Women in the 114th Congress

 

When the 114th Congress convenes today, 104 women (76D, 28R) will serve among the 535 members, representing 19.4% of the new Congress. Four more women will serve as non-voting delegates to the House from American Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C. Twenty women (14D, 6R) will serve in the Senate (20%) and 84 women (62D, 22R) will serve in the House (19.3%). At the close of the 113th Congress, one hundred women (77D, 23R) held office, including 20 women (16D, 4R) in the Senate and 80 women (61D, 19R) in the House. Before Representative Alma Adams’ (NC-12) victory in November’s special election, 99 women (76D, 23R) served in the 113th Congress. The net increase in women’s representation is five, or 0.9%, since the fall election.

Women in the 114th Congress, by Chamber

WomenCongress114thJust under one-third of women members in the 114th Congress are women of color. A record 32 women of color (29D, 3R) will serve in the House, making up 38% of women in that chamber. In the Senate, however, Mazie Hirono (D-HI) remains the only woman of color among 20 female members (5%). Thirty women of color (28D, 2R) served in the 113th Congress before November, increasing by one (31: 29D, 2R) with Adams’ special election.

 New Women

Among all women who will serve, 14 women are newly elected to their chambers. Two women (2R) are newcomers to the U.S. Senate: former Representative Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Joni Ernst (R-IA). Twelve women (7D, 5R) are newcomers to the U.S. House: Martha McSally (R-AZ); Norma Torres (D-CA); Mimi Walters (R-CA); Gwen Graham (D-FL); Debbie Dingell (D-MI); Brenda Lawrence (D-MI); Alma Adams (D-NC);[1] Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ); Kathleen Rice (D-NY); Elise Stefanik (R-NY); Mia Love (R-UT); Barbara Comstock (R-VA). The new delegate is Stacey Plaskett (D-VI). Nearly half of the new members of the House, 5 of 12 (41.7%), are women of color: Adams, Lawrence, Love, Torres, and Watson Coleman. Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) is also among the new Black women in Congress. Utah’s Love is the first Black Republican woman to serve in Congress. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), age 30, is the youngest woman to serve in Congress, taking over that title from former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, who was 31 when she took office in 1973.

New Women in Congress, by Chamber and Congress

WomenCongressFreshmanStates Four states – IA, NJ, UT, and VA – will go from no women representing them in the 113th Congress to one woman in their congressional delegations in 2015. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) is the first woman ever to serve in Congress from Iowa. Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Mia Love (R-UT) are the first Black women to represent their states in Congress. Representative Barbara Comstock (R-VA) is the first woman to serve in Virginia’s congressional delegation in two decades. Two states – PA and LA – will go from having one woman representing them in the 113th Congress to no women in their congressional delegations in 2015. They will join 11 other states that continue to have all-male delegations in Washington: AR, DE, GA, ID, KY, MS, MT, OK, RI, SC, and VT. Among these states, MS and VT have never had women in their congressional delegations; the others have had women in the past. Parties As the Republicans take over both chambers of Congress, women represent 9.3% of all majority members (38 of 301). Women are 11.1% of all Republicans in the Senate (6 of 54) and just 8.9% of all Republicans in the House (22 of 247) in 2015. Despite Republican gains overall in the 2014 elections, Republican women remain a small percentage of their congressional caucuses. In the 113th Congress, Republican women were 8.2% of all Republican members, including 8.9% of Republican Senators and 8.1% of Republican Representatives. Democratic women, on the other hand, represent one-third of all Democratic members of Congress in 2015 (76 of 234). Women are 30.4% of all Democrats in the Senate (14 of 46) and 33% of all Democrats in the House (62 of 188). In the 113th Congress, Democratic women were 30.3% of all Democratic members, including 30.2% of Democratic Senators and 30.3% of Democratic Representatives.

Women in Party Caucuses, by Chamber and Congress

WomenCongressCaucuses


[1] Adams will serve in her first full term in the 114th Congress, also serving two months at the conclusion of the 113th Congress.

