Rest in Power: Christine Jahnke, Pathbreaking Speech Coach for Women in Politics

Christine Jahnke. (Pioneer Press)

Christine Jahnke, a communications advisor best known for helping prep women politicians in the Democratic Party to run for office, as well as coaching others in public speaking, died in her Washington state home on Aug. 4, her 57th birthday.

Most famous for being the speech coach to First Lady Michelle Obama during the early years of the Obama administration, she enjoyed three decades assisting women in finding their voices within the public forum, including everything from public presentations to interviews to debates. She helped women regardless of whether they were pursuing public office or simply advocating for minority groups and democratic causes.

In addition to advising elected politicians and hopeful candidates in local, state and federal offices, Jahnke consulted for advocacy groups like Black Lives Matter, as well as other organizations such as Planned Parenthood and Amnesty International. She even took part in events such as the Million Mom March in 2000 and the Women’s March in 2017.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, with whom Jahnke had collaborated with, said Jahnke was part of helping to empower many women to run for political office.

“She always looked like she was loving what she was doing. The work was about social change. She wanted to see the face of political power in this country shift to women at every level, as opposed to someone who was just generically training people to be good communicators.”

Over the course of her long career, Jahnke also wrote two self-help books: “The Well-Spoken Woman” (2011) and “The Well-Spoken Woman Speaks Out” (2018) and has ran workshops for the Women’s Media Center to help train both female politicians and social justice advocates.

As Julie Burton, the president of the Women’s Media Center, told The New York Times, there was “real joy” in Jahnke during these training workshops.

“She not only transformed what a person could do; she transformed a movement,” Burton said.


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“Chris Jahnke was part of our Women’s Media Center family and we are heartbroken at her passing,” , Burton said in a statement.

“Through our WMC Progressive Women’s Voices program, she taught hundreds of women how to find their own voices, their own messages, and their own power to advocate for representation, inclusion, and equality. She made a unique and direct impact on the movements for gender and racial justice, climate change, reproductive rights, gun violence, and so much more. We will miss her so much. I am filled with sorrow, and endless love and gratitude.” 

Jahnke is survived by her husband, Paul Hagen.

Rest in power, Christine.


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About

Sarah Rosenberg is an intern at Ms. Magazine. She graduated from Los Angeles Pierce College in June 2020. She holds an Associate of Arts for Transfer degree in Journalism and two Associates of Arts Degrees for Arts and Humanities, and Social and Behavioral Science, respectively. She has previously worked at Pierce College's Bull Magazine and Roundup Newspaper.