Women's History Month: New Hampshire's Barrier Breaking Political Leaders

Today’s U.S. Congress is made up of less than 20% of female members—18% to be exact—a far cry from the parity we strive toward. Any conversation about Women’s History Month must include the rather dismal representation of women in American politics across the board.nhwomen

The Congressional delegation from New Hampshire are the exception to that 20% barrier. Last November, two women won Congressional seats, joining the two women who already held New Hampshire’s two Senate seats. To top it all off, the state’s governor, speaker of the State House, and chief justice of the State Supreme Court are all women as well.

These women have made history by making New Hampshire the first state with an all-female Congressional delegation.

The senators include Jeanne Shaheen (D) and Kelly Ayotte (R). The new Representatives are Carol Shea-Porter (D) and Ann McLand Kuster (D). Let’s not forget about Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), the only female Democratic governor in 2013, state speaker Terie Norelli (D) and State Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis.

While this should be celebrated as a historic win for women and women’s rights, the beliefs of these women are diverse, to say the least. On one hand, there’s Carol Shea-Porter, who stands with EMILY’s List and the National Women’s Political Caucus, among other feminist organizations. And then there’s Kelly Ayotte, who as her state’s attorney general vigorously defended anti-abortion legislation and consistently votes against reproductive rights and even such gender equality economic measures as the Paycheck Fairness Act .

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The victory for womankind of having a totally female delegation for the first time, though one for the history books, is dampened by this lack of solidarity within the delegation. Sure, they represent their diverse interests, but some do not serve the interests of the majority of women in New Hampshire who do support reproductive and economic justice measures.
It’s ironic but not so surprising that women would dominate elections only when they’re getting paid significantly less than male counterparts in other states.

Why were so many women chosen to be a part of the 2013 delegation? Hillary Reinsberg tells Buzzfeed:

“In a state with an abnormally large, unpaid legislature, the ground-level civic engagement that has always been the province of stay-at-home-moms — school boards, letter-writing campaigns — becomes the work of low-rent state legislators. These positions carry less of the fanfare or pay that come with legislatures in almost any other state. But they do something else: They offer a path past a glass ceiling that, in other states, can block women with similar career paths from running for Congress from their perches on, say, school boards or community groups.”

However unfortunate the pay is (N.H. legislators earn $100 per year), perhaps New Hampshire’s methodology for state elections does have that one benefit for gender equality. Still, it’s a reminder of how many women have yet to make it to Washington. Delaware, Iowa, Mississippi, and Vermont have never sent a woman to the House or the Senate.

There is much women’s history yet to be made.