When 100 isn’t a passing grade: A closer look at Women in Congress

One of the most circulated “women’s stories” of this week’s election has been the celebration of reaching 100 women in Congress. Because Alma Adams (D-NC) was elected in both her special election and general election contest, she will be sworn in to the 113th Congress next week and cause the number of women in the House to move from 79 to 80, and thus the overall number of women in Congress to reach 100 from 99. Reaching this marker is no small feat, as those of us who study and work with women in politics know. Just over two decades ago, in the 102nd Congress, only one-third (32) as many women served. Even more, it was not until Shirley Chisholm’s election to the House in 1968 that a Black woman served in Congress. Alma Adams becomes the 32nd Black women to serve in Congress, and was one of four new Black women members elected to the 114th Congress on Tuesday.[1] In fact, women of color will make up over one-third of the House women’s caucus in 2015, as they have in the 113th Congress.

First, those 100 women in Congress serve in a 535-member body (combining House and Senate). Doing the math yields a number far less worthy of celebration: 18.7%. Even with 100 members, women are less than one-fifth of Congress, despite being over 50% of the U.S. population. Second, we hit 100 women in Congress congress_swearin-4_3on Tuesday from a starting point of 99. Even if all remaining races with women candidates break in their favor, only 105 women will serve in the 114th Congress. That’s a net increase of six in the best case scenario for women, indicating a pace of progress that’s hardly impressive. Third, even among new members of Congress, women remain seriously underrepresented. According to the latest numbers of new members of the 114th Congress (with some races still undecided), women will be 19% of the freshman class. This isn’t terribly surprising when women make up a similarly low proportion of nominees going into Election Day. I don’t point out these statistics to discount the success of the women who put themselves forward for congressional offices this year. They are on the front lines of progress, doing what’s needed to disrupt the relatively stagnant trends I note here. For example, our two new women senators are the first women elected to the U.S. Senate from their states. Among the new women in the House, Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Mia Love (R-UT) are the first Black women from their states to serve in Congress. They are joined by female trailblazers at other levels of office this year, from Gina Raimondo’s election as the first woman governor of Rhode Island to the addition of 10 new Republican women in statewide elected executive offices nationwide. Rhode Island’s newly-elected Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea is the first Latina elected statewide in all of the northeast, Evelyn Sanguinetti (Illinois) was elected as the nation's first Latina Lieutenant Governor, and Maura Healey will become the first openly LGBT person to serve as a state’s Attorney General next year. We should not overlook or reduce the accomplishments of these women, but I raise the concerns above to ensure that the narrative of women’s success is not so overstated by one statistic that it yields complacency. We can all take a minute to celebrate this marker of women’s progress, and more importantly the women who’ve marked it, but let’s also note where 100 falls short and what we can do to move well beyond it in elections to come.

 
For more information on how women candidates fared at all levels of office on Tuesday, see CAWP's post-election press release.
[1] Other new Black women members include: Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Mia Love (UT-4). Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) was also elected as a non-voting delegate.

