WASHINGTON – When the Pentagon announced earlier this year that women would finally be allowed to serve in combat positions, it was the culmination of decades of work by women who believed gender shouldn’t dictate how a person serves his or her country.

Nearly 40 years earlier, Sen. William “Bill” Hathaway of Maine played a role in helping open up other military doors to women — specifically, the admissions gates of the U.S. military academies.

Hathaway, who died last week at age 89, was the primary sponsor of an amendment tacked onto a 1975 defense budget bill that required West Point, the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy to admit women for the first time. President Gerald Ford later signed the bill into law.

The Senate action in June 1975 prompted the news wire service UPI to declare: “Another bastion of maleness — the military service academy — has fallen to the women’s rights movement.”

Hathaway, a Democrat who represented Maine for 14 years in the House and Senate, was by no means the only lawmaker in Washington pushing for the change. But he had taken a strong personal interest in the matter after he was apparently told by the Army in 1973 that he couldn’t nominate a Maine woman for West Point “because we have no toilet facilities for them.”

“That infuriated me,” Hathaway told the Lewiston Sun Journal’s Paul Mills in a 2009 interview

Hathaway responded by sponsoring stand-alone bills in 1973 and 1975 to open the academies to women, neither of which made it out of committee. His success in adding the language to the Senate budget bill in 1975 earned him a footnote in women’s history.

“My feeling is that if we are going to have women in the services they should get the best training possible,” Hathaway told The Associated Press that year.

A World War II veteran, Hathaway will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery alongside his late wife, Mary Lee Bird Hathaway, who also served in World War II as an Army nurse.

WEIGHING A RUN

Sunday is a significant deadline for Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of the 2nd District as he weighs whether to officially join the 2014 race for governor.

June 30 is the cutoff date for donations that candidates will have to report on their July 15 campaign finance reports filed with the Maine Ethics Commission. Michaud’s two likely opponents, should he decide to run — Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler — have been raising money for some time, so the congressman would be playing catch-up.

But there’s another reason Michaud has been aggressively seeking donations. If Michaud can raise a healthy sum in the three weeks since he set up his exploratory committee, it would send a message that Democratic loyalists are eager to back him down the stretch in what is expected to be a tight race.

Michaud’s campaign declined to state how much it hopes to raise by the end of the day Sunday, but it’s safe to say that six figures — or close to it — would make a splash. A weak campaign finance report, on the other hand, could signal lukewarm support for the Democrat.

IMMIGRATION FALLOUT?

Maine Sen. Susan Collins was one of 14 Republicans who voted in support of a historic immigration reform bill that passed the U.S. Senate last Thursday.

While groups from Maine largely praised Collins and Sen. Angus King for their votes, one national tea party-affiliated group threatened to help fund a primary challenger against Maine’s senior senator.

“There are three incumbents up next year who supported the amnesty bill,” Senate Conservatives Fund executive director Matt Hoskins wrote in an email to supporters on Friday, according to a report in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. The three senators are Collins, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “If strong, conservative challengers emerge in these races, we will support them.”

Of course, there’s no indication that the political group will get a chance to spend any money in Maine. Despite occasional rumors of a possible challenger, no one has stepped forward to run against the popular three-term incumbent next year on either the Republican or Democratic ticket.

COME NORTH!

Barely in office a few days, President Obama’s newest Cabinet members were already receiving friendly “invitations” to visit New England, although not for a lobster bake or sunset paddle.

As was reported on Friday, members of the Maine and New Hampshire congressional delegations invited newly confirmed Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to see for himself how badly the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge between Kittery and Portsmouth needs replacement.

But Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King don’t want Foxx to stop at the Maine border as long as he is in northern New England. The pair sent a separate letter to the transportation secretary urging him to also visit the Port of Eastport, the Howland-Enfield Penobscot River Bridge, and the tracks used by the Downeaster Amtrak train in Portland.

“As you will see, these projects are critical to the local, state and regional transportation network,” King and Collins wrote. “It is essential that we work together to improve Maine’s transportation infrastructure, because so much of my state’s economy relies on these roads and bridges.”

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, meanwhile, received an invite from Massachusetts Rep. Frank Tierney to spend some time with fishermen in the Bay State fishing port of Gloucester, where recent cuts to groundfish quotas are having an impact. Chances are, many of the comments Pritzker would hear in Gloucester would be similar to what she would hear from some groundfishermen in Maine.

No word yet on whether Foxx or Pritzker might accept the invitations.  

Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

On Twitter: @KevinMillerDC