taylor chamber pot colorado capitol

When the women’s restroom near the Colorado House chamber was renovated and dedicated as the “Taylor Chamber Pot,” then-Rep. Phillip Pankey provided flowers and a model “two-holer” outhouse for the occasion. Pankey died in September 2020.

Water Closets and Chamber Pots: How Women Changed Capitol Buildings

By Megan McClure | March 31, 2022 | State Legislatures News | Print

It took 125 years for women to claim 30% of the nation’s state legislative seats, but the struggle for equal toilet seats continues.

Many states and territories in the West recognized the rights of women to vote and hold elected office before 1920 and the 19th Amendment. But it wasn’t until the 1960s and ’70s that women began to be elected to legislative office in numbers large enough to warrant substantial physical changes in state capitols. For example, many states, including Minnesota, built capitols without a single women’s bathroom. And many states continue to remedy these oversights today.

When Arie Taylor became Colorado’s first African American female legislator in 1972, there was no women’s restroom adjacent to the House chamber. Instead, female House members walked across the rotunda to use the women’s restroom near the Senate chamber. This hurdle resulted in many missed votes and lots of extra steps. Taylor, who served as the first African American women’s Air Force classroom instructor, was acutely aware about how spaces not built with women in mind impeded their work. She led the effort to get a women’s bathroom installed adjacent to the House chamber and sponsored legislation to end pay toilets for women at Stapleton Airport. Taylor also sponsored legislation to allow women to obtain credit on their own, a right denied at the time.

In 1987, the women’s restroom adjacent to the House chamber was renovated and dedicated as the “Taylor Chamber Pot.” The spare, single-stall restroom received a fresh coat of paint, a small seating area and a display of antique doilies.

Taylor attended the ribbon-cutting for the newly dedicated restroom, which featured a very tongue-in-cheek tribute outside the door (see box). According to Robin Jones, the Colorado House clerk, facilities in the Capitol continue to be improved. The Taylor Chamber Pot was remodeled during the 2021 interim session by switching spaces with the men’s restroom and, along with the new men’s room, was modernized and made ADA compliant.

Colorado by no means was the only legislature grappling with a lack of facilities for its growing number of female legislators. In 1976, the Rose Room, named for the late Sen. Rose Ann Vuich, the first woman elected to the chamber, was opened in the California Senate chamber, and in 1996 the Texas Senate unveiled Barbara Jordan’s Room, named after the first African American elected to the chamber since the late 1800s.

And while this may seem like an issue from the past, restrooms and other facilities for women are still being addressed in capitol buildings. The Illinois Senate installed a women’s restroom in 1992, then expanded it in 2000; the state House followed suit in 2011. Nearly two years ago, female lawmakers in Maryland were often seen queue up outside the women’s restroom in the State House. Delegate Adrienne A. Jones, Maryland’s first female House speaker, changed that in 2020 by expanding the women’s restroom space and adding a nursing room as well as a gender-neutral bathroom.

And it wasn’t just the states that had a shortage of proper facilities for female legislators: Women didn’t get a bathroom in the U.S. House of Representatives until 1962 and in the U.S. Senate until 1993.

Megan McClure is a policy analyst in NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services Program.

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