Reviews | women are on the march

If so, it will be the next chapter in a saga that stretches back a century – the first two women elected governors got their jobs in 1925, in Wyoming and Texas.

The winner from Wyoming, Nellie Tayloe Ross, was the former governor’s widow. When she died, her party nominated her as his successor before she decided to run. She still won and apparently enjoyed the work. Ross ran for re-election and lost, but went on to build a successful career as manager of the US Mint. Wyoming, however, has never since chosen a woman as governor. Get moving, Wyoming.

The other woman who became governor a century ago was a little less, uh, encouraging. Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, of Texas, also succeeded her husband – who was, in this case, impeached. “Ma” essentially swore to continue her husband’s not entirely reputable practices. Elect her, she promised voters, and get “two for the price of one.” This is, you may recall, what Bill Clinton said when he ran for president in 1992 – pick him and get Hillary too.

It worked much better for the couple from Arkansas than for the couple from Texas. Ma Ferguson won, and voters got a governor who pardoned an average of 100 convicts a month. Most didn’t seem worthy of being released on anything other than cash. But hey, she was definitely carrying on a family tradition.

The first woman elected as full governor was Ella Grasso in Connecticut. It was 1974 and I was in Hartford at the time, starting my career covering the state legislature. My clients were small newspapers that paid a tiny bit of money to hear what their legislators were up to. The regular newsroom decreed there was no room for newcomers, and I was sent — along with my partner, Trish Hall — to work in the attic of the Capitol.

Other facilities in this attic included a men’s bar for lawmakers. The 35 women in the legislature at the time did not seem unhappy with the discrimination in access to drinking establishments. Perhaps because the facility in question, known as the Hawaiian Room, was a dark, moldy space with dusty plastic clamps hanging from the ceiling.

But I complained about having to work in the attic, and one evening when I was alone there – it was really quite late – Ella Grasso herself showed up to check the accommodations. As she walked through the narrow room, a bat flew from the ceiling and into her hair.

She took it very well.

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