Is There a Woman in the House?

When I was first elected to the House of Representatives, someone gave me a bumper sticker that proclaimed "A woman's place is in the House...and in the Senate."

It was 75 years ago this year that Massachusetts elected its first woman to office. Today, almost 25 percent of the Massachusetts legislators are women.

In 1923, two women were sworn into the House of Representatives--Susan Fitzgerald, a Jamaica Plain Democrat, and Sylvia Donaldson, a Brockton Republican.

Fitzgerald, then 52, was a well-known suffragist and served only one term. Donaldson, 74 when she was sworn in, was a school teacher, and served seven years.

Both, I am told, were unique women, who led interesting lives, and had a variety of careers. Both were avid writers, Fitzgerald for a newspaper, and Donaldson, personal papers and memoirs.

In her own copy of the Constitution, Donaldson once wrote, "All people cannot vote; women, minors and lunatics are prohibited."

Since Fitzgerald and Donaldson started it all, we've seen some changes in Massachusetts, in addition to sheer percentages and clout.

We have, installed only within the last decade, our own bathroom, just outside the House chamber, for example.

And, this year, led by Longmeadow Representative Mary Rogeness, we approved legislation mandating gender-neutral language in legislation.

Today's female legislators in Massachusetts are a diverse group as well. Women who have been attorneys and housewives and teachers and nurses. From 20-somethings to 70-somethings. Tall and short, heavy and thin, blond and brunette. Liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans.

Each focusing on our district and the job at hand, on our committee assignments and legislation, alongside our male colleagues. Just as women do in all 99 chambers in our 50 states. (Nebraska, remember, is unicameral.)

Nationally, our numbers have increased since 1970 from four percent to 21.5 percent. Traditionally, most have been Democrats, but since 1994 politically moderate Republican female legislators have been elected in larger numbers. Across the country, 41 percent of female legislators are Republicans, 58 percent are Democrats.

Now, someone has actually done a study of the impact of female legislators.

The University of Florida polled 1,100 legislators, men and women, half Republicans, half Democrats, to find that out that:

  • women legislators are as effective as males in non gender-related policy issues.
  • female legislators with links to women's groups are more effective than males in representing "women's policies" that benefit women, children and families
  • women legislators tend to have fewer children than male legislators, and their youngest children are older that male legislators' youngest
  • there were no important differences in marital status, or age (average 52), between men and women legislators
  • female legislators are more likely than men to sponsor legislation dealing with children and youth, child abuse, cultural affairs, public education, elderly services, human services, juvenile crime and crime prevention, and so called "gender-related" issues
  • there are no significant differences between male and female legislators' abilities to get bills passed in "non-gender" issues

Bottom line, a woman's place is in the House. And, in the Senate.

All materials copyright 1997 - 2014