The first female U.S. senator from the state of Georgia served for one day in 1922.
Rebecca Felton was appointed by Gov. Thomas Hardwick after the serving senator died in September of that year. Hardwick wanted to run for the seat in a special election, and knew Felton presented no threat as an incumbent, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
Hardwick lost to Walter F. George, who then allowed Felton to be sworn in for 24 hours.
“The next morning she made a speech thanking the Senate for allowing her to be sworn in and noting that the women who followed her would serve with ‘ability,’ ‘integrity of purpose,’ and ‘unstinted usefulness,’” says the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
Only since then not a single woman has followed her into the Senate to represent Georgia.
The first woman to represent Georgia in the U.S House was Florence Gibbs, a Brenau University graduate who won a special election to take her husband’s seat after his death in 1940. The number of women who have represented the state in the U.S. House can almost be counted on one hand. A woman has never represented the 9th District.
But a record number of 127 women are in Congress this session. And the days of presuming a female incumbent is a weak candidate because of her gender are gone.
The House Democratic Women’s Working Group invited lawmakers to wear white at last week’s State of the Union in honor of the suffragette movement that brought women the right to vote in 1920.
It’s unclear whether Republican women participated, but on the other side of the aisle it was a striking image of the political shift taking place as more women win office.
Coordinated wardrobes of white do not correlate to good government, but they did make it clear that the image of Congress is changing.
While we may not agree with their politics, we can celebrate their numbers, as the president did during his speech.
“All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before — and exactly one century after the Congress passed the Constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in the Congress than ever before.”
Times editorial board
- Norman Baggs, general manager
- Shannon Casas, editor in chief
- Cheryl Brown
- David George
- Mandy Harris
- Brent Hoffman
- J.C. Smith
- Tom Vivelo
It is also worth noting that a third of the president’s cabinet members are women.
Women’s issues are in the public eye like never before, and a woman’s perspective on them should be a valuable part of the public discourse. That is not to say all women agree on these issues. Far from it. And those serving in Congress should recognize they’re not the authoritative voice for all womankind. But having women of varying viewpoints at the table is a good starting point to making informed decisions regarding issues like sexual harassment, abortion and equal rights.
Two women at the state level have started the conversation on equal rights. Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, and State Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, are leading an effort to make Georgia the 38th state to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment.
The amendment requires ratification from three-fourths of the states, or 38, before becoming law, but a 1982 deadline on that ratification makes it unclear whether any vote from Georgia, or any of the other states currently considering ratification, would make a difference.
Congress first passed the amendment in 1972, with a 1979 deadline for ratification. By 1977, 35 states had done so, and in 1978 the deadline was extended to June 30, 1982. When no other states ratified it, it appeared dead. But Nevada ratified it in 2017 and Illinois in 2018. Some believe that because the deadline wasn’t a part of the amendment originally passed by Congress, that the deadline is irrelevant.
Regardless, it has garnered some bipartisan support while others await research on the effects of passage before deciding one way or another. Some argue it’s about time to finally approve an amendment that has been under consideration for decades; others say ratification may have unintended consequences like making abortion easier and unnecessarily expanding the reach of the courts and federal government.
In any case, a conversation is happening in Georgia thanks in part to two female legislators, one with a D after her name and the other an R.
More perspectives sometimes make conversations more complicated, but they also can lead to better understanding and equality.
There is nothing magic about having female lawmakers that makes them better or worse than their male counterparts. Just like men in similar positions, some show themselves to be thoughtful, articulate, intelligent leaders; others draw attention as political gadflies.
But in the governance of a diverse people, there need to be diverse voices heard, and the increasing number of women winning elective office assures that those perspectives will be heard.
We look forward to the day when we no longer have reason to take note of the gender of elected officials, nor their skin color, nor spiritual beliefs, and can define political leadership by ideas, vision and acumen for public service rather than personal traits.