List of female governors in the United States

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Map of current governors by gender
States and territories that have had female governors
  •   1
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  •   4 or more

As of May 2017, forty-two women have served or are serving as the governor of a U.S. state (including one from the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, two Mayors of the District of Columbia and two acting governors due to vacancies). Currently, six women are serving as governors of U.S. states, along with Mayor of the District of Columbia Muriel Bowser.

History[edit]

The first woman to act as governor was Carolyn B. Shelton, who served as "acting governor" of Oregon for one weekend – 9 a.m. Saturday, February 27, through 10 a.m. Monday, March 1, 1909. The outgoing governor, George Earle Chamberlain, had been elected to the Senate and had to leave for Washington, D.C., before his term was over, and the incoming governor, Frank W. Benson, had gotten sick and couldn't assume office early. Chamberlain left Shelton, his "Chief of Staff," in charge for the weekend.[1] Ironically enough, it would be another three and a half years before women would be allowed to vote in Oregon.[2] (As a side note, Chamberlain and Shelton married each other 17 years later.[3])

The first acting governor to be entrusted with substantial duties while in office was Soledad Chávez de Chacón, who held the powers and duties of Governor of New Mexico for 2 weeks in 1924 while Governor James F. Hinkle attended the Democratic Convention in New York. Lieutenant Governor Jose A. Baca had died unexpectedly in May, so Chacón, the Secretary of State, filled the position. Chacón said she believed that her 1924 elevation was the first time in the U.S. that a woman had been called on to assume the responsibilities of governor.[4]

The first woman to assume office as governor pursuant to a special election was Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming (widow of late Governor William B. Ross, served January 1923 to October 1924), who was elected on November 4, 1924, and sworn in on January 5, 1925.[5] Wyoming was the first state to provide women's suffrage[6] after New Jersey had abolished it in 1807. Elected on the November 3, 1924 general election, and sworn in on January 20, 1925, was Miriam A. Ferguson of Texas, whose husband, Governor James Edward Ferguson, had previously held the office but been impeached and removed from office in 1917.[7] The first female governor elected without being the wife or widow of a past state governor was Ella T. Grasso of Connecticut, elected in 1974 and sworn in on January 8, 1975.[8]

Demographics[edit]

Connecticut and Arizona are the only two states to have elected female governors from both major parties. New Hampshire and Alabama have also both had female governors from both parties. In New Hampshire, Republican Vesta M. Roy only served in the acting capacity for a short time. Arizona was the first state where a woman followed another woman as governor (they were from different parties). Arizona also has had the most female governors with a total of four, and is the first state to have three women in a row serve as governor.

On two different occasions, a record nine out of 50 state governorships were held by women: first, between December 4, 2006, when Sarah Palin was inaugurated as the first female governor of Alaska, and January 14, 2008, when Kathleen Blanco left office as governor of Louisiana, and second, between January 10, 2009, when Beverly Perdue was inaugurated as governor of North Carolina, and January 20, 2009, when Ruth Ann Minner retired as governor of Delaware.

The U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, though not states, have also had female chief executives: Governor Sila María Calderón and Mayors Sharon Pratt Kelly and Muriel Bowser, respectively.

As of 2017, a total of 22 states have never had a female governor. Those states are: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Nine of these states (Georgia, Idaho, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah) have never even seen a major party nominate a female candidate in a gubernatorial election, even though Minnesota has elected seven consecutive female lieutenant governors from 1982 to the present day.[9]

There have only been two ethnic minority female governors of states: Susana Martinez of New Mexico (Hispanic) and Nikki Haley of South Carolina (Indian American). All three territorial female governors have been ethnic minority: Sharon Pratt and Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C. (both African American), and Sila María Calderón of Puerto Rico (Hispanic).

