“I don’t know how women can have economic choices in life without being able to manage their own bodies,” says Susan Cullman ’67. It was this belief that led her to join an organization called the Republican Coalition for Choice in 1989. Susan was living in Washington, DC, and described herself as a moderate, “New York Rockefeller-type” Republican, who became alarmed with the direction the Republican Party began to take in the 1980s. “A lot of women,” she notes, “while pro-choice, aren’t willing to step up to the plate. They say, ‘yeah I agree but…’ and it’s that ‘but’ that kills us, literally.”
Susan, who studied philosophy at Wells College, became the volunteer director of the Republican Coalition for Choice in 1991 and spent more than 10 years trying to persuade the Republican Party to become neutral on the question of choice. “I’m afraid I didn’t do very well, but it’s a fight still worth pursuing,” she acknowledges.
Susan spent her days on the Hill and across the country, working with lawyers and consultants, raising money and supporting pro-choice Republican candidates. “I met amazing people from all walks of life,” she says, though she admits it was a 24/7 job, and that “people have a lifespan in an organization…the best thing you can do is to provide a successor.” So she eventually left the political nonprofit in the hands of a capable friend and moved back to New York to be closer to family.
Being in New York meant cherished time with her parents, her daughter, a new granddaughter and also meeting the man she would marry. However, it didn’t mean that Susan stopped caring about the issues she had championed, and she has continued to fight for women’s rights, quality health care and other causes. She serves as a board member with four nonprofits: The New York Women’s Foundation helps young girls and women attain a better economic life; Citizens Committee for New York City gives small grants for neighborhood projects such as community gardens and soup kitchens; The Avon is a nonprofit, independent film theater in Stamford, CT; and Mount Sinai Health System runs several hospitals and health facilities. In fact, Susan’s family has been involved with Mount Sinai since the organization’s inception in the 1800s, and 15 years ago her father started the Joseph F. Cullman Jr. Institute for Patient Care, which focuses on the patient experience in an effort “to care for the whole person.”
Spence is also a family affair for the Cullmans: Susan’s sister Lucy Danziger ’61 and niece Becky Danziger Gamzon ’87, a Spence trustee, are alumnae as well as Georgina Cullman ’98. Grandniece Sarah Gamzon is in ninth grade, and step-granddaughter Emma Rose Kirby is in the seventh grade and she hopes her 4-year-old granddaughter Eloise will go to Spence as well. “I’ve spent most of my life as an active volunteer,” Susan reflects, and she credits Spence with teaching her “how to think and how to work.”