Megan McClure, a research analyst with NCSL, connected with Colorado Representative Meg Froelich (D), the majority caucus chair, while recording the podcast miniseries “Building Democracy: The Story of Legislatures.” She asked Froelich why it’s important for women to be in elective office and what made her decide to run.
Tell us about yourself and your journey to the legislature.
I’ve always been very interested in women in government and in politics in general. I studied women’s history in graduate school. My path was through volunteering with campaigns. I was always the campaign manager, the behind-the-scenes person, and I became particularly interested in recruiting and training women to run for office with the belief that it makes a difference to have women elected. I was actually recruiting people to run for House District 3 and approached a couple of women I had in mind and asked if they would consider running for this seat. They said, “Meg, when are you going to stop telling us what to do and look in the mirror and step up and run yourself?” So, I ran in 2016 and lost in a primary, but that was a good lesson. You know, history and fate are weird, and in 2018 a vacancy for that same seat was created, and I was elected by a vacancy committee and sworn in two weeks into the 2019 session, then elected in 2020. I feel very privileged and lucky that things worked out.
Why is it important for women to be in the legislature? Is there a difference in doing legislative work when there are women in the room?
When women are in the legislature or in any elected body, research has shown that the conversations are different, the tone quite often is different, the style of the way business is conducted changes and for me, maybe most importantly, the agenda changes. Of course, it matters whether it’s just one, two or, as we’ve historically now had in Colorado, a majority of women. When women are part of the mix, the discussions, the bills that come up and the issues that are addressed change. You see a lot more emphasis on social issues like education and discrimination. And, of course, you see more activity on traditional women’s issues: reproductive rights, equal wages, nondiscrimination. And I should also say, we see a difference when women are elected in the amount of bipartisanship, the amount of productivity, the amount of collaboration. People talk, anecdotally, about the atmosphere being not only less partisan but less confrontational. We hear a lot of stories about women being more likely to take their ego out of the mix and just accomplish things for the sake of accomplishing things. It isn’t so much about women stepping into a traditional gender role and carrying that into the legislature; I think there is a genuine difference in leadership styles that corresponds, in some cases, to gender.
Tell us about the first women elected to the Colorado General Assembly—who were also the first women elected to state legislative office in U.S. history.
The first women elected in Colorado were Clara Cressingham, Carrie Holly and Frances Klock. All three were Republicans. There was a great hubbub in the all-male chamber over how business was going to be conducted. Remember, this was in the 1890s, when men wore hats. Will they have to take off their hats as these women enter? Will gloves be worn? They had those sorts of decorum questions. With the first women entering the chamber, smoking was prohibited, spittoons were removed, and lobbyists were kicked off the floor of the chamber. This idea of women cleaning up the chamber just by their presence extended beyond the superficial. Legislation started to mirror the “women cleaning up government” metaphor.
The first three women didn’t make a particularly big splash legislatively, but we do start to see, at the turn of the century and on into the early 1900s, a focus on issues related to women’s everyday lives. For example, there was a laundry girl law in 1912 about the safety and long hours girls, principally, were working in quite dangerous laundries. Similarly, there was a domestic workers’ rights bill passed in 1917.
Do you see a connection between the elected women of Colorado’s past and your own legislative service?
I see the amazing legacy of elected women in Colorado every day I serve in the legislature, whether it’s the stained-glass windows honoring Ruth Stockton or the knowledge of the folks who went before me. Women elected in Colorado have changed our state and the way legislative business is done, and now that women have a majority in the Colorado House—and the Senate is catching up—it looks more like the people of Colorado. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It means that discussions are fuller and representative of a more 360-degree view of our state, rather than a narrow view represented by only the privileged folks or just the men. And, in Colorado, we are not only seeing women elected in great numbers, but we’re also seeing women in leadership, and that is a significant hurdle. We’re seeing that on the national level as well.
What would you say to women today who are considering a run for office?
I would definitely say, “Go run!” I think it is important that young women, and women of all ages, see themselves reflected in their elected representatives. We need all voices. I don’t feel it’s hyperbolic to say it makes all the difference in the world.
This interview was edited for length and clarity. If you’d like to hear more about the role of Colorado and other Western states and territories in women’s suffrage long before the passage of the 19th Amendment, listen to Episode 4 of “Building Democracy.”
Megan McClure is the co-host of the “Building Democracy” podcast series and a research analyst in NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services Program.