Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Reviews: "History of Women in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives" and "Capitol Women"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Reviews: "History of Women in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives" and "Capitol Women"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

Two excellent books chronicling women in politics, both in describing the circumstances they faced in electoral politics and in detailing who these women are, are "History of Women in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, 1923-2001" by Jeanne H. Schmedlen and, from a Texas perspective, "Capitol Women" by Nancy Baker Jones and Ruthe Winegarten.

Jeanne Schmedlen’s book makes the important observation that women getting elected to office required overcoming centuries of tradition. Even today, no woman has been elected in Pennsylvania as Governor, Lt. Governor, or U.S. Senator and only two of the five Pennsylvania women elected to Congress were elected without succeeding their Congressional husbands. Her book describes bipartisan efforts at recruiting more women to run for office. She also presents theories, such as the higher salaries in Pennsylvania public offices, relative to others states, which may entice more men to enter politics in Pennsylvania than elsewhere. In other states, women appear to get a better "foot hold" entering politics by getting elected to part-time political positions and becoming established.

As an aside, it will be interesting to see if this soon changes. In recent years, women have surpassed men in numbers attending college. As women become more career and professionally oriented, it is worth observing whether more women will seek political careers in Pennsylvania.

Jeanne Schmedlen presents a well written history from the women’s suffrage movement through the present plus biographies of every woman who served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Readers learn Pennsylvania is the state with the seventh lowest percentage of female legislators. Still, there are many women with strong backgrounds in our legislatures.

"Capitol Women" similarly describes the history of women in Texas legislative politics followed by biographies of every woman who served in the Texas legislature. This book argues that female legislators have had to decide whether to conform to expectations of a male dominated institution, and thus be undermined by being viewed as less capable as male legislators, or to challenge these norms and thus possibly become outcasts. To overcome preconceptions, some Texas female legislators suggest women should either a.) learn the political system and how things operate or b.) work to change and improve the current political system. Some suggest creating strategies incorporating both elements. Still, even recently, State Sen. Judith Zaffirini was advised by a Lt. Governor that "if she cut her skirt off about six inches and put on some high heels, she could pass anything she wants."

Texas has elected women as Governors. Ironically, the first female Texas Governor, "Ma" Ferguson, wife of previous Governor Jim Ferguson, was elected in 1924 with support from antisuffragists and the active opposition of many women. Some legislators then questioned, since Texas law prevented a married woman from legally signing property transactions without her husband’s signature, whether she would need her husband’s signature to approve legislation transferring state property to the federal government.

Ann Richards was elected Texas Governor along with the largest percentage of female legislators that had existed prior. The book argues that more women in politics can make a difference, as the Richards Era was credited for increased attention to mental retardation facilities, crime victims’ rights, protection against stalkers, reducing family violence, increasing child immunization, and other issues championed primarily by female politicians.

Someday, there will be a time when a person’s gender is not a significant consideration in politics. Until that time comes, these two books are great chronicles of the introduction of women in legislatures in two states.


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