Gail Collins celebrates her favorite Doonesbury character, Joanie Caucus.

About Garry Trudeau's comic strip.
Oct. 25 2010 1:18 PM

The Fugitive Housewife

Gail Collins celebrates her favorite Doonesbury character, Joanie Caucus.

Slate and Doonesbury.com have compiled a list of Doonesbury's 200 greatest moments. Read David Plotz's interview with Garry Trudeau. See Slate's complete coverage of Doonesbury's 40th anniversary.

Joanie Caucus

"My name is Joanie Caucus," she said, blurting out her entire biography in two frames. "And I'm running away from my husband Clinton. In brief, I got fed up with the meaningless roles that defined my life. I want to find a new town where I can start a new life. … A place where I can live out a graceful reprieval, a place where I can begin anew."

She was thinking of Cleveland, Ohio, but she got over it. (See Mark and Mike pick up Joanie hitch-hiking.)

That was in 1972, and the fact that Joanie Caucus was, by our then-standards, middle-aged—she was in her mid-30s—made her all the more fascinating when she cropped up in an early Doonesbury episode, a fugitive housewife, hitching a ride on the back of Mark's motorcycle. She moved into the Walden commune, but she was always a little different, a mother figure who left her own daughter behind when she ditched Clinton in favor of a job at the day care center, where she administered doses of consciousness-raising to the little girls, some of whom were less than thrilled when she dared them to become building contractors.

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The end of college was not the only moment when you could choose a life path. Thank you, Joanie; got it.

Then it was off to law school, and a job working for the always-beloved Republican Congresswoman Lacey Davenport. (Back then, it was much easier for leftist youth to imagine a Republican they could trust.) Then came a job with the (other) Clinton administration, marriage to a Washington Post reporter, a new baby, and a reconciliation with that first daughter, who grew up under the first Clinton's ministrations to be a rather irritating performance artist.

When Joanie made her last appearance, she described herself flatly as a "70-year-old retired civil servant," as if that were the end of the road. I think not. This lady has to have another story line, on behalf of all of us who are getting up there ourselves. Dare to be elderly and great, Ms. Caucus.

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Gail Collins is a New York Times Op-Ed columnist and the author of As Texas Goes … and When Everything Changed.