The Vote Was Just Part of the Quest for Equal Female Representation


The Vote Was Just Part of the Quest for Equal Female Representation

From October 2019-October 2020, we will be featuring a special guest blogger once a month to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

This month we are excited to share a post from Kim Croffort-Suede, Interim Executive Director of the Matriots PAC. 
The Matriots is a nonpartisan political action committee based in Columbus, Ohio. Their mission is to elect more Ohio women to public office who will promote a healthy economy in which women can thrive and prosper. Kim has written about the key steps towards equal gender representation in Ohio government. You can learn more about the blog series here
With this 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, we celebrate the grit and savvy of the women who demanded and achieved the right to vote so as to have a voice in the public life of this country. These women were only able to win the vote in 1920 after decades of struggle and setbacks. Even so, Native American women didn’t receive full rights until more than 40 years later; Asian American women did not truly achieve suffrage until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1962; and many African American women were not able to vote until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

But the vote was not the end of the path to equal representation. The Matriots PAC is an organization that understands that voting – while necessary – is not sufficient to achieve equal representation. Women are more than 51% of the population but we are severely underrepresented in public life. In Ohio we have only 29% female representation – less than two-thirds!  This is why Ohio women find again and again that their interests are not front and center when policy is debated and enacted at all levels of government.

The first step in getting us closer to achieving equal representation is to acknowledge the women who have come before us, running for office and representing us with a seat at the tables and in the chambers where decisions are made. History serves as a guide and inspiration. The Ohio History Connection has done an incredible job reminding us of the work of these women, and that having women in positions of power normalizes having women in positions of power. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously said when asked when there will be enough women on the U.S. Supreme Court:

“So now the perception is, yes, women are here to stay. And when I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the supreme court]? And I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” (source: 10th Circuit Bench & Bar Conference at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Co., 2012)

The women discussed below are just a few of the ‘firsts’ for women as office holders in Ohio:

Gertrude Walton Donahey (August 4, 1908 – July 11, 2004)
Donahey, a Democrat, was the first woman to be elected to a statewide executive office in Ohio, and served as Ohio State Treasurer from 1971 to 1983. She became involved in politics as a volunteer for the Democratic party in Ohio. She was chosen as a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1964 and 1968, as well as acted as representative for the State of Ohio on the Democratic Party’s platform and resolution committee. In 1964, she was hired by U.S. Senator Stephen M. Young as his executive assistant, a position that she held until 1970. All of these experiences prepared Donahey for an elected political position. Donahey became the first woman to be elected to a statewide office in Ohio when she won election as State Treasurer in 1970. She served in this role until 1983. Donahey was highly respected in this position, both within the state and at the national level. The members of the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers, and Treasurers elected her as their president in 1981. (source for background: Ohio History Central)

L. Helen Rankin (born September 12, 1936)
Rankin, a Democrat, was the first African American woman to serve in the Ohio House of Representatives. She fought for health care issues and championed the needs and rights of women, children and the poor. She was known as a quiet legislator. Her supporters said she “planned purposefully, prepared prayerfully, proceeded hopefully, and pursued persistently.” As chairwoman of the House Human Services Committee, she pushed through a bill that required insurance companies to pay for mammograms. She introduced it four times before its passage in 1991.
(source for background: Ohio Statehouse)

L. Helen Rankin, photo courtesy of Ohio Statehouse Museum
Nancy Hollister (born May 22, 1949)
Hollister, a Republican, was Ohio’s first female Lieutenant Governor and Governor (although she only served eleven days as Governor). She started in the Marietta City Council during the 1970s and became the city’s first female Mayor in 1983. In 1991, Governor George Voinovich appointed Hollister as the director of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia. Having served as Mayor of an Appalachian community, Hollister was well-suited for this position. She advised the Governor on how to improve economic life for people living in 29 Ohio counties deemed to be part of Appalachia. In 1994, she became the state’s first female Lieutenant Governor, as the running-mate of Republican gubernatorial candidate George Voinovich. When Voinovich ran for U.S. Senate in 1998 and won, he resigned as Governor on December 31. Hollister then became Governor for eleven days, until Republican Bob Taft, who had run and won Voinovich’s empty seat, was sworn in on January 11. (source for background: Ohio Statehouse)

