The rise of women in PA politics

“When it comes to leadership in the legislature, it’s about trust, not gender. It’s about showing your peers that you can lead them on the floor, in the boardroom, and on the campaign trail.” — Joanna McClinton

1955, Genevieve sheet made Pennsylvania history and was elected Secretary of the Interior statewide.

Known as the “First Lady of Pennsylvania Politics,” Blatt was also the first woman to be nominated for the Senate by a major party and the first to hold a seat on the state’s Commonwealth Court. If you add up all the votes she received in the 17 times she ran for local and state office, she would have more than any other person in Pennsylvania history, according to at least one historian’s report.

Blatt paved the way for women across Keystone State not only to get involved in politics, but to seek what is rightfully theirs—leadership positions.

However, progress came slowly, and it took another 16 years to get there C. Delores Tucker made the next advance for women in Keystone state by serving as Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – the first African American woman in the nation to become Secretary of State.

In 1995, Sandra Schultz Newman was the first woman elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court while she was in 2012 Kathleen Kane was elected Attorney General, the first woman to be elected to that office.

Looking around the halls of Harrisburg today, one might think the Commonwealth has finally caught up with the rest of the country.

After all, in 1955 there were 11 women in the State House (7D, 4R), a number that totals 5.4 percent, and none in the Senate. In 2022, that number rose to 60 (32D, 28R), or 29 percent. There are 14 female state senators — 28 percent of the chamber — a far from zero 67 years ago.

Today Sen. Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) is the first female Senate President Pro Tempore, while Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia), the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, may be on the verge of becoming the first female Speaker of the House.

With women making up 50.6 percent of the Commonwealth’s 13 million population, the state ranks 28th in the Union for women’s representation in the state legislature.

US House (5)

  • PA-4: Madeleine Dean (D)
  • PA-5: Mary Gay Scanlon (D)
  • PA-6: Chrissy Houlahan (D)
  • PA-7: Susan Wild (D)
  • PA-12: Summer Lee (D)

PA Senate (16)

  • Republican (8): Lisa Baker (20), Tracy Pennycuick (24), Kristin Phillips-Hill (28), Judy Ward (30), Kim Ward (39), Rosemary Brown (40), Camera Bartolotta (46), Michele Brooks (50)
  • Democrats (8): Christine Tartaglione (2), Judy Schwank (11), Maria Collett (12), Amanda Cappelletti (17), Lisa Boscola (18), Carolyn Comitta (19), Lindsey Williams (38), Katie Muth (44),

PA house (60)

  • Republican (27): Marla Brown (9), Marci Mustello (11), Stephenie Scialabba (12), Kathleen Tomlinson (18), Mindy Fee (37), Natalie Mihalek (40), Valerie Gaydos (44), Charity Krupa (51), Leslie Rossi (59), Abby Major (60), Donna Oberlander (63), Kathy Rapp (65), Stephanie Borowicz (76), Sheryl Delozie (88), Dawn Keefer (92), Wendy Fink (94), Joanne Stehr ( 107), Lynda Culver (108), Tina Pickett (110), Milou Mackenzie (131), Ann Flood (138), Shelby Labs (143), Donna Scheuren (147), Kate Klunk (169), Martina White (170) , Kristin Marcell (178), Barbara Gleim (199)
  • Democrats (33): Emily Kinkead (20), Sara Innamorato (21), La’Tisha Mayes (24), Mandy Steele (33), Jessica Benham (36), Anita Kulik (45), Liz Hanbidge (61), Carol Hill-Evans ( 95), Patty Kim (103), Bridget Kosierowski (114), Maureen Madden (115), Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz (129), Jeanne McNeill (133), Tina Davis (141), Mary Jo Daley (148), Melissa Cerrato (151), Nancy Guenst (152), Danielle Otten (155), Melissa Schusterman (157), Christina Sappey (158), Carol Kazeem (159), Leanne Krueger (161), Gina Curry (164), Jennifer O’Mara (165), Kristine Howard (167), Mary-Louise Isaacson (175), Elizabeth Fiedler (184), Regina Young (185), Tarah Probst (189), Joanna McClinton (191), Morgan Cephas (192), Donna Bullock (195 ). ), Darisha Parker (198)

Some would say baby steps. Others would say not fast enough.

First decisions have to be made. For example, do I want to run? And why?

“I think there are a lot of things that have pushed Women to walk,” US House said Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-6). “For a long time, and many would argue to this day, politics has been dominated by men whose perspective may not necessarily capture people’s needs Women and families across our country—Pennsylvania is no exception. At a certain point I think Women across the Commonwealth realized that another way to champion their interests was to run for seats themselves.

