Keri Marable, Staff
As it gets closer to November, campaigns and election talks ramp up. One conversation that comes up during election season is the representation of women. The disparity between the total population of women compared to how many get elected or appointed has grown smaller in recent years, but when looking at the history of the number of women representatives in the swing state of Pennsylvania, the lack of representation of women in Pennsylvania has been and still is prominent. That could change this election season, with a record number of women running for state office.
The Pennsylvania Center for Women & Politics at Chatham University cites statistics that show despite making up 50.6% of the population in Pennsylvania (US Census Bureau, 2021), women only make up 29.2% of the Pennsylvania General Assembly (PCWP, 2022). Of the 74 women in the General Assembly, 60 are members of the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives, making up 29.5% of the House. The State Senate has 50 members in total, 14 of which are women, putting the percentage of women in the State Senate at 28%. The percentage of women in the General Assembly has grown from 4% to about 30% in the last 100 years since 1923 (PCWP, 2022).
The Center also notes that of the 13 elective executive office positions in Pennsylvania, just five of these positions have been held by only 11 women since the first woman was elected to a Pennsylvania Executive Office position in 1955 (PCWP, 2022). The first woman elected to an executive office in 1955 held the Secretary of Internal Affairs position and has been the only woman ever to do so. Four women have held the position of State Treasurer since 1961. Two women have held the position of Auditor General since 1965. Only one woman has been elected Lt. Governor before, in 2003. Two women have held the position of Attorney General, the first one elected in 2011 and the second appointed in 2013.
Pennsylvania has never had a female Governor (unless one counts the wife of state founder William Penn, who governed the colony for 14 years, though many discounts her despite her vast contributions), a Chief of Staff to the Governor, Commissioner of Insurance, Public Utility Commission, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Conservation and Resources, Secretary of Education, Labor or State (PCWP, 2022).
The first-time women were appointed to the Governor’s Executive Staff was in 2015. In the 19 Governor’s Executive Staff positions, 12 are currently women. There has only ever been a total of 18 women who have worked in positions of the Governor’s Executive Staff. Only 12 women have ever held a cabinet position, with the first one appointed in 2015. Women currently hold seven of the 22 cabinet positions (PCWP, 2022).
These numbers go to show that in recent years the representation of women has grown in the Pennsylvania state government, but a representation of women in the state government, in general, didn’t exist until just before the 1950s and some positions have not been held by a woman until just a few years ago. Even now, despite making up half the state population, women only get less than a third of representation in the General Assembly.
While there are many factors that go into a lack of representation of women in the state government, the first step in getting more women in office is to recognize the women who are running for elected positions. Over 130 women are running for a Pennsylvania state government electoral position this 2022 election season: one woman is running for Lt. Governor; nine women are running for PA representatives in the United States Congress; 20 women are running for Pennsylvania State Senate, and over 100 women are running for a position in the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives.
The Pennsylvania Center for Women & Politics at Chatham University details all the women running and their platforms on their website. The center’s mission, according to its website, is “to increase women’s influence and leadership in public life in Pennsylvania and improve the quality of women’s lives by providing them with educational and training opportunities in politics and public policy” (PCWP, 2022). They accomplish this through their different programs, including NEWLeadership, a leadership program for women in college, as well as the ReadytoRun Pennsylvania Campaign Training for women looking to run for election. Some of the women running for office in PA now have gone through the ReadytoRun training at Chatham University. Learn more about those women and all the other women running for election this electoral season in PA at https://www.chatham.edu/pcwp/research/election/