In 1917 the first woman was elected to the House of Representatives. Jeanette Rankin served two terms and she was a Republican. In 1922 the first woman to serve in the US Senate was appointed. Rebecca Latimre Felton served for one day and she was a Democrat.
In 1933 President FDR appointed the first female Cabinet Secretary, Frances Perkins, as Labor Secretary. 30 years later Margaret Chase became the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for President at the Republican National Convention of 1964; and 20 years later, in 1984 (a date that is clearly within my political memory), Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman on a major party ticket.
Ferraro was Walter Mondale’s running mate in an election that captivated the nation’s imagination for so many reasons. It was the end of President Regan’s first term as America’s hero. His inauguration had ushered-in the release of American Hostages from Iran and he had presided over a re-habilitation of the American psyche from defeated to invincible – for Democrats and Republicans alike.
Just 25 short years from those days we are witnessing a wave of women taking charge of state politics and energizing the electorate in a way that would make Ferraro (D) and Regan (R) both proud.
Yesterday in South Carolina Nikki Haley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikki_Haley) won the Republican primary for Governor in a contest that seemed unrealistically far fetched for her in the beginning, and a smooth win by the time it was done.
A few weeks ago in California, Meg Wittman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meg_Whitman) , a celebrated business woman and former head of E-Bay, won the Republican primary as the candidate of choice for Governor of California. The same day, Carly Fiorina (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carly_Fiorina), another famed business woman turned politico, won her party’s primary as the candidate that will go up against the iconic Barbara Boxer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Boxer) in a California senate race that promises to be historic. Boxer herself was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992, and was only the second female Jewish U.S. senator there, after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dianne_Feinstein) who was also elected in 1992.
Women are everywhere, and they don’t all look the same. Nikki Haley is of Indian origin born to Sikh parents who converted to Catholicism. Fiorina was born in Texas to professional parents and is a social conservative. Wittman was born on Long Island (NY) and has attended ivy league schools while she is a fiscal conservative. Three different characters navigating one landscape: American Politics – and they’re helping change our expectations.
Today, according to the National Federation of Republican Women’s statistics, 90 women serve in the U.S. Congress. A record 17 women serve in the Senate, and 73 women serve in the House. The number of women in statewide elective executive posts is 72, which represents 22.9% of the 315 available positions, while 1,799 (24.4%) of the 7,382 state legislators in the United States are women. Women currently hold 435 (22.1%) of the 1,971 state-wide senate seats and 1,364 (25.2%) of 5,411 state-wide house seats. The number of women serving in state legislatures has increased more than four-fold since 1971.
By the end of the next election cycle those statistics are sure to change.
Margaret Thatcher once famously said: “women are intensely practical” . (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/margaret_thatcher.html).
She attributed that practicality to their political effectiveness. Let’s see if in America, the appeal of women, their practical ways and their ability to rally a populous looking for new solutions can translate into meaningful gains at the polls. We will be watching, and we’ll post the new numbers as they rise.
Rarely has it been more appropriate to say: “you go girl(s)”…