#WomenRun2014: State Legislatures Outlook

Today we focus on the outlook for women running in state legislative races. The detail and predictive value of our data are limited at this level due to the high number of candidates and races, but we do know that we enter Election Day without a record-level number of female state legislative candidates. State Legislative Nominees In 2014, 2,517 (1,621D, 888R, 7NP, 1I) women are state legislative nominees in the 46 states holding state legislative elections.[1] Two hundred and sixty-nine (163D, 99R, 7NP) additional women are holdovers who will continue to serve in 2015. The record number of women nominees for state legislative seats is 2,537 (1,616D, 908R, 6NP, 7Prg), set in 2010 – another year in which 46 states held state legislative elections.[2] While slightly fewer women are nominees this year, one explanation may be that fewer seats are at stake. Eighty seven state legislative chambers hold elections on Tuesday, compared with 88 chambers for which elections in the fall of 2010. Minnesota’s state senate holds elections only in years ending in 0, 2, and 6. As a result, there are 38 fewer female state legislative nominees in Minnesota in 2014 (75) than in 2010 (113).  In other states, state senate elections reflect staggered terms that may influence the competitiveness of seats available (and thus number of candidates) across different cycles. StLegNomineesWinnersThis year, 453 (291D, 154R, 7NP, 1I) women are nominees for state senate seats and 2,064 (1,329D, 735R) are nominees for state house seats.
Of the 2,517 women nominees running this year, 1,243, or 49.4%, are incumbents. Seven hundred and fourteen women, or 28.4%, are running as challengers, and 558 women, or 22.2%, are running in open seat contests. Similarly, 51.2% of all female House nominees are running as incumbents. Among female state senate nominees, 41.1% are incumbents, 32.5% are running as challengers, and 26% are running in open seat contests. The number of Democratic women state legislative nominees in 2014 (1,621) is the greatest in the past decade, though just five more women are Democratic nominees this year than were on the ballot in 2010 (1,616). Twenty more Republican women were state legislative nominees in 2010 (908) than will be on the ballot this year (888). Despite these slight differences, the overall trend between and across parties is static, as shown by the relatively flat lines in the graphs above and below. StLegNomineesbyParty A complete list of nominees by state and party is available on CAWP’s Election Watch 2014. Women in State Legislatures 2015 Today, 1,789 (1,137D, 637R, 10NP, 1I, 4Prg) women serve in state legislatures, including 411 (258D, 142R, 10NP) female state senators and 1,378 (879D, 495R, 4Prg) female members of state houses. They represent 24.2% of all 7383 state legislators nationwide. The percentage of women state legislators has remained nearly flat over the past two decades, as is evident in the graph below. As the chart above shows, women’s state legislative representation increases as the number of women nominees rises. Without a significant jump in the number of women nominees this year, it is unlikely that we will see a significant departure from the pattern of stagnation in the number of women officeholders at the state legislative level in 2015. PercentWomenStLegCurrently, 375 (347D, 27R, 1NP) women state legislators, or 21% of all women legislators, are women of color. Because we are unable to track state legislative candidate race prior to Election Day, we do not know the racial identification and breakdown of women nominees this year. CAWP will be tracking the numbers of women winning state legislative seats as results come in and are finalized to determine how women fare nationally, by chamber, by state, and by party. We will monitor trends in women’s representation as well as watch for shifts in the balance of partisan power in state legislative chambers, especially where women hold top leadership positions. For the latest numbers and information about women running for office in 2014, visit CAWP’s Election Watch 2014 and check out our next post, reporting on women running for statewide elected executive offices in the 2014 elections. You can also follow the conversation on Facebook and Twitter by using the hashtag #WomenRun2014.
[1] No state legislative elections will be held this year in LA, MS, NJ, and VA.
[2] Because AL and MD hold state legislative elections every four years and LA, MS, NJ, and VA hold state legislative elections in odd-numbered years, only 44 states held legislative elections in 2012.

#WomenRun2014: Governors Outlook

Today we are focusing on the outlook for women running for governor. Despite 2014 being a “year of the governor” with 36 races across the nation,[1] we will not surpass any records for women running and winning states’ top executive posts this year. Candidates and Nominees Thirty (16D, 14R) women filed to run for governor in 20 states in 2014. No women filed for candidacy in 16 of the states with gubernatorial races. The record number of women filing for governor is 34, set in 1994 (18D, 15R, 1ACP).[2] This year, 9 (6D, 3R) women won their primaries, including the four (1D, 3R) incumbents running for re-election. The record for women gubernatorial nominees is 10, set in 1994 (6D, 3R, 1ACP) and reached again in 1998 (6D, 4R), 2002 (9D, 1R), 2006 (5D, 5R) and 2010 (5D, 5R). There are no woman-versus-woman gubernatorial contests this year. GovNomineesWinnersGovNomineesbyPartyIn addition to these women candidates and nominees, Delegate Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands) was successful in her primary bid to become governor of the Virgin Islands. Christensen is the only non-incumbent woman of color to make it to a general election ballot for governor this year. Two more female gubernatorial nominees in 2014 are women of color, incumbents Susana Martinez (R-NM) and Nikki Haley (R-SC). Both women were elected in 2010 as the first women of color to ever serve as governors in the United States.[3] Six more women of color filed in gubernatorial races this cycle, but did not make it to the general election, including two women in Florida and two women in Texas.[4] GovOpenSeatNominees All five of the non-incumbent female nominees for governor this year are Democrats. Three women candidates – Martha Coakley (MA), Gina Raimondo (RI), and Wendy Davis (TX) -- are running for open seats. Two women candidates – Susan Wismer (SD) and Mary Burke (WI) -- are running as challengers. Women have fallen short of making history as candidates, nominees, or open seat nominees in both major political parties this year. When compared to the most recent cycles with similar numbers of gubernatorial seats up for election, more women filed as candidates for governor this year, but fewer women made it through their primaries.