List of female state governors[edit]

Picture Name
(Lifespan)
State Term start Term end Party Notes Departure Ref
Nellie Tayloe Ross.jpg Ross, NellieNellie Ross
(1876–1977)
Wyoming January 5, 1925 January 3, 1927 Democratic Widow of Governor William B. Ross.
First (and only to date) woman Governor of Wyoming.
First woman elected in a special election.
Lost reelection [10]
Miriam A. Ferguson.jpg Ferguson, Miriam A.Miriam A. Ferguson
(1875–1961)
Texas January 20, 1925 January 17, 1927 Democratic Wife of Governor James E. Ferguson.
First woman Governor of Texas.
First woman elected in a general election.
Retired [11]
January 17, 1933 January 15, 1935 Retired
Lurleen Wallace.jpg Wallace, LurleenLurleen Wallace
(1926–1968)
Alabama January 16, 1967 May 7, 1968 Democratic Wife of Governor George Wallace.
First woman Governor of Alabama.
First (and only to date) woman governor to die in office.
Died in office
Ella Grasso.jpg Grasso, Ella T.Ella T. Grasso
(1919–1981)
Connecticut January 8, 1975 December 31, 1980 Democratic First woman governor not a wife or widow of a previous governor.
First woman Governor of Connecticut
First woman governor to resign, due to terminal ovarian cancer.
Resigned [12]
Dixy Lee Ray.jpg Ray, Dixy LeeDixy Lee Ray
(1914–1994)
Washington January 12, 1977 January 14, 1981 Democratic First woman Governor of Washington. Lost renomination [13]
No image.svg Roy, Vesta M.Vesta M. Roy
(1925–2002)
New Hampshire December 29, 1982 January 6, 1983 Republican First woman Acting Governor of New Hampshire.
Term ended [14]
Martha Layne Collins, governor of Kentucky, Nov 8, 1986.jpg Collins, MarthaMartha Collins
(born 1936)
Kentucky December 13, 1983 December 8, 1987 Democratic First woman Governor of Kentucky. Retired [15]
Mmk.jpg Kunin, MadeleineMadeleine Kunin
(born 1933)
Vermont January 10, 1985 January 10, 1991 Democratic First (and only to date) woman Governor of Vermont. Retired [16]
Kay A. Orr.jpg Orr, Kay A.Kay A. Orr
(born 1939)
Nebraska January 9, 1987 January 9, 1991 Republican First Republican woman elected governor.
First woman elected governor over another female major party nominee
First (and only to date) woman Governor of Nebraska.
Lost reelection [17]
Rose Mofford 2012.jpg Mofford, RoseRose Mofford
(1922–2016)
Arizona April 4, 1988 March 6, 1991 Democratic First woman Governor of Arizona.
Elevated from Secretary of State when Evan Mecham was impeached.
Retired [18]
No image.svg Finney, JoanJoan Finney
(1925–2001)
Kansas January 14, 1991 January 9, 1995 Democratic First woman Governor of Kansas.
First woman to defeat an incumbent governor in a general election.
Retired [19]
Governor Barbara Roberts.jpg Roberts, BarbaraBarbara Roberts
(born 1936)
Oregon January 14, 1991 January 9, 1995 Democratic First woman Governor of Oregon. Retired
Ann Richards.jpg Richards, AnnAnn Richards
(1933–2006)
Texas January 15, 1991 January 17, 1995 Democratic Lost reelection
WhitmanChristineTodd.jpg Todd Whitman, ChristineChristine Todd Whitman
(born 1946)
New Jersey January 18, 1994 January 31, 2001 Republican First (and only to date) woman Governor of New Jersey.
First Republican woman to defeat an incumbent governor in a general election.
Resigned to become Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Jeanne Shaheen, official Senate photo portrait, 2009.jpg Shaheen, JeanneJeanne Shaheen
(born 1947)
New Hampshire January 9, 1997 January 9, 2003 Democratic First woman elected Governor of New Hampshire. Retired
Jane Dee Hull 2001 cropped.jpg Hull, Jane DeeJane Dee Hull
(born 1935)
Arizona September 5, 1997 January 6, 2003 Republican First Republican woman Governor of Arizona.
Elevated from Secretary of State when Fife Symington resigned.
Later elected in her own right.
Term limited
No image.svg Hollister, NancyNancy Hollister
(born 1949)
Ohio December 31, 1998 January 11, 1999 Republican First (and only to date) woman Governor of Ohio.
Elevated from Lieutenant Governor when George Voinovich became U.S. Senator from Ohio.
Term ended
Judy Martz 2003.jpg Martz, JudyJudy Martz
(born 1943)
Montana January 1, 2001 January 3, 2005 Republican First (and only to date) woman Governor of Montana. Retired
Ruth Ann Minner.jpg Minner, Ruth AnnRuth Ann Minner
(born 1935)
Delaware January 3, 2001 January 20, 2009 Democratic First (and only to date) woman Governor of Delaware. Term limited
Jane Swift 2001.jpeg Swift, JaneJane Swift
(born 1965)
Massachusetts April 10, 2001 January 2, 2003 Republican First woman Acting Governor of Massachusetts.
