Women Governors in the United States: Part I

BLFF Team | Jul 14, 2021


Although it may feel like 2020 just ended, we are already halfway to 2022—a year that will bring the next major wave of elections across the country. Included among those elections will be at least two of the country’s eight women governors: Kay Ivey of Alabama and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico have both announced that they will seek reelection next year (and more are expected to follow suit). Those races will have high-stakes implications for women’s representation at the gubernatorial level, where men still dominate despite other recent strides for women in politics.

Over the next month, GOTB will be taking a look at the importance of women governors, and examining the challenges and opportunities 20+ years of Barbara Lee Family Foundation research shows women face when running to be CEO of a state. We are also celebrating the women who have blazed new trails to the governor’s office, and taking inspiration from their examples. Among those remarkable women:

Carolyn Shelton – the first woman to act as governor in the United States

Served February 27, 1909 – March 1, 1909


Carolyn Shelton served as Acting Governor of Oregon for one weekend when the incoming governor, George Earle Chamberlain, was ill and could not assume office early after the outgoing governor was elected to Senate.

Soledad Chávez de Chacónthe first woman to be acting governor with substantial duties

Served June 21, 1924 – July 5, 1924

New Mexico

Soledad Chávez de Chacón was the Secretary of State in New Mexico from 1923 – 1926, and she was the first Hispanic woman elected to statewide office in the country. In 1924, she held the powers of governor in New Mexico for two weeks while the state’s governor, James F. Hinkle, attended the Democratic Convention (the Lieutenant Governor, Jose A. Baca had died earlier that year, making the Secretary of State next in line for the role).

Nellie Tayloe Ross – one of the first women elected governor in the United States

Served January 5, 1925 – January 3, 1927


Nellie Tayloe Ross’s husband William Ross was elected Wyoming Governor in 1922. After he died in October of 1924, Wyoming Secretary of State Frank Lucas took the mantle and served until a special election in November 1924. Ross was nominated as the Democratic candidate, and she won 55% of the vote, beating her Republican opponent and taking office on January 5, 1925 as the first woman governor of the United States.

Miriam Ferguson – one of the first women elected governor in the United States

Served January 20, 1925 – January 18, 1927 and January 17, 1933 – January 15, 1935


While Miriam “Ma” Ferguson’s husband James Ferguson was in his second term as Texas governor in 1917, he was indicted and impeached.  As a result, in 1924, James could not appear on the ballot for governor. Miriam ran in the Democratic primary for the seat and was elected to office in the general election—she took office just a few weeks after Nellie Tayloe Ross in Wyoming.

Ella Grasso — the first woman elected governor who had not been the spouse or widow of a former governor

Served January 8, 1975 – December 31, 1980


Ella Grasso was a former assistant director of research for the War Manpower Commission of Connecticut, as well as a member of the Connecticut General Assembly in the mid-1950s. She also served as Connecticut Secretary of State and chaired the Democratic State Platform Committee before being elected to U.S. Congress in 1970 and again in 1972. She defeated an incumbent governor in her home state in 1974, becoming the first woman to serve as Connecticut’s governor, and the first elected woman governor who had not been married to a governor.

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