“When it comes to leadership within the legislature, it’s about trust, not gender. It’s about showing your colleagues you can lead them on the floor, in the caucus room, and on the campaign trail.” – Joanna McClinton
In 1955, Genevieve Blatt made Pennsylvania history, earning statewide election to the post of Secretary of Internal Affairs.
Known as the “First Lady of Pennsylvania Politics,” Blatt also was the first woman to be nominated by a major party to run for Senate, and the first to be seated on the state’s Commonwealth Court. By at least one historian’s account, 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.
Blatt carved a path for women throughout the Keystone State to not only become involved in politics, but to strive for what was rightfully theirs – leadership positions.
Advances came slowly, however, and it took 16 more years before C. Delores Tucker made the next advancement for women in the Keystone State, serving as Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – the first African American woman in the nation to be Secretary of State.
In 1995, Sandra Schultz Newman was the first woman elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, while in 2012, Kathleen Kane was elected as Attorney General, the first woman elected to this position.
Today, when one looks around the halls of Harrisburg, you may think that the Commonwealth has finally caught up to the rest of the country.
After all, in 1955, there were 11 women in the state House (7D, 4R), a number that works out to 5.4 percent, and none in the Senate. In 2022, that number jumped to 60 (32D, 28R) or 29 percent. There are 14 women state senators – 28 percent of the chamber – a far cry from zero 67 years ago.
Today, Sen. Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) is the Senate’s first female President Pro Tempore, while Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia), the House Democratic Leader, may be on the verge of becoming the first female Speaker of the House.
Yet, with women comprising 50.6 percent of the 13 million residents of the Commonwealth, the state ranks 28th in the Union in female representation in state legislatures.
U.S. 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)
- Republicans (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)
- Republicans (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), MaryLouise 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 need 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 run,” said U.S. House Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-6). “For a long time, and many would argue still to this day, politics has been dominated by men whose perspective might not necessarily capture the needs of women and families in our country – Pennsylvania is no exception. At a certain point, I think women across the Commonwealth realized that another way to advocate for their interests was to run for seats themselves.
“Service is very important to me, and with my military and small business background, I felt like I could be a useful voice to advocate for both national defense and the Main Streets in our community.”
“We’ve seen an escalation of urgent situations that impact women, particularly marginalized women, women of color women, disabled women, and queer and trans women that just was not being solved by men,” said fellow House member Summer Lee (D-12). “Women rose to this moment of urgency with a movement that swept 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 will fight for working class families.”
Pennsylvania House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) showed her appreciation of history, noting “Pennsylvania has always been an incubator for women leaders and throughout our nation’s history has been at the forefront of advocating for the rights of all women – so it is in our blood.
“The first post-19th-amendment election in America saw Pennsylvania send eight women lawmakers to the state House – more than any other state,” she continued. “This year Pennsylvania has elected record numbers of women to the General Assembly. Our Congressional delegation has five women, which is the most women it has had in at least 60 years, and we just elected our first African American Congresswoman, Summer Lee.
“When our communities see more women in power and able to serve in a very public and meaningful way, it is a great recruiting tool for future women leaders,” she said. “When there are more women in Harrisburg it means there are more women leading.”
Social scientists will tell you all about the different management and/or leadership styles between men and women.
Houlahan said, “Women in politics, since our numbers are still relatively small, help to increase the diversity of perspective in the room while legislating. For example, while parenthood is a shared experience for both men and women, it is often women who shoulder the bulk of the childcare, or whose career is likely to change after having a child. That sets us apart from our male colleagues when working on policies that would impact our workforce.”
Lee acknowledges the perspective and takes it another step.
“Perspective of impact,” said Lee. “When it’s your body that’s on the line, when it’s your livelihood, on the line, that’s your community when you are disproportionately impacted, you have to move differently, right? You have to move with urgency. We cannot afford to move the same way as men.”
“We value the perspective of that nurse and not just the hospital CEO, we value the perspective of that tenant and not just the landlord — of the teacher and that single mom whose needs have been ignored by state and federal legislatures. That’s absolutely a value add to our politics.”
“Women have different life experiences. We’ve traditionally had different responsibilities and social pressures than our male counterparts,” said McClinton. “We’ve had different challenges and encountered different types of bias. Managing these conditions informs our perspectives and decision-making.”
The Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics (PCWP), housed at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, is a non–partisan center devoted to fostering women’s public leadership through education, empowerment, and action.
Its mission is “To increase women’s influence and leadership in public life in Pennsylvania and improve the quality of women’s lives by providing them with educational and training opportunities in politics and public policy.”
“At the PCWP we believe that the women of Pennsylvania have important insights on politics and policy,” says Executive Director Dana Brown. “However, right now women are largely under-represented across the state and local governments. Therefore, women’s voices and experiences may not always be found and reflected in public policy.
“We believe that Pennsylvania can do better, but politics will not change on its own. The PCWP through its programs and research aims to educate and arm women in Pennsylvania with knowledge, so when an opportunity presents itself she will be willing and able to capitalize on that opportunity.”
“The PA Center for Women and Politics has helped women across the Commonwealth realize that running for public office is not only an option, but something they will receive the resources and guidance to follow through with,” said Houlahan. “When the center approaches local advocates and leaders and says, “maybe you should consider running for higher office,” they are opening up a possibility that some might not have even considered and dismantling a major barrier in getting women into politics.”
“The Center is creating “pathways that help women navigate the system, providing training to help them bolster their leadership skills, and building a network where women can support one another,” says McClinton.
The PCWP is sponsoring “Ready to Run Philadelphia,” a non-partisan program for women who want to run for office, seek higher office, work on a campaign, get appointed to office, or learn more about the political system.
The event takes place on Saturday, Feb. 4, at Thomas Jefferson University in Philly and looks to help train those running for office or getting involved in public life, providing training and mentoring by campaign professionals, political women, and officeholders.
The group just concluded its “Ready to Run Pittsburgh” event two weekends ago
“It’s not to say women are better or worse at lawmaking, or make more valuable or less valuable voices in government, but effective governance really does take a mix of voices in regard to gender, age, sexual orientation, racial and cultural background, professional experience, etc. Pennsylvanians benefit when our legislature reflects our population,” concluded McClinton.
“We need more women in politics, and we need more women to see themselves as someone who can hold public office,” said Houlahan. “There are still a lot of “firsts” to be had, which can be daunting. I am the first woman to represent my district, but because of the support of places like the PA Center for Women and Politics, I will not be the last.”