First Woman Elected Governor of any U.S. State
Ella Tambussi Grasso (1919 – 1981)
Ella Grasso was the first woman elected governor of a U.S. state in her own right, serving as Governor of Connecticut from 1974 through 1980. Grasso’s political career spanned over 45 years and she won all ten elections she ever ran in. The daughter of Italian immigrants, Ella Tambussi gained a commitment to public service at her alma mater Mount Holyoke College. After serving as a speechwriter for the Connecticut Democratic Party during the 1940s, Grasso first ran for elected office in 1952 and won a seat in the Connecticut General Assembly.
Serving in the CT Assembly until 1959, she became the first woman elected Floor Leader in 1955. Elected CT Secretary of State in 1958, she was reelected twice and served in this role until 1970. In 1970 Grasso won election as a US Representative and served 2 terms in the United State House of Representatives. Grasso then won election as CT Governor in 1974 and was reelected to a second term. Grasso resigned in 1980 after being diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer.
As governor Grasso had to make many challenging and unpopular decisions, but her commitment to creating a more effective government, balancing the budget, and adhering to the democratic process proved fruitful and she won the admiration and trust of her constituents. She led CT through tough economic times, making controversial cuts but also attracting new industries and companies to the state, and the state economy steadily improved under her leadership.
Ella Grasso is remembered as a trailblazing woman and a champion of marginalized groups including minorities, women, young people, the elderly, and the working class. Many believed Grasso would go on to serve in a national leadership role such as Vice President or cabinet member. Sadly, Grasso’s career and lifelong commitment to public service were cut short by her illness.
Did You Know…
- In 1887, Susanna Salter was the first woman mayor, elected in Argonia, Kansas.
- In 1896, Martha Hughes Cannon was the first woman elected as a State Senator, serving in Utah.
- In 1917, Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to U.S. Congress, serving the state of Montana.