Stephanie's Political Arena

Critiques and Perspectives on National Politics and More

Stylishly Striding and Persevering through History in American Politics

with 4 comments

For this particular post, I’m steering away from my usual snarky, quirky assessment of the political arena in order to hone my “diamond structure” writing skills, per my professor’s instructions for this week’s blog assignment.  Let’s see how well I can make this post “sparkle…” 

It was the end of a long, tiring, emotional, yet historic journey.  Though she would not ultimately succeed in her quest, she could still hold her head high and relish in how far she had come and the inspiration she impressed upon millions who shared her dreams (not to mention her gender).  With the primaries and caucuses behind her and the delegate votes tallied largely in favor of her opponent, it was time to concede, overcome their bitter rivalry, and lend her support for the final lap of the “game changing” race.  Who knows?  Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be this time, but maybe eight years from now…

Who could have imagined only a century ago that women of today would succeed in leaving as many cracks as they have in the “glass ceiling” of American politics?  At that time, it seemed the only roles that women could aspire to included: caregiver, homemaker, wife, mother, teacher, nurse, and secretary.  Neither then nor now are these roles to be looked down on; but, how could “equal representation” exist without elected leaders who could directly relate to the issues that matter most to women? 

An historic political stride for American women began to take shape on August 29, 1916 when Jeannette Rankin, a schoolteacher and rancher with a background in philanthropy, social work and the women’s suffrage movement, secured the Republican nomination for one of Montana’s two at-large seats for the U.S. House of Representatives. 

After running a “nonpartisan” race, Rankin ultimately won one of Montana’s two House seats, edging her trailing competitor by 6,000 votes.  Upon winning her election, Rankin said, “I may be the first woman member of Congress… But, I won’t be the last.”  Rankin served in the House of Representatives from 1917-1919 and then from 1941-1943. 

Over the course of 95 years, more than 1,000 women would follow in Rankin’s footsteps at the state and federal levels of government.

Earning the honor of becoming the first woman to serve in the United States Senate was Rebecca Latimer Felton, a Democrat from Georgia as well as a former schoolteacher.  She had initially become involved in politics through her husband’s campaign efforts and service in the U.S. House of Representatives and then Georgia’s State House of Representatives.  Felton served as a campaign manager, congressional secretary, and legislative aide to her husband until he died in 1909.

Following her husband’s death, Felton continued writing columns for the weekly newspaper she had co-founded with her husband, Cartersville Free Press.  She also wrote three books detailing her life growing up in Georgia, her involvement in Georgia politics, and the nature of life for women in Georgia.

Through these writings, Felton became a more visible figure in Georgia politics which caught the eye of Governor Thomas Hardwicke.  On September 26, 1922 U.S. Senator Tom Watson died suddenly, leaving Governor Hardwicke with the opportunity to appoint a temporary successor until a special election could be held.  Initially, he offered an appointment to Watson’s widow.  After she turned it down, he offered the appointment to Felton, who accepted.  

Since Rankin’s election in 1916, 274 women have served in Congress, according to the Congressional Research Service.  Of these elected officials, 235 (149 Democrats and 86 Republicans) served only in the House of Representatives while 31 (19 Democrats and 12 Republicans) served in the Senate.  Additionally, 8 women (6 Democrats and 2 Republicans) have served in both houses of Congress.  

Women in Congress offers an interactive map on its website that displays how many women from each state have served in the United States Congress. 

Photo located at

According to the Council of State Governments, women were first elected to state-level offices throughout the 1920s, with Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming becoming the first female Governor in American history.  In 1925, she was selected to preside over Wyoming in a special election to succeed her deceased husband.  Just fifteen days later, Miriam “Ma” Ferguson was sworn in as the first female Governor of Texas (and second female governor in the nation) to replace her impeached husband (who was then barred constitutionally from ever running for office again).  Ferguson’s campaign slogan at the time was, “Two Governors for the price of one.”

The first woman to be elected governor of a state in her own right – as opposed to replacing her husband – was Ella Grasso.  She served as Governor of Connecticut from 1975-1980.  In all, 29 women (18 Democrats and 11 Republicans) have served a state governorship, three of whom were all from Arizona – including sitting Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.  

In 1971, the proportion of women serving in state legislatures was 4.5 percent.  As of 2007, according to the Council of State Governments, women comprised 23.5 percent of sitting state legislators, with Vermont’s legislature having the highest concentration of women at 37.2 percent.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Women’s Network, “Approximately 1,727 women will serve in the 50 state legislatures during the 2011 legislative session,” comprising 23.4 percent of all state legislators nationwide.

Clearly, women have succeeded in the realm of American politics; yet, one major goal remains for them to achieve: winning the presidency.

A woman has yet to preside over the United States as either President or Vice President, and the efforts continue in making this a reality. 

Geraldine Ferraro earned the distinction of becoming the first female vice-presidential candidate on a national party ticket in 1984, when she was the running mate of Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale.  The pair was ultimately defeated in the general election by incumbent President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush.

Photo located at

More than two decades later, during the same election cycle, two more women would make a strong attempt at shattering the “glass ceiling” on their respective historic journeys to the White House.  Despite the momentum she had heading into 2008, Senator Hillary Clinton eventually lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Senator Barack Obama, who, with running mate Joe Biden, went on to defeat Senator John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, in winning the White House.

The 2008 election cycle marked a second milestone for Governor Palin.  Not only was she the first female vice-presidential candidate for the Republican Party, but she had also served as Alaska’s first female governor.

Heading into the 2012 presidential election cycle, two Republican women have consistently been named as potential candidates to face off against President Obama: Sarah Palin and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.  Could either of them win the presidency in 2012?  What about 2016?  Will Secretary of State Hillary Clinton make another attempt at winning the presidency in 2016?  Would former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice or even Arizona Governor Jan Brewer decide to run? 

With the expansive field of potential candidates, a number of whom possess strong credentials, could 2016 be the year in which a woman becomes President of the United States?

Such an achievement would certainly make for an appropriate 100th anniversary celebration since Jeannette Rankin’s historic election.


Written by Stephanie

March 11, 2011 at 5:49 am

4 Responses

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  1. Vermont’s level is approaching Western European levels as in Scandanavia, France, and Germany. Hillary Clinton had the nomination to lose in 2008 and she lost it. That is all that needs to be said on the matter.

    Tom Mitchell

    March 14, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    • Thanks for your feedback, Tom! I don’t know… I think Hillary still wants it badly enough to try one more time… Yet, on the flip side if the Democrats have a solid candidate at that time, she may step back in order to prevent party infighting.


      March 17, 2011 at 2:16 am

  2. She’s definitely been a powerful Secretary of State though. And it was fascinating reading in today’s NYT the story of how she, Susan Rice and Samantha Powers influenced our decision to join in the no-fly zone in Libya. Very well done post, Stephanie, very topical, and a nice set up for your later magazine piece.

    Deborah Blum

    March 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    • Thanks so much, Deb! The research I put into this definitely helped me in deciding how to proceed with drafting my long story and how to frame the questions I came up with for my sources. Thanks again for the feedback!


      March 21, 2011 at 4:24 am

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