 GovComparable

Women Governors in 2015 Five (1D, 4R) women currently serve as governors. With Governor Jan Brewer leaving office in Arizona due to term limits, four (1D, 3R) incumbent women governors are running for re-election next week: Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Susana Martinez (R-NM), Mary Fallin (R-OK), and Nikki Haley (R-SC). All incumbent women are leading in their campaigns for re-election. Based on the most recent ratings, two non-incumbent nominees face uphill climbs to victory this year: Susan Wismer (D-SD) and Wendy Davis (D-TX). The Cook Political Report rates Rhode Island’s gubernatorial contest as “Lean Democrat,” giving Gina Raimondo (D) a slight edge in that contest. The remaining non-incumbent women, Martha Coakley (D-MA) and Mary Burke (D-WI), are contenders are in two of the most competitive gubernatorial races of this cycle, both rated as toss-ups by Cook. GovRatings In 2002, a record 4 (3D, 1R) new women were elected as governors. We are unlikely to exceed that number of new women winning this year. Moreover, based on these estimates, we may end up with the same number of women governors as in 2014 (5), changing only the partisan balance among women governors. The record number of women serving as governor simultaneously is nine, achieved in 2004 and 2007. What to Watch on Election Day In addition to tracking the numbers of women winning gubernatorial offices on Election Day and closely monitoring the most competitive races with women running (see table above), we will be watching these races where women have the potential to make history:
  • Rhode Island: Democrat Gina Raimondo, if elected, will be the first woman governor of Rhode Island and the first woman to hold two different statewide elected executive offices in that state. Raimondo currently serves as the state treasurer.
  • Massachusetts: Democrat Martha Coakley, if elected, will be the second woman governor of Massachusetts. However, she would be the first woman elected governor of the state. Former Lt. Governor Jane Swift (R) served as acting governor in 2001 after then-Governor Paul Cellucci’s resignation.
  • Virgin Islands: Democrat Donna Christensen, if elected, will be the first Black woman governor in the United States or territories. Christensen currently serves as one of two Black female delegates to the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Wisconsin: Democrat Mary Burke, if elected, will be the first woman governor of Wisconsin.
To date, 35 women (20D, 15R) have served as governors in 26 states. In addition, one woman has served as governor in Puerto Rico. Based on current ratings, two more states (RI and WI) and one territory (VI) have the potential to break this gubernatorial glass ceiling in 2014. However, to put these numbers in context, the number of men who will serve as governors in 2015 is greater than the number of women who have ever held gubernatorial office. For the latest numbers and information about women running for office in 2014, visit CAWP’s Election Watch 2014 and check out our next post, reporting on the scary statistics on women in the 2014 elections. You can also follow the conversation on Facebook and Twitter by using the hashtag #WomenRun2014.


[1] Of the 36 gubernatorial contests in 2014, only 8 are for open seats (AZ, AR, HI, MD, MA, NE, RI, and TX).
[2] Women who are third party candidates are included if their parties have recently won statewide offices. ACP refers to “A Connecticut Party.”
[3] Sila Calerón was elected governor of Puerto Rico in 2000 and served until 2005.
[4] In addition to Yinka Adeshina (R-FL), Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder (R-FL), Lisa Fritsch (R-TX), and Miriam Martinez (R-TX), Lynette “Doc” Bryant (D) filed as a candidate for governor of Arkansas and Linda Lopez (D) filed as a candidate for governor of New Mexico.

