February 27, 1978 12:00 PM

The Illinois House of Representatives isn’t a bad place to visit, but would you really want to bring up your kids there? State Rep. Susan Catania says yes and has made the House her home. So far she has put her fellow legislators’ love of motherhood to a practical test three times. The latest Catania baby to be raised partly in the capitol in Springfield is Maggie, 5 months. Her mom, a three-term liberal Chicago Republican, has six more daughters, a husband and two housekeepers at home. Trained as a chemist, Susan was first elected to the legislature in 1972 and was determined to serve despite the babies that came along. To keep them close by for the first six months, she lugs a car bed onto the floor of the House and breast-feeds in the representatives’ powder room. These days, with a diaper bag and a bottle at the ready, she tends to the needs of her predominantly black district with one hand and Maggie’s whimpered demands with the other. Are her colleagues bothered? “Susan’s babies are always down on the floor,” says House Speaker William Redmond, a Democrat. “I don’t even know they are there.” Conservative Republican Rep. Gil Deavers disagrees: “They’re a distraction. They destroy the decorum of an organized body.”

Not even Deavers questions her ability as a legislator, however. “When she represents her district she’s a tiger,” he concedes admiringly. “She’s as vicious as any of us down here.” Redmond concurs. “She is so dedicated to women’s rights,” he jokes, “that she even wears a Susan B. Anthony hairdo.” During her first term, the representatives were taken aback to discover that Catania was both a feminist and visibly pregnant. “They thought maybe they should offer their sympathy,” she says. Since then she has been an outspoken advocate of ERA (so far unratified), has voted to finance abortions for women on Medicaid—though she is personally opposed to abortion—and has sponsored gay rights legislation. (“I was the least likely to be accused of being gay,” she explains with a grin.) She finds the political life so rewarding, in fact, that someday—with the help of her insurance executive husband, Tony, who does the bookkeeping for all her campaigns—she might like to run for governor. “But the trouble with statewide office is that it would mean a whole year away from my family,” she says. “I wouldn’t do that until my youngest child was at least 10.”

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