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Which states were among the first to elect women to top political offices?

The great map and history lesson about the women’s suffrage movement over at GovBeat, which looks at states that led the way in giving women the vote, got us to thinking about how those states stack up now in terms of electing women to high office.

Well, it turns out that the 10 states that granted women the ballot before the movement gained steam on March 3, 1914, when representatives of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage testifying in a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, have among the best records for electing women to higher office.

First, the throwback map that highlights the 10 states:


Now, a few facts about these states, courtesy of the Center for American Woman and Politics, which has a great fact sheet about women in office:

  • Of the 10 states that were out front on women’s suffrage, 7 have elected women governors–Wyoming, Utah, Oregon, Arizona, Kansas, Alaska  and Washington. In all, 35 women (20 Democrats and 15 Republicans) have served as governor in 26 states.
  • Arizona, which gave women the right to vote with a November 5, 1912 amendment that passed with 68 percent of the vote, is the first state where a woman succeeded another woman as governor, and has also had a record four women governors.
  • And Wyoming elected the first female governor in 1924, Nelly Tayloe Ross was selected by Democrats to run for the office after her husband died.
  • Washington hit a historical trifecta in 2005, when Christine Gregoire was sworn in as governor at the same time that Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray held the two U.S. Senate seats. (New Hampshire currently holds that distinction.)
  • California, partly because of its size, has sent the most women (53) to the U.S. House of Representatives. And it was the first state to have two women serving in the U.S. Senate simultaneously (Sen. Barbara Boxer and Sen. Diane Feinstein).  Kansas was the second.

And, since we all love maps, here’s another one that looks at how these states stack up in terms of the representation of women in state legislatures:

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 12.23.26 PM

Center for American Women and Politics
Center for American Women and Politics


  • Of the 10 leading women suffragist states, 6 are in the top 20 ranking of states in sending women to state legislatures.  Arizona, Colorado and Washington are in the top 10. And, more history: One year after women were granted the vote in Colorado, that state sent the first women state legislators to the House of Representatives–Clara Cressingham, Carrie C. Holly, and Frances Klock, all Republicans.


So what does this loose collection of historical facts suggest?  For one, the West, with its frontier spirit, has led the way in terms of women in office.  Think Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R). But, more than a century after women gained the ballot, there are still just 5 women governors and 20 women U.S. Senators, a record, yet not on par with the population of women in the United States.

Also notable, often women’s suffrage meant white women’s suffrage, particularly in the South, although the national suffrage groups were often exclusionary as well.  Here’s a headline from the March 2, 1913 edition of the Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va.:

Library of Congress/Richmond Times Dispatch
Library of Congress

Read the full article, which says that white suffragists feared that  “Southern women affiliated with the parade and the populace of Washington would object to the presence of negro women in the big demonstration,” here.

One historical link of note is this:

That same year, 1913, black women started a movement and club of their own, the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago, believed to be the first of its kind.

Three decades later, Carol Moseley Braun was born in that same city and in 1992 she became the first — and only — black woman elected to the U.S. Senate.

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.



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