When she was sworn in shortly after midnight, Democrat Kathy Hochul became the first female governor in New York state history.
She also became one of nine women governors currently serving in the US, tying a record high.
Yes. But when you examine the track record of women in governors’ mansions, it’s clear that gender equality has a long way to go.
Hochul is only the 45th female governor in the 245-year history of the US, according to data by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University.
With the addition of New York, 31 states have now had a woman governor. Nineteen states have not.
While 27% of seats in the current Congress are held by women – the highest percentage in history – just 18% of the nation’s governors are women.
Experts say women have a tougher time getting elected as governors for several reasons.
“The biggest one is the perception that the leadership qualities that one needs to be a governor (or a President) are not ones that women possess,” said Debbie Walsh, CAWP’s director. “The image of a governor (or President) is still male with gendered stereotypes of how men lead – decisive, authoritative, the place where the buck stops.”
The notion that women tend to work collaboratively has helped them get elected as legislators on the state or federal level, but that stereotype has worked against them with elected executive leadership, Walsh said.
Party leaders also have traditionally been men who have recruited gubernatorial candidates from their own social and political networks, said Kelly Dittmar, an associate professor of political science at Rutgers University.
Gubernatorial vacancies do not arise often, and male gatekeepers have long kept the lists of who is next in line, forcing women candidates to either gain the blessing of these leaders or challenge them in primaries, Dittmar added.
“One of the advantages that Kathy Hochul will have coming in is that she will have 18 months to prove that her style of leadership is effective and show voters a different image of who can be a governor,” Walsh said. “We have seen this as a successful model for other women governors.”
Little-known facts about female governors
- The list of female governors includes 27 Democrats and 18 Republicans. (Women also have served as governors in the US territories of Guam and Puerto Rico).
- Wyoming was the first state with a female governor. Gov. Nellie Tayloe Ross won a special election in 1925 to replace her husband after he died.
- Arizona has had four female governors – the most of any state. They have been from both major parties, and three of them served consecutive terms.
- Of the 45 female governors, 30 were first elected in their own right; three replaced their husbands and 12, including Hochul, became governor by constitutional succession.
- In 1975 Connecticut’s Ella Grasso became the first woman elected governor in her own right.
- The current record of nine women serving as governors was also equaled in 2004, 2007 and 2019.
- Three women of color have served as governors: Republican Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Republican Susana Martinez of New Mexico, and Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico. No Black or Native American women have ever served as governor.
These states have never had a female governor
The nine states which currently have female governors: Oregon, New York, Alabama, Kansas, New Mexico, Maine, South Dakota, Iowa and Michigan.
These 19 states have only had male governors:
- North Dakota
- West Virginia