A recent NCSL survey of legislative communications staff, clerks and secretaries identified 30 women state legislators currently in office who were elected to fill vacancies left by the deaths of their husbands.
Spousal succession used to be a common way women were elected to any office 50 years ago, says Leah Oliver, with the Women's Legislative Network of NCSL. In fact, 45 percent of the women who served in Congress before 1962 were widows filling their spouses' seats. Of the 203 women who have ever served in the U.S. House of Representatives, 36 succeeded their late husbands, according to a 2006 report by the Congressional Research Service.
As Women's History Month comes to a close, it's an appropriate time to recognize the strength of these women who embraced public service at a time of great grief. It's also a time to celebrate that there are myriad other ways women come to office these days, which means more and more elective bodies look more like the electorate, in terms of gender balance.
Legislatures certainly don't mirror the electorate, however. At 15 percent today, a record number of members of Congress are women. And women constitute about 23 percent of America's state legislators, up from just four percent a quarter century ago. More women are leaders in their chambers, caucuses and committees. And while they continue to champion what are often dubbed “women’s issues”--healthcare, education, and domestic violence, for example--they’ve proven their acumen in other policy areas too.