses Ohio Senate districts 21, 23 and 25.
“During her 16–year tenure, Congresswoman Mary Rose Oakar was dedicated to improving the economic welfare of women. She led the charge in Congress for women’s rights, though she often came into conflict with national women’s groups for her staunch pro-life position. Representative Oakar became an influential figure in the Democratic Party, climbing the leadership ladder by mastering House internal procedures and administration.” History, Arts & Archives – The United States House of Representative.