The number of women in top elected offices remained about the same after Tuesday's voting, but feminist leaders asserted that the overall political standing of women had improved.
"We broke the glass ceiling," said Jane Danowitz, executive director of the Women's Campaign Fund, in reference to the invisible barrier to female advancement into senior management ranks. She specifically cited the victory of Democrat Ann Richards over Republican Clayton Williams in the Texas gubernatorial race. Danowitz called Richards's win "a top political prize on the eve of reapportionment."
Two more Democratic women will join Richards as new governors: Joan Finney defeated Kansas Gov. Mike Hayden (R) and Barbara Roberts triumphed in the open race for Oregon's governorship, keeping the total number of female governors at three.
Democrat Dianne Feinstein narrowly lost in California and Nebraska Gov. Kay Orr (R) lost to Democrat Ben Nelson in her reelection bid. Three other GOP women also lost their gubernatorial bids: state Sen. Arliss Sturgulewski in Alaska, state Auditor Barbara Hafer in Pennsylvania and rancher Mary Mead in Wyoming.
Besides Orr, the nation's two other incumbent female governors, Madeleine M. Kunin (D) in Vermont and Rose Mofford (D) in Arizona, did not seek reelection.
A record 85 women received major party nominations for statewide offices, including the eight who ran for governor, and 47 were elected. As a result there will be six female lieutenant governors, an increase of two; four female attorneys general, an increase of two; 10 female secretaries of state, a decrease of one; and 21 women who will assume state financial posts, an increase of five. Eight women won other statewide offices.
In state legislatures, Eleanor Smeal, president of the Fund for the Feminist Majority, said women made "substantial gains in key states" where their numbers had been low, although the overall percentage increase nationally will be small.
Women had less success running for the Senate. Of the eight who tried, only incumbent Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.) won. She and Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) remain the only two women in the Senate.
Moreover, all three GOP women House members who ran for the Senate -- Lynn Martin in Illinois, Claudine Schneider in Rhode Island and Patricia Saiki in Hawaii -- were defeated as their House seats were being won by Democratic men.
Despite being outspent more than 10 to 1, Republican challenger Christine Todd Whitman gave a scare to Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) before losing narrowly. Two other Republican challengers, Jane Brady and Kathy Helling, lost to Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) respectively. Democrat Josie Heath was defeated by Rep. Hank Brown (R) for an open Senate seat in Colorado.
There will be 29 female House members in the 102nd Congress, the same number as at the end of the 100th Congress. The number of black female House members will increase by three with the victories of California Assemblywoman Maxine Waters and Detroit Councilwoman Barbara-Rose Collins. Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton captured the non-voting delegate seat from the District of Columbia.
Democrat Sharon Pratt Dixon was elected D.C. mayor, making the nation's capital the largest city to put a black woman at its helm.
Danowitz said female candidates "dispelled the myth that women don't support women." Exit polls showed that Feinstein drew 58 percent of the women's vote in California and that Richards won about 60 percent of the women's vote in Texas. Even Finney, whom many women deserted during the campaign because of her antiabortion stand, won 3 percent more of the women's vote in Kansas than Hayden, who supports abortion rights.
Richards's stunning showing in Dallas County, a GOP stronghold, was attributed largely to her appeal to upscale Republican women on the abortion issue and their disdain for Williams because some of his comments degraded women. She drew a 21 percent GOP crossover vote.
Exit polling in Michigan also suggested that male politicians should be careful about how they treat female colleagues.
Michigan Gov. James J. Blanchard (D), who was narrowly defeated, created a storm by dumping his lieutenant governor, Martha Griffiths. An exit poll by Voter Research & Surveys found that 6 percent of Michigan's voters said the dumping of Griffiths was one of the two most important issues in determining their vote -- and they backed John Engler (R) over Blanchard by 67 to 30 percent.