suffragists ride in a car with banners promoting votes for women, in Montana, 1914

Drive to the vote: Montana suffragists during the “Votes for Women” campaign, 1914. Suffrage Daily News

Podcast Explores Women’s Suffrage as Female Lawmakers Gain Influence

By Martha Saenz and Megan McClure | Nov. 23, 2020 | State Legislatures Magazine

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, we also mark a couple of older milestones: 150 years since women’s enfranchisement in Wyoming and Utah and 127 years since women got the vote in Colorado—not to mention the other strides made in Western states and territories around the turn of the century.

The newest episode of “Building Democracy,” NCSL’s special podcast miniseries, explores this fascinating history, connecting the stories of women’s suffrage and early public service in the Western states to the modern contributions and increasing influence of women in state legislatures nationwide.

Wyoming Senator Affie Ellis (R), Colorado Representative Meg Froelich (D) and historians from Utah, Minnesota and South Dakota will discuss the often untold stories of how women fought for and won their right to vote and how they shaped state legislatures and life on the frontier well before the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Growing Influence

With the most recent election, women crossed a new threshold to make up 30% of state legislators nationwide. Women now comprise at least 50% of the lawmakers in five chambers. Nevada made history two years ago when it became the first state to have a female majority in both chambers. Voters maintained those majorities and set another record, as women now make up just over 60% of the legislature. Women now hold 27 of the 42 House seats and 11 of the 21 Senate seats. Women hold at least half the seats in the Colorado, New Mexico and Oregon houses and 19 of the 38 seats (exactly half) in the Rhode Island Senate. Nationwide, in 2019, women represented approximately 29 percent of state lawmakers.

As caucuses select leadership, we expect female representation to grow in this area as well. Two women in Pennsylvania made history this week: Senator Kim Ward (R) became the first female majority leader, and Representative Joanna McClinton (D) became the first Black woman in the state to lead a caucus when she was selected as the House minority leader. During the 2020 legislative session, 75 women served as a house speaker or speaker pro tem, as a senate president or president pro tem, or as a majority or minority leader. Check back with NCSL to see how this plays out for 2021.

Women have played a pivotal role at the state level for more than 150 years as the fight for their rights as citizens and for equal influence in the political life of their states and country continues.

Join us for the podcast to learn more about the history of women’s suffrage in the Western states and territories!

Martha Saenz is a program manager in NCSL’s Quad Caucus and Women’s Legislative Network. Megan McClure is a senior staff assistant in NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services Program.

Additional Resources