WASHINGTON (CBS4) – Frederica Wilson, one of South Florida’s most recognizable public servants, has a problem as she prepares to take her seat in Congress, her hats.
“There are no hats allowed on the floor while the House is in session,” Wilson told CBS4 News Tuesday. “I’ll miss my hat. I won’t feel complete without my hat.”
Wilson, a former Miami-Dade school board member, state representative and state senator, is to be sworn in as a member of Congress in January.
It appears she will not be wearing one of her signature hats when the oath is administered, or at any time when the people’s business is being conducted in the House chamber.
Congressional rules dating back to the 19th century ban House members from wearing hats. The rules were promulgated during a time when most gentlemen wore hats and the gentlemanly thing to do was remove them when indoors.
Women commonly wore hats, too, and were not expected to remove them indoors. Women at the time did not have the right to vote, let alone get elected to Congress.
Wilson is almost never without one of her distinctive hats – a variety of Stetsons, pill boxes and others – that can come in basic black or white or a host of bright yellows, greens, blues, reds and purples.
Wilson said she learned of the House ban on hats while at an orientation session for new members of Congress.
“I think it’s sexist,” she told CBS4 News Tuesday. “It’s a rule that was written for men a long time ago.”
Wilson said several members of her freshman congressional class have urged her to challenge the hat ban, but said she doesn’t want to allow that to be a distraction to her primary responsibility.
“I’m going to Congress to serve the people and create jobs. That is my first priority,” Wilson said in an interview with CBS4’s Gary Nelson.
“I don’t want to go to Congress with my first order of business being my hat,” Wilson said, smiling. “If I’m not allowed to wear a hat, I just won’t wear a hat.”
Wilson did leave open the possibility of asking incoming House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, to waive the no hat rule for female members.
“I really don’t know him, but I look forward to speaking with him,” she said. Wilson, a Democrat, said she “is able to work with Republicans,” and thinks that Boehner might be persuaded to cross party and fashion lines on the issue.
An analysis by CBS4’s news partner, the Miami Herald suggested, however, that Boehner might not have the authority to change the rule. The Herald’s research concluded that a revision might require a vote of the full house.
Wilson noted an apparent bit of Capitol Hill discrimination as hat rules go: “In the Senate,” she said, “There is no ban on members wearing hats.”
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