By Senator Jennifer Beck and Assemblywomen Mary Pat Angelini and Caroline Casagrande
As we commemorate Women’s History Month, now is an appropriate time to reflect on the significant progress women have made as well as a fitting occasion to consider the unique challenges and obstacles that continue to confront women in our society.
In 1894, Clara Cressingham, Carrie C. Holly and Frances Klock made history as the first women elected to a state legislature when they were elected as members of the Colorado House of Representatives. While one might think this occasion would lead to women sweeping into elected office throughout the country, it would be another 23 years before a woman would be elected to Congress and three more years after that before universal suffrage would be granted to women.
Despite the early difficulties, women have come a long way in the last century and are increasingly taking on important leadership roles in the corporate world, in the military and, of course, in the political arena.
In fact, according to the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP), women hold more than 24 percent of state legislative seats – a dramatic increase from 30 years ago when women held a mere 10 percent of these offices. Here in New Jersey – with 11 women in the Senate and 24 in the General Assembly – we have moved up from 43rd in 2004 to 11th in CAWP’s state rankings of female representation in state legislatures.
In Monmouth County, half of the elected officials are women. These include representatives on the local, county and state levels, including state legislators, freeholders, our county clerk and surrogate, and dozens of mayors, councilwomen and committeewomen. Of course, we would be remiss if we failed to note that New Jersey’s first lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, also hails from Monmouth County.
Moreover, as New Jersey’s first all-woman legislative delegation, the issue of female participation in government is particularly important to us. While we are certainly very proud of this distinction, we also recognize this role comes with the added responsibility to tackle some of the important issues affecting our fellow women.
And our commitment to addressing women’s issues can be seen in our legislative priorities which include initiatives aimed at combating human trafficking, improving women’s health, repealing antiquated statutes that demean women and improving the workplace for women and families. In addition, we have embarked on an effort to develop future women leaders by creating a mentorship program that pairs high school girls with successful women in public life.
Clearly, there are also many pressing issues affecting our state that transcend gender. Issues like recovering from Super Storm Sandy, improving our economy and reducing our tax burden remain among our top priorities.
Nevertheless, as we mark Women’s History Month and the accomplishments of those who paved the way for us and our female colleagues, we are reminded of the challenges that women still face and are more committed than ever to advocating on behalf of women throughout the Garden State.
Senator Jennifer Beck, Assemblywomen Mary Pat Angelini and Caroline Casagrande, represent the State Legislature’s 11th District – the first-ever all-female team in New Jersey.