#WomenRun2014: House Outlook

We’re launching our week-long countdown to the midterm elections with the outlook for women running for the U.S. House of Representatives. While we have not seen record numbers of women candidates or nominees this cycle, we may see a record number of women serving in the U.S. House come January 2015. Candidates and Nominees HouseCands3Two hundred and forty-nine (154D, 95R) women filed to run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014. The record for women House candidates was set in 2012, with 298 (190D, 108R) women filing to run for seats in the lower chamber of Congress. This year, 158 (108D, 50R) women have won their primaries and 2 (1D, 1R) more women will be on the November 4th ballot in Louisiana’s same-day primary. The record for women House nominees was set in 2012, with 166 (118D, 48R) women making it through their party primaries.[1]

HouseNomsWinners2It’s important to look at the types of contests in which women are running to determine their likelihood of winning. In 2014, 18 (11D, 7R) women are nominees for open U.S. House seats, compared to the record high of 39 (26D, 13R) women running for open seats in 1992. As the charts below show, women have fallen short of making history as candidates, nominees, or open seat nominees in either major political party this year. However, while the number of female nominees dropped between 2012 and 2014 for Democratic women House candidates, there was a slight increase, from 48 to 50 nominees, among Republican women candidates, with the Louisiana race still pending.

HouseOpenSeatNoms2 HouseCandsParty HouseNomsPartyWomen in the 114th Congress
It is likely that we will see an increase in the total number of women serving in the U.S. House in the 114th Congress from our current class of 79 (60D, 19R) women members and 2 (2D) female delegates, but the size of that increase depends on how the most contentious races of this cycle break for women candidates. While we know that we will lose six (4D, 2R) current women members and one (1D) female delegate to retirements and bids for other offices, there are six (5D, 1R) women candidates and one (1D) female delegate very likely to become new members of the 114th Congress, based on the most recent ratings from Cook Political Report. Another 4 (1D, 3R) new women are rated as likely or leaning to win House seats this year. Finally, 4 (3D, 1R) possible new women members and 3 (3D) female incumbents are competing in contests rated as toss-ups by the Cook Political Report as of last week. NewHouseWomen2 Five of the eight new women most likely to win House seats, as well as delegate candidate Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), are women of color. If these new women win and all Black female incumbents are re-elected, a record 18 (17D, 1R) Black women members and 2 (2D) non-voting Black women delegates will serve in the 114th Congress. VulnHouseWomen2In 2012, 19 (16D, 3R) new women were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. We are very unlikely to meet or exceed that number of new women winning this year. NewHouseWomen3What to Watch on Election Day In addition to tracking the numbers of women winning U.S. House seats on Election Day and closely monitoring the most competitive races with women running (see table above), we will be watching these races where women have the potential to make history:
  • AZ-2: Republican Martha McSally, if elected, will be the first Republican woman ever elected to Congress from Arizona.
  • IA-3: Democrat Staci Appel, if elected, will be the first woman ever elected to the U.S. House from Iowa. Iowa is one of four states (DE, IA, MS, VT) that has never sent a woman to Congress.
  • NJ-12: Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman, if elected, will be the first Black woman elected to Congress from New Jersey. She will also be the first woman in New Jersey’s congressional delegation since 2003.
  • NY-21: Republican Elise Stefanik, if elected, will be the youngest woman ever sworn in to Congress at age 30. The youngest women to be sworn in to date were 31 years old.
  • UT-4: Republican Mia Love, if elected, will be the first Black Republican woman to be elected to Congress. She will also be the first Black woman, and only the fourth woman, to ever serve in Utah’s congressional delegation.
  • VA-10: Republican Barbara Comstock, if elected, will be the first woman in Virginia’s congressional delegation since 2009.
Finally, while four states with no women currently serving in the U.S. House (Iowa, New Jersey, Utah, Virginia) have the potential to add women members to their 114th congressional delegations, Pennsylvania is very likely to have no women in its congressional delegation as of January 2015. For the latest numbers and information about women running for office in 2014, visit CAWP's Election Watch 2014 and check out tomorrow's post on women running for the U.S. Senate this year. You can also follow the conversation on Facebook and Twitter by using the hashtag #WomenRun2014.
[1] Three (2D, 1R) women won primaries but then dropped out in 2012, leaving 163 nominees running on Election Day.

