This paper is a brief study of some of the key women holding elective office in the United States and an examination of the context in which they were elected. Although women make up more than half the population, they are still dramatically under-represented in elected positions in government at all levels. This is reflective of the long an often bitter struggle that women have fought to gain a political voice. Nevertheless, women have begun to achieve some positions of importance, beginning at the local level, and the women in this review offer differing examples of this raising trend.
The United States Constitution contains no prohibition against the right of women to hold elective office. However, many individual state constitutions quickly rushed in to correct this oversight, limiting office seekers in those states to individuals eligible to vote (Nelson, 1994, p. 542). States in the west were more likely to grant women some political voice; the first woman in America to serve as a member of the state legislature was Martha Hughes Cannon, who was a state senator in Utah in 1896 (Weiser, 1981. P, 365).
Yet the majority of women who held office in the United States, even long after women were finally granted to right to vote in 1920, achieved their positions by filling the remainder of their husbandsÆ terms, after the death of their spouses. Hattie Wyatt Caraway was the first woman elected to the Senate, voted into office in 1932 in Arkansas on the strength of her own campaign, though Rebecca Latimer Felton was the first woman to serve as a senator. She was appointed by the governor of Georgia to fill the last two days of a term in 1922 (Weiser, p. 365-370).
The earliest female office holders wee usually elected to local school boards, an area deemed appropriate for women to serve. Eleanor B. Amico writes, ôBecause of an association with the home and family, it is within community politics that women have tra...