In a campaign cycle where record numbers of female candidates sought elected office, women picked up a handful of seats on Beacon Hill to boost their representation in the Legislature to new high of 28.5%.
The 46 women elected to the Massachusetts House on Tuesday (6) appears to be a record level, surpassing the 42 who served in that branch in 1999, according to historical figures from the Center for American Women in Politics. Eleven women, meanwhile, were elected to Senate seats, falling short of the high-water mark of 13 female senators reached for a time in 2013 and again in 2017.
Between the two branches, women are set to hold 57 of 200 seats in the 191st General Court, up from the 52 they held at the start of this session in 2017. Fifty-two — or 26 percent — was the previous high point reached in 2009, 2003, 2000 and 1999.
Women accounted for 51.5% of the Massachusetts population in the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey, but competed for seats in less than half of the 200 legislative races that were decided on Tuesday.
A total of 15 new women and 42 female incumbents, mostly Democrats, prevailed in their races Tuesday, unofficial results show.
The Senate’s GOP caucus will remain all-male, while Abington’s Alyson Sullivan will join six other Republican women in the House. Republican Reps. Keiko Orrall and Kate Campanale will leave the House next year after unsuccessful bids for other offices.
The two incumbent state lawmakers defeated Tuesday, Republican Sen. Richard Ross of Wrentham and GOP Rep. James Lyons of Andover, were both defeated by women — Democrats Rebecca Rausch of Needham and Tram Nguyen of Andover, respectively. Another woman, Nika Elugardo of Jamiaca Plain, upset House Ways and Means Chair Jeffrey Sanchez in the September primary and ran unopposed Tuesday.
A total of 3,389 women ran for state legislature seats across 46 states, including 79 in Massachusetts, according to the Center for American Women in Politics. A total of 61 women nationwide filed to run for their state’s governorship, along with 66 for lieutenant governor, 53 for U.S. Senate and 476 for Congress.
At the Massachusetts Democratic Party’s election night event Tuesday, Congresswoman Katherine Clark said next year will mark the first time Massachusetts has sent three women to the U.S. House, as congresswomen-elect Ayanna Pressley of Boston and Lori Trahan of Westford join her in the delegation.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who in 2012 became the first woman elected to the Senate from Massachusetts, is now the first woman from Massachusetts to be reelected to the Senate. Four other women — Republican Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Democrats Attorney General Maura Healey, Auditor Suzanne Bump and Treasurer Deb Goldberg — were reelected to statewide office.
Healey took the stage at the Fairmont Copley Plaza to the Beyonce song “Run the World (Girls),” and Warren kicked off her remarks by thanking “the women who are leading Massachusetts.”
Warren said “real change begins” when women refuse “to let anyone shut them up or stand in their way.”
“By the dozens, by the hundreds, women who had never run for anything before stepped up to put their names on the ballot. A record-breaking number of women – especially women of color, including our own Ayanna Pressley — jumped into the fight,” she said in her prepared remarks. “They ignored the party bosses who said they should wait their turn. They ignored the consultants who said they should cover up their tattoos and smile more. They ignored the powerful men of the Republican Party who never took them seriously.”
Also on hand as the Democrats celebrated their incumbents’ victories across the state’s constitutional offices and congressional districts was state Senate President Karen Spilka, who this year became the third woman to ever lead the chamber — and the first woman to receive the gavel from another woman, Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler.
Spilka and Chandler each ascended to the presidency in a high-turnover session in which three women — Cannabis Control Commissioner Jennifer Flanagan, Suffolk Construction executive Linda Dorcena Forry and Lowell City Manager Eileen Donoghue — left the Senate for other jobs.
Before her departure, Donoghue was the most recent Senate chair of the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators. Sen. Cindy Friedman, an Arlington Democrat, announced this week that Spilka had tapped her for the post.
Friedman said in a statement that she looks forward to “fighting for initiatives that will ensure equal pay for equal work, stop sexual harassment in the workplace, and ensure equitable access to healthcare.”
Top offices in Massachusetts that have never been held by a woman include secretary of state and House speaker, a post that the 160 House members fill at the start of each two-year session. Acting Gov. Jane Swift was the first woman to serve as governor, but Massachusetts voters have not yet elected a woman to serve as governor.