First governor to give birth while in office (to twins).
Youngest woman governor to date at age 36.[20]
Retired
Linda Lingle in March 2010.jpg Lingle, LindaLinda Lingle
(born 1953)
Hawaii December 2, 2002 December 6, 2010 Republican First (and only to date) woman Governor of Hawaii. Term limited
Jennifer Granholm.jpg Granholm, JenniferJennifer Granholm
(born 1959)
Michigan January 1, 2003 January 1, 2011 Democratic First (and only to date) woman Governor of Michigan. Term limited
Janet Napolitano official portrait.jpg Napolitano, JanetJanet Napolitano
(born 1957)
Arizona January 6, 2003 January 21, 2009 Democratic First woman to be elected to two terms as Governor of Arizona. Resigned to become Secretary of Homeland Security
Kathleen Sebelius official portrait.jpg Sebelius, KathleenKathleen Sebelius
(born 1948)
Kansas January 13, 2003 April 28, 2009 Democratic Resigned to become Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Olene Walker.JPG Walker, OleneOlene Walker
(1930–2015)
Utah November 5, 2003 January 3, 2005 Republican First (and only to date) woman Governor of Utah.
Elevated from Lieutenant Governor of Utah when Mike Leavitt became Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Lost nomination for full term
KBlancoChalmetteIce.jpg Blanco, KathleenKathleen Blanco
(born 1942)
Louisiana January 12, 2004 January 14, 2008 Democratic First (and only to date) woman Governor of Louisiana Retired
FEMA - 29383 - Photograph by Debra Young taken on 04-19-2007 in Connecticut.jpg Rell, JodiJodi Rell
(born 1946)
Connecticut July 1, 2004 January 5, 2011 Republican Elevated from Lieutenant Governor when John G. Rowland resigned.
Later elected in her own right.
Retired
ChristineGregoireOfficial.jpg Gregoire, ChristineChristine Gregoire
(born 1947)
Washington January 12, 2005 January 16, 2013 Democratic Retired
Sarah Palin by Gage Skidmore 2.jpg Palin, SarahSarah Palin
(born 1964)
Alaska December 4, 2006 July 26, 2009 Republican First (and only to date) woman Governor of Alaska (also its youngest governor).
First woman governor to appear on a major party presidential ticket, as the 2008 Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States.
First elected governor to give birth while in office.
Resigned
Beverly Perdue official photo.jpg Perdue, BevBev Perdue
(born 1947)
North Carolina January 10, 2009 January 5, 2013 Democratic First woman (and only to date) Governor of North Carolina. Retired
Jan Brewer by Gage Skidmore 3.jpg Brewer, JanJan Brewer
(born 1944)
Arizona January 21, 2009 January 5, 2015 Republican Elevated from Secretary of State when Janet Napolitano became Secretary of Homeland Security.
Later elected in her own right.
Term limited
Governor NewMexico.jpg Martinez, SusanaSusana Martinez
(born 1959)
New Mexico January 1, 2011 Incumbent Republican First (and only to date) woman Governor of New Mexico. First Hispanic-American woman Governor. Serving
Governor Mary Fallin May 2015.jpg Fallin, MaryMary Fallin
(born 1954)
Oklahoma January 10, 2011 Incumbent Republican First (and only to date) woman Governor of Oklahoma. Serving
Official Photo of SC Governor Nikki Haley.jpg Haley, NikkiNikki Haley
(born 1972)
South Carolina January 12, 2011 January 24, 2017 Republican First (and only to date) woman Governor of South Carolina. First Asian-American woman governor. Resigned to become United States Ambassador to the United Nations
Maggie Hassan, official portrait, 115th Congress.jpg Hassan, MaggieMaggie Hassan
(born 1958)
New Hampshire January 3, 2013 January 2, 2017 Democratic Resigned to become U.S. Senator from New Hampshire.
Rhode island governor visits NAVSTA Newport (cropped).jpg Raimondo, GinaGina Raimondo
(born 1971)
Rhode Island January 6, 2015 Incumbent Democratic First (and only to date) woman Governor of Rhode Island. Serving [21]
Kate Brown in 2017.jpg Brown, KateKate Brown
(born 1960)
Oregon February 18, 2015 Incumbent Democratic First (and only to date) bisexual governor and first openly LGBT elected governor. Elevated from Secretary of State when John Kitzhaber resigned.
Later elected in her own right.
Serving
Portrait-Governor-Kay-Ivey.jpg Ivey, KayKay Ivey
(born 1944)
Alabama April 10, 2017 Incumbent Republican Elevated from Lieutenant Governor when Robert Bentley resigned. Serving [22]
Kim Reynolds by Gage Skidmore (cropped).jpg Reynolds, KimKim Reynolds
(born 1959)
Iowa May 24, 2017 Incumbent Republican Elevated from Lieutenant Governor when Terry Branstad became Ambassador to China. First (and only to date) woman Governor of Iowa. Serving [23]