Numbers Matter: Black Women in American Politics

This week, the Center for American Women and Politics and Higher Heights released The Status of Black Women in American Politics, a report that takes a snapshot of Black women’s current political representation and participation and reflects back on the historical advancement of Black women as voters, candidates, and elected and appointed officials. This report identifies and outlines the problem of Black women’s underrepresentation and serves as a call to action for citizens, advocates, potential candidates, and those in political power. I wrote this report over multiple HHAReportCover(1)months, poring through CAWP’s databases of women candidates and elected officials and gathering new data on Black women and men in politics to provide the most comprehensive possible analysis. . Throughout these months, I – a scholar of women and politics accustomed to the significant gender disparities in political power – was continually surprised by the dearth of Black women in elected office at all levels and throughout our states and cities. I was shocked when I realized that Black women have represented fewer than 30 different congressional districts in only 13 states in all of U.S. history and disturbed that I could count the number of Black women who have ever served in statewide elected executive offices on two hands. I was even more taken aback upon noting that 77% of the Black women who have served in Congress and 9 of the 10 Black women who have been elected to statewide executive offices have entered office since 1993. While these data make evident the delay in Black women’s political advancement, this recent history of representational growth demonstrates enormous opportunities for continued progress and power. To ensure that progress, organizations like Higher Heights are working to build a stronger infrastructure of support for Black women candidates and urging Black women to harness their power at the ballot box --  not only to amplify their own political voices, but also to support (and become) the much-needed Black women officeholders. The research proves that advancing Black women’s representation is not only a matter of democratic fairness, but influences policy agendas and debates, as well as the political engagement of underrepresented constituencies. There is much more work to do to in harnessing Black women’s political power, but this report provides an important foundation upon which to foster dialogue and identify opportunities for growth. Why? Because numbers matter. Numbers validate perceptions of inequality. Numbers illuminate the sites for and extent of those disparities. Numbers demonstrate how much work we have left to do. Finally, numbers are power in making the case for change. Take a few minutes to arm yourself with the numbers that resonate most for you from our report. Then please share them with your networks to help us continue the conversation that we began Thursday on harnessing the political power of Black women. On social media, use the hashtag #BlackWomenLead.  

On the Importance of Programs like Run Sister Run

Crystal DesVignes is a graduate student in political science at Rutgers University – Newark. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree and recently worked as a graduate intern at the Center for American Women and Politics. The views presented in this entry are her own.

            On March 22, 2013, the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) hosted approximately fifty African American women for its annual Run Sister Run program in conjunction with its Ready to Run™ program. As part of the diversity initiative along with Elección Latina, and Rising Stars, Run Sister Run offers campaign and political leadership training for those of the African Diaspora. The program is an opportunity to receive encouragement and valuable insight, and to interact first-hand with other African American women who have either run for elected office, are currently running for a position, plan to run in the future, or are contemplating running for an elected office.

 R2R_12The program is geared toward making sure that African American women who are politically-minded have a space to network and be directed to resources and people who will help them to meet their political aspirations. As a third time attendee of the program, I was already a believer in its importance. But, as the saying goes, the third time was the charm for me in solidifying my understanding of why we need to continue programs like this and expand them around the country.