Maureen O’Connor (born August 7, 1951)
O’Connor, a Republican, followed Hollister in 1998 as Lieutenant Governor, having successfully run with Republican Bob Taft. O’Connor left the office after one term to serve on the Supreme Court of Ohio. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who is the first woman to lead the Ohio judicial branch, has made justice system reform the centerpiece of her nine-year tenure. Among initiatives she has championed in Ohio and nationally are racial justice; challenges to “debtor’s prisons”; attorney representation for the poor; reform of bail, fines and fees; sentencing fairness; cameras in courtrooms; and grand jury reform. (source for background: Supreme Court of Ohio)
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor delivering State of the Judiciary in 2019, photographer Liesl Bonneau, reported by WOSU Public Media

Jo Ann Davidson (born September 28, 1927)
Davidson, a Republican, was the first woman elected Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives. She started in local politics, serving on the Reynoldsburg City Council and as Truro Township Trustee. Davidson has also served on the Ohio Turnpike Commission as vice chair, and as a member of the Franklin County Mental Health Board. Within the Ohio House, she served for more than two decades and held leadership roles as Assistant Minority Whip, Minority Whip and Minority Leader before her election as Speaker in 1995. Speaker Davidson served as chair of the Rules and Reference Committee and as an ex-officio member of all House Standing Committees. She was a member of the Legislative Services Commission and Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board.
(source for background: Ohio Statehouse)

 Jo Ann Davidson, photo courtesy of the
Jo Ann Davidson Leadership Institute

The second step in getting us closer to achieving equal representation is to understand that we will achieve equal representation only if we look out for each other and work together – which includes keeping track of women running for office; understanding the roadblocks that hinder them; and finding ways to help them win. To this end, the Matriots PAC commissioned the first comprehensive research on the “State of Women in Ohio Elected Office,” back in 2017, and we continue to update it annually when the information is made available. Along with the Matriots PAC, organizations like the Center for Women and Politics of Ohio at Baldwin Wallace University, working with the Matriots Education Fund, are hard at work creating a body of research on these intrepid women who have stepped up to represent us.

The Matriots PAC “State of Women in Ohio Elected Office” report also details the number of women in political office – from school board to Governor. This is how we learned and confirmed that across all levels of government in the State of Ohio only 29% of elected officials are female. And this percentage consistently decreases the higher the level of government – with just 22% representation at the state level and a mere 16% at the federal level. The highest proportional representation of women in Ohio office is at the school board level with 37% of total positions held by women. We also tabulated by county with the highest proportional representation of women being 39% in Hamilton County and the lowest being 11% in Mercer County. (Click here to see more of our research).

*The Matriots® partnered with Measurement Resources Company to gather and analyze data. The list of officeholder names or gender included in the study was gathered from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office and from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics. Gender estimates were calculated using a statistical computing software. All data is for service term, 2018.

The third step in getting us closer to equal representation is to run for office. The grit and savvy that won us the right to vote is the same grit and savvy that female candidates in Ohio still must deploy when they put their names on the ballot. We celebrate these female Ohioans who are pushing forward to demand a seat at the table, getting all of us closer to equal representation. Since 2018, the Matriots PAC has endorsed and supported women in 206 races for office here in Ohio, in both the Primary and General. We are nonpartisan and look to elevate women across all parties who share our values and will advance the cause of equal female representation. Win or lose, each of these women is commemorated by the Matriots PAC through our online interviews with each candidate and their personal statements. This is also how we hope to inspire more women to run for office – by having them be able to connect – for years to come – with the women who came before them.

In 2018 we endorsed thirty-four candidates in the General Election (after supporting eight in the Primary that year).

In 2019 we endorsed seventy-six women in the General Election (after supporting nine in the Primary that year).

Now, in 2020, we have endorsed sixty-four women in the General Election this November 3rd (after supporting fifteen in the Primary this year).

The women, research and statistics we touch on here are just a few examples of what is needed to achieve equal representation.  One hundred years after achieving the right to vote, it’s time to set our sights on achieving equal representation.  Unfortunately, it will take as much grit and savvy for us in the 21st century to do that, as was required of our foremothers in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The good news is we believe the time is ripe to get closer and closer to seeing 50% women in elected office in Ohio. The Matriots PAC bold goal is to achieve that equal representation by 2028. Join us.
Kim Croffort-Suede is the Interim Executive Director of the Matriots PAC. The Matriots is a nonpartisan political action committee based in Columbus, Ohio. Their mission is to elect more Ohio women to public office who will promote a healthy economy in which women can thrive and prosper. The Matriots was founded after six central Ohio women participated in the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017: Mindy Coffey, Sally Crane Cox, Rebecca Ibel,  April Zimmerman Katz, Cathe Kobacker, and Sharon Steele. These Marchers came away from the event inspired to create a force that worked to elect more women to public office in Ohio to support economic justice for women and address our country’s political stalemate. 

Posted October 12, 2020

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