Department: The Feminist: Marjorie Margolies

After smashing through barriers in politics, TV news and the adopting of kids, after surviving a Congressional defeat and her husband’s humiliating fall from grace, after becoming Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law, Marjorie Margolies has just one thing to say: What’s next?

Ed ran for the Senate in 1980 and state attorney general in 1988, losing both races while bleeding money. Margolies then ran for a House seat herself in 1992, utilizing her brood at every stump opportunity: “Oh, I dragged them everywhere.” A Democrat from a largely Republican district, she became the first Pennsylvania woman ever elected to Congress — another in her string of firsts. That “Year of the Woman” doubled the number of women in Congress to 48.

Marjorie wrote a book, A Woman’s Place, about that freshman class of women, dedicated to, among others, Hillary Rodham Clinton. In addition to cataloging the indignities they and their predecessors were subjected to — security staffers who refused to believe they were members, no women’s bathroom near the House floor, senior Congressmen who addressed them as “Young Lady” — the book lays out the theme of Margolies’s lifework: Government works better the more women are involved.

Women who achieve positions of power tend not to fluster easily. Margolies is like that. “She doesn’t focus her energy on whether the socks match,” says Nancy Chasen. “She’s able to slough off a lot of the stuff that other people obsess over.” Or as Lee Heh puts it, “My mom isn’t great with details.” Life chez Margolies-Mezvinsky wasn’t Ozzie-and-Harriet, but it never could have been, because Marjorie wasn’t Harriet. “When I was in Congress,” she recalls, “we voted on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I would stay over Tuesday and Wednesday nights and come home after we voted on Thursday.” She took the kids when she traveled on Congressional business. They may not always have been tucked in at night, but they got to see the world. “They knew,” she says, “they were going to have a different kind of experience.”

Pioneers pay a price. Margolies did, though it didn’t come due until after Ed’s fall. That’s when people said out loud what they’d been whispering: What kind of mother keeps on adopting more and more children, then goes off to work and leaves them for housekeepers to raise? And there’s this: While her household may have been a mess, Margolies was — and is — meticulous about cultivating contacts. She’s a networker nonpareil, still capitalizing on ties from her two years in the House. “Her Rolodex must be worth $5 million,” an old friend says. “Marjorie always takes care of Marjorie.”

If this brings to mind a certain former Alaskan governor, it turns out Margolies is an admirer, of sorts, of Sarah Palin: “I agree with almost nothing — almost nothing — she says. But I think her style works. She talks to, and well, a constituency that feels talked down to and left out.” And Margolies knows how those who dare to operate outside society’s tidy roles get pilloried. She was furious at Jon Fox, her opponent in both her House campaigns, for “trying to preach to me about what a family is.”

Holly says she never fully appreciated her mom’s juggling act until she had children: “Then you have a visceral understanding of how hard it is to hold onto your own life while looking after your kids.”