In junior high and high school, McCormick worked for several election campaigns. At the University of Iowa, during the Vietnam War, McCormick was involved in the peace movement. She graduated in 1970 with a degree in American studies, thinking she would teach.
But McCormick couldn't find a job. While wondering what to do she heard about an apprenticeship for the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners Local 1260 - but that wasn't the kind of work women did.
So a male friend turned in her application. And her name, Dale, was androgynous enough to not arouse suspicion or prejudice. McCormick received the highest grade on a written test was granted an interview and then was picked for the apprenticeship. The apprenticeship lasted four years. McCormick worked infrequently with other women.
Some male construction workers wrote graffiti on bathroom walls about her. Others put pinups where she hung her coat and sexual objects in her lunch box. The situation became particularly tense in her last year, and she filed a sexual harassment complaint with the local Human Rights Commission in Iowa City.
In 1988, McCormick started Women Unlimited, offering 14-week courses in nontraditional subjects such as carpentry, road construction, truck driving, surveying and drafting.
On a practical level, she is one of the country's first women journey-level carpenters, the former owner of a construction company, author of two books on home repairs and founder of a program that trains women on welfare for the better-paid blue-collar jobs usually held by men.
After pioneering in the construction industry, McCormick over the past seven years has built and run Women Unlimited, a group that has formed an alliance between private enterprise and the state Department of Transportation.
In her first election, campaigning against the Republican incumbent, McCormick rode a bicycle door to door across her district, visiting constituents to hear their concerns. Her Republican opponent tried to make McCormick's sexual orientation an issue, but her openness disarmed him. "I'm Miss Lesbian in Maine. Where had he been?" said McCormick, a vocal lobbyist for gay rights before being elected to the Senate.
She is a much-respected three-term Maine state senator,acclaimed for her ability to forge alliances among disparate groups. A strong advocate for gay and lesbian rights, she won her last election in a conservative, rural district with 68 percent of the vote when many other Democrats fell to Republican challengers.
McCormick has a 14-month-old baby with her partner of 10 years, Betsy Sweet.