“Service is very important to me, and with my military and small business background, I felt I could be a useful voice to advocate for both national defense and the high streets in our community.”

“We have seen an escalation of pressing situations affecting women, particularly marginalized women, women of color, disabled women and queer and transgender women, that men simply have not resolved,” said a House colleague Summer Lee (D-12). “Women have risen in this moment of urgency with a movement that has gripped Pennsylvania and the nation — some because of racism and the rise of white supremacy, others because of extremist attacks on reproductive freedom and our need for leaders who understand our struggles and Working-class families will fight for them.”

Chairman of the Democratic Party of the Pennsylvania House Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) showed her appreciation for history, noting, “Pennsylvania has always been an incubator for women leaders and has been a leader in advocating the rights of all women throughout our nation’s history—it’s in our blood.

In America’s first post-19th Amendment election, Pennsylvania sent eight women legislators to the State House — more than any other state,” she continued. “This year, Pennsylvania elected a record number of women to the General Assembly. Our congressional delegation has five women, the most women in at least 60 years, and we just elected our first African-American congresswoman, Summer Lee.

“If our communities see more women in power and able to serve in a very public and meaningful way, that’s a great recruiting tool for future women leaders,” she said. “If there are more women in Harrisburg, that means more women are leading.”

Social scientists tell you all about the different management and/or leadership styles between men and women.

Houlahan said, “Women in politics, since we are still relatively small in numbers, help to increase the variety of perspectives in the area when it comes to legislation. For example, while parenthood is a shared experience for both men and women WomenIt is often Women who shoulder the bulk of childcare or whose careers are likely to change after having a child. This differentiates us from our male colleagues when working on policies that impact our workforce.”

Lee acknowledges the perspective and takes it one step further.

“Perspective of impact,” Lee said. “When your body is at stake, when your livelihood is at stake, your community, when you are disproportionately impacted, you need to move differently, right? You need to move urgently. We cannot afford to move like men.”

“We value this nurse’s perspective, and not just the hospital director’s, we value this tenant’s perspective, and not just the landlord’s – the teacher and this single mother whose needs have been ignored by state and federal legislatures. That is absolutely an added value for our policy.”

“Women have different life experiences. We’ve traditionally had different responsibilities and social pressures than our male colleagues,” McClinton said. “We faced different challenges and encountered different types of prejudice. Coping with these conditions influences our perspectives and decision-making.”

The Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics (PCWP), housed at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, is a nonpartisan center dedicated to promoting women’s public leadership through education, empowerment and action.

Its mission is to “increase the influence and leadership of women in public life in Pennsylvania and to improve the quality of life of women by providing them with education and training opportunities in politics and public policy.”

“At PCWP, we believe Pennsylvania women have important insights into politics and politics,” says Executive Director Dana Brown. “However, women are currently grossly underrepresented in state and local governments. As such, women’s voices and experiences may not always be found and reflected in public policy.

“We believe Pennsylvania can do better, but politics will not change on its own. The PCWP, through its programs and research, aims to educate and equip women in Pennsylvania so that when an opportunity presents itself, they will be willing and able to take advantage of that opportunity.”

“The PA Center for Women and politics helped Women across the Commonwealth recognize that running for public office is not just an option, but something they will be given the resources and guidance to go through with it,” said Houlahan. “When the center reaches out to local lawyers and leaders and says, ‘Perhaps you should consider running for higher office,’ they open up an opportunity that some may not have even considered and remove a major barrier Women into politics.”

“The center creates “ways that help Women navigate the system, provide training to help them strengthen their leadership skills and where to network Women can support each other,” says McClinton.

PCWP sponsors Ready to Run Philadelphia, a nonpartisan program for women who are running for office, seeking higher office, campaigning, being called to office, or wanting to learn more about the political system.

Taking place on Saturday, February 4th at Thomas Jefferson University in Philly, the event aims to help educate those running for office or participating in public life by providing training and mentoring from campaign professionals, political women and officials offers.

The group just wrapped up their Ready to Run Pittsburgh event two weekends ago

“It’s not to say that women are better or worse at legislating or have more or less valuable votes in government, but effective governance really requires a mix of votes related to gender, age, sexual orientation, racial and cultural background , job experience, etc. Pennsylvanians benefit when our legislation reflects our population,” McClinton concluded.

“We need more Women in politics, and we need more Women see yourself as someone who can hold public office,” Houlahan said. “There are still many ‘firsts’ that can be daunting. I’m the first woman to represent my district, but because of support from places like the PA Center for Women and politics, I will not be the last.”