Since the ratification of the 19th Amendment, 100 years ago today, the United States has made some progress on electing females to political positions at all levels of government.

There has been one female presidential candidate on a major party ticket — Hillary Clinton in 2016 — and three vice presidential candidates: Geraldine Ferarro, Sarah Palin, and Kamala Harris.

In Pennsylvania, there have been no female governors, one Lt. Governor (Catherine Baker Knoll, who served with Ed Rendell), and no female U.S. Senators. Seven women have held one of the five statewide elected offices, but none since Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

There are currently four female members in Pennsylvania's Congressional U.S. House delegation, Susan Wild (PA-7), Chrissy Houlahan (PA-6), Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-5), and Madeleine Dean (PA-4). All four are Democrats.

In Harrisburg, 66 of 253 members of state government are women, including 54 state Representatives and a dozen Senators. 

And although more women in the Valley are running for office, particularly at the municipality level — town councils, supervisors, and school boards, Kandy Duncan, president of the League of Women Voters of the Lewisburg Area, said, "we haven't come far enough. You look back at the suffragettes and what they went through and the incredible amount of energy that took. I don't know if we've put out that kind of energy in the last hundred years."

"The most obvious place to start, when reflecting on how far we've come in 100 years is to say, we've never elected a woman president of the United States. And we have to ask why not?" said Nichola D. Gutgold, Penn State University professor, Communication Arts and Sciences, an expert on women in politics. 

Gutgold is currently writing a book on the six women who ran for president in 2020.

Gutgold, who studies political rhetoric — how things look — has traced why women haven't gotten further by the looks of things. The expectations that people have about what leadership looks like.

"For most of our lives," she said, "it has been men in leadership that looks like leadership to people." 

But that is slowly changing, Gutgold said. Her research has focused on the women "who have literally paved the way for progress, even if it is glacial in its pace."

There are those in the early suffragist movement who campaigned vigorously for women's rights. 

Sojourner Truth, a women's rights activist in the mid-1800s, did something very clever when she was trying to help suffragists get the right to vote, Gutgold explained. "She paid for and published photographs of herself. The fact that she was black and a woman was in itself an education for some people," she said. 

In 1972, when Shirley Chisholm ran for president, she would walk into a room and say she was running for president. "The people in the room would think she was half crazy," Gutgold said. "Here she was black, and a woman and there were people who didn't think a woman could be president, let alone a black woman. We've come far when we can see things differently. And we are slowly seeing things differently."

Hillary Clinton convinced people a woman could be president, winning the popular vote. Even though Clinton lost the electoral college her running still changed a lot of perceptions, Gutgold said. "I do see change, even in the 20 years I've been writing about women in politics."

Back then, she said, a lot of females attained office through familial ties.

Elizabeth Dole was the wife of Bob Dole. Hillary Clinton is the wife of former President Bill Clinton.

"Many women, who have served as governors or senators are the daughters of or widows," Gutgold said. "They rose to power literally over their husband's dead body."

The big shift Gutgold is seeing now, including the six women who ran for president in 2020, is that they did not have familial ties. Their blood did not get them into politics. Most of the women who got elected in 2018 had no familial ties. They just "went for it." They were school teachers, professors, lawyers, Gutgold said 

"Women are still only 25 percent of Congress and that's progress. Or is it?" Gutgold asked, and then answered her own question. "It is, but it's really slow progress."

"As long as we have to say, quote-unquote, 'the first vice presidential candidate' for example, and we don't have to identify them as 'the first,' then that's progress. In the meantime, we have to fight for where we are going," Duncan said. 

The goal, Duncan said, "maybe that shouldn't be to be equal to men. That would take a major amount of energy because we have an inherent disadvantage to begin with when you look at careers. We are the ones that have babies, and that does necessitate us to not work for a bit. To balance career and family holds many women back."

 

 

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