There Will Be 62 Women In The Mass. Legislature Next Year

From left, top: Sally Kerans of Danvers, Erika Uyterhoeven of Somerville, Patricia Duffy of Holyoke. Bottom: Jessica Giannino of Revere, Brandy Fluker Oakley of Boston, Vanna Howard of Lowell, Meg Kilcoyne of Northborough. (Courtesy)
From left, top: Sally Kerans of Danvers, Erika Uyterhoeven of Somerville, Patricia Duffy of Holyoke. Bottom: Jessica Giannino of Revere, Brandy Fluker Oakley of Boston, Vanna Howard of Lowell, Meg Kilcoyne of Northborough. (Courtesy)

The election of seven new female state representatives this week is poised to boost women's representation on Beacon Hill to a new high next session.

Sixty-two women — a dozen in the Senate and 50 in the House — won their elections Tuesday, meaning that women are set to hold 31% of the Legislature's 200 seats when the new two-year term begins on Jan. 6, 2021.

Counting turnover that's occurred through special elections, next year's ranks of women lawmakers will be five more than the previous record of 57 at the start of this session in 2019, and 10 more than 52 seats held by women in 2017.

According to the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators, a total of 213 women and more than 20,000 men have served in the Legislature. The first women elected to the Massachusetts House were Reps. Sylvia Donaldson of Brockton and Susan Fitzgerald of Jamaica Plain in 1923, and Sen. Sybil Holmes of Brookline was the first woman elected to the state Senate, 14 years later.

Women make up 51.5% of the Massachusetts population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

No female incumbents lost their reelection bids this year, and one woman — Lowell Democrat Vanna Howard — unseated a male incumbent, Rep. David Nangle, in the September primary.

The other six female representatives-elect, all Democrats, claimed open seats: Jessica Giannino of Revere, Erika Uyterhoeven of Somerville, Patricia Duffy of Holyoke, Brandy Fluker Oakley of Boston, Meg Kilcoyne of Northborough and Sally Kerans of Danvers.

Kilcoyne will be the first woman to hold the 12th Worcester District seat, and Kerans is a former representative who served on Beacon Hill in the '90s. When Kerans began her first term in 1991, there were 38 women in the state Legislature.

The House's party breakdown among women in the new term is set to be 44 Democrats, five Republicans (Reps. Kimberly Ferguson of Holden, Susan Gifford of Wareham, Sheila Harrington of Groton, Hannah Kane of Shrewsbury, and Alyson Sullivan of Abington) and one unenrolled lawmaker, Athol Rep. Susannah Whipps.

In the Senate, all 12 women are Democrats who ran as incumbents, including Senate President Karen Spilka of Ashland. The last Republican woman to hold a state Senate seat in Massachusetts was Jo Ann Sprague of Walpole, who opted not to seek reelection in 2004.

Seventy-six women, mostly Democrats, ran for state legislative offices in Massachusetts this year, down from the 79 who ran in 2018, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Women accounted for just over 29% of the country's 7,383 state legislators in 2020, the center's figures show, holding 521 seats in state senates and 1,641 in state houses of representatives or assemblies. Of the total 2,162 women legislators, 552 are women of color.

Nevada had the highest percentage of female representation, at 54%, and West Virginia's 13.4% was the lowest, according to the center.

Nationwide, 17 women, including Spilka, lead state senates, and seven women are state house speakers. Massachusetts has never had a female speaker, a post filled by a vote among representatives at the start of each session.

The secretary of state's office has also never been held by a woman, and while Acting Gov. Jane Swift in 2001 became the first woman to serve as governor, Bay State voters have never elected a woman to the corner office. Women do hold several other prominent roles in Massachusetts government.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito is one of four current female constitutional officers, along with Auditor Suzanne Bump, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg and Attorney General Maura Healey.

In 1999, Margaret Marshall became the first woman to serve as chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, and another woman is on track to step into that post. Gov. Charlie Baker last month nominated Associate Justice Kimberly Budd to serve as the next chief justice, and if confirmed she will become the first Black woman to lead the state's highest court. Baker has nominated another woman, Appeals Court Judge Dalila Argaez Wendlandt. Aside from Budd, two other judges on the seven-seat SJC bench — Elspeth Cypher and Barbara Lenk — are women, and Lenk plans to retire next month.

Ninety-five years after Edith Nourse Rogers began her term as the first woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts, the state has a female senator, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and three of its nine members of Congress are women — Reps. Katherine Clark, Ayanna Pressley and Lori Trahan.

Clark, a Melrose Democrat, is vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, making her the second highest-ranking woman in the U.S. House after Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She has said she intends to run for assistant speaker, which would move her up two rungs on the House leadership ladder and into the fourth position from the top after speaker, majority leader and whip.



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