In 2002 she stepped into the national spotlight when she challenged the all-male status of the Augusta National Golf Club. But Dr. Martha Burk was already well-known for her impressive accomplishments in academia and both the public and the volunteer sectors. Dr. Burk grew up in Pasadena, Texas, a suburb of Houston. Having earned top grades in high school she graduated when she was 16 and entered the University of Houston.
Dr. Burk married and interrupted her studies for five years while raising two small children. She would say later, when interviewed by Peter J. Boyer for an article in The New Yorker, being a stay-at-home mom was “the most radicalizing experience in my life….It forced isolation for women in that situation”. So she returned to school at the University of Texas at Arlington, earning a masters degree in psychology and computer science in 1968 and a PH.D. in experimental psychology in 1974.
Though armed with top credentials Dr. Burk found that her gender was a hindrance in the workplace. When she applied for one university teaching job, she was asked to take a typing test. However she did become research director of the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Arlington (1974-1976); then assistant professor of management there (1976-1979). While still at the University of Texas she developed an educational software program that became the basis for her own company. A.U. Software Inc. became so successful that Dr. Burk was able to quit her job at the university.
Dr. Burk and her first husband divorced and in 1986 she married Ralph Estes, an accounting professor. When Estes took a teaching job in Kansas, the couple moved to Wichita. Her political activism there led to tenure as president of the Wichita chapter of the National Organization For Women and as a director on the national board of NOW (1988-1990).
In 1990 Dr. Burk and Estes moved to Washington, DC, where they founded the Center For The Advancement of Public Policy, a research and policy analysis organization. From 2000-2005 she was chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, a network of over 200 national womens groups, with a combined membership of over 10 million women. It was in that capacity that she led the campaign to open Augusta National Golf Club to women. Her letter to then-club president William W. “Hootie” Johnson questioning the decades-old ban on women in the club resulted in a blistering 18-paragraph response by Johnson and released to the media. The ensuing months-long war of words brought some successes such as two women were eventually admitted as members in 2011, followed by a handful in the decade since, though the club is still overwhelmingly male.
As a nationally known psychologists and women's issues expert specializing in gender pay equity, Dr. Burk advises city, county and state governments on gender pay equity and conducts internal pay analyses for private sector companies. In 2010 Dr. Burk crafted the first-in-the-nation gender pay equity initiative for New Mexico as a senior advisor to then-Governor Bill Richardson.
Dr. Burk remains at the forefront of change for women in corporate America and continues to advise business organizations and government entities at all levels on gender pay equity. She serves as the Money Editor for Ms. Magazine; is a syndicated newspaper columnist; and is a blogger for womensvoicesmedia.org. Her public radio show Equal Time With Martha Burk originates from KFSR in Santa F, NM. Her latest book, Your Voice, Your Vote: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Politics, Power; and The Change We Need (2020-2021).
She resides in Corrales, New Mexico with her husband, Ralph Estes.
New Yorker, February 17, 2003, p. D3