            As I write this piece, I am painfully aware of the issues that women face in our country, even in 2013. We are underpaid for our work in the market place (hence the need for equal pay legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act) and undervalued for our work in the home. We were reminded last year of the fragility of our right to reproductive healthcare, and there was even discussion around whether our bodies could “shut down” a pregnancy that resulted from a “legitimate rape.” We were reduced to being included in “binders full of women” in the last presidential election as one candidate sought to prove that he supported gender equality in his gubernatorial cabinet. Despite all of this, and in some cases because of this, we press on and continue to fight for our place in the decision-making process in our country and government.

            The road to political inclusion is hard for women, to say the least. But for women of color, and African American women it particular, it can mean being doubly excluded from the political arena due to racialization and gendering. Of 98 women serving in Congress (18.3 % of the 535 seats in the 113th Congress), 30 or 30.6% are women of color. Only 14 are African American women. African American women hold only 241 seats in state legislatures across 44 states, and although New Jersey has an African American woman currently serving as speaker of the State Assembly (the Honorable Shelia Y. Oliver), she is only the second African American woman to hold this office in a state legislature nationwide.

            The numbers don’t lie. The people who come to the table to make decisions in our cities, states, and capitals should not all look alike. They should represent the country as we know it. To have a more inclusive racial/ethnic and gendered make-up among our elected officials isn’t just good politics, it makes for better government. We need more representation from African American women. The Center for American Women and Politics provides just a forum for this endeavor in Run Sister Run.

 

From the Bus to the Ballot: African American Women’s Electoral History

Rosa Parks – a civil rights icon and activist – was born a century ago today. At age 42, her refusal to abide by segregationist rules on a Montgomery, Alabama bus became a national symbol of civil rights resistance. However, as biographer Jeanne Theoharis writes, Parks’ “lifelong history of activism and anger at American injustice” began far before and continued long after she refused to give up her seat to a white man. The activism that Parks embodied has been woven through African American women’s history and political participation in the United States, but it was not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that African American women could translate that activism into holding electoral office. Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman, elected to Congress in 1968, leading the way for the 29 African American women who have since followed her footsteps to the United States Capitol. Among these women, only one has served in the United States Senate (Carol Moseley Braun, 1993-1999). Still, the percentage of African American women among all African American members today – 32% - is larger than the percentage of women (18%) in the U.S. Congress. Today, 13 African American women (all Democrats) serve as U.S. representatives, and two Black women are delegates from the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. Two hundred and forty African American women currently serve in state legislatures, representing about 13.5% of all women state legislators. Representative Crystal Dreda Bird Fauset (D-PA) became the first African American woman elected to a state legislature 75 years ago. In 2008, then-Assemblywoman Karen Bass (D-CA) became the first woman of color, and first African American woman, Speaker of an Assembly or State House in the country. Two years later, she was elected to Congress; that same year, Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-NJ) became the second African American woman chosen to lead a state’s lower chamber. Dr. Wendy Smooth’s research has shown that the growth in African American women’s electoral representation has outpaced that of African American men since the 1990s, but Smooth writes that African American women’s (formal) political empowerment has yielded “mixed results”:

On the one hand, [African American women] are gaining increased access to political offices, now outpacing African American men in winning elections. On the other hand, they continue to face considerable obstacles to securing high-profile offices at both the state and national level.[1]

Only nine African American women have served in statewide elected executive posts – all since 1993 – and no African American woman has ever been elected governor. Two African American women have run in major party primaries for the United States presidency. Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman to run for president of the United States in 1972, receiving a symbolic, but unsuccessful, 151 delegate votes. It was not until more than three decades later that Carol Moseley Braun threw her hat in the ring, but she dropped out of the race before the first votes were cast. Before her death in 2005, Shirley Chisholm reflected on the many electoral barriers she broke and the legacy she would leave:

I want history to remember me not just as the first black woman to be elected to Congress, not as the first black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself.

In this African American history month – and every day of the year - we honor the daring women who follow in Chisholm’s footsteps, and we should all encourage more women to do the same. Chisholm_Legacy

 
[1] Smooth, Wendy. 2010. “African American Women and Electoral Politics.” In Gender and Elections: Shaping the Future of American Politics, eds. Susan J. Carroll and Richard L. Fox. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 165-186.