America saw its first female vice presidential nominee the year I was born. I knew Geraldine Ferraro as the name on a campaign button in my dad’s collection of political memorabilia. She was, to me, a relic of the past. Now, I know how truly recent this transformation of our democracy has been. Only in the past four decades have a substantial number of women started to run and be elected to public office in the United States.
In California, the election of women to the State Legislature began in earnest in the mid-1970s, and prompted its institutions to adapt. All members of the State Assembly were referred to as Assemblymen until Leona Egeland Siadek, elected in 1974, insisted on a new title. The term Assemblymember was born, and thereafter used to refer to all of the body’s members. Similarly, Rose Ann Vuich, the State Senate’s first female member, elected in 1976, famously rang a bell each time her male colleagues addressed the members of the body as “gentlemen” reminding them that the Senate was no longer only composed of men.
In spite of the successes of these pioneering women, it is astonishing how little things have changed for women in public office. If you were to line up six members of Congress, five would be men. This sad state of affairs puts the United States at 84th in the world when ranked by the proportion of women in the national legislature. Meanwhile, something as critical as women’s reproductive rights continues to be a hot button issue.
Emerge is working hard to elect more women to public office. This is why I am honored to be a part of Emerge California’s 10th class. We are taking it into our own hands, and we will change our communities.
Class of 2012