Territories and the District of Columbia[edit]

Picture Name
(Lifespan)
Jurisdiction Term start Term end Party Notes Departure
Sharon Pratt Kelly.jpg Pratt, SharonSharon Pratt
(born 1944)
District of Columbia January 2, 1991 January 2, 1995 Democratic First African American woman mayor of a major city.
First woman Mayor of the District of Columbia.
Lost renomination
Puerto Rican Governor Sila Calderon at the Pentagon, Feb 27, 2001.jpg Calderón, SilaSila Calderón
(born 1942)
Puerto Rico January 2, 2001 January 2, 2005 Popular Democratic/
Democratic
First woman Governor of Puerto Rico. Retired
Muriel Bowser 2 cropped.jpg Bowser, MurielMuriel Bowser
(born 1972)
District of Columbia January 2, 2015 Incumbent Democratic Second woman and African-American woman Mayor of the District of Columbia. Serving

Timeline of female U.S. Governors[edit]

Kim Reynolds Kay Ivey Kate Brown Gina Raimondo Muriel Bowser Maggie Hassan Nikki Haley Mary Fallin Susana Martinez Jan Brewer Bev Perdue Sarah Palin Christine Gregoire Jodi Rell Kathleen Blanco Olene Walker Kathleen Sebelius Janet Napolitano Jennifer Granholm Linda Lingle Jane Swift Ruth Ann Minner Sila María Calderón Judy Martz Nancy Hollister Jane Dee Hull Jeanne Shaheen Christine Todd Whitman Ann Richards Barbara Roberts Joan Finney Sharon Pratt Kelly Rose Mofford Kay Orr Madeleine Kunin Martha Layne Collins Vesta M. Roy Dixy Lee Ray Ella T. Grasso Lurleen Wallace Miriam A. Ferguson Miriam A. Ferguson Nellie Tayloe Ross

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Long, James Andrew (1994). Oregon Firsts: Past and Present. North Plains, Ore.: Oregon Firsts Media. p. 57. ISBN 1-882635-00-0. 
  2. ^ Kessler, Lauren (1983). "The Ideas of Woman Suffrage and the Mainstream Press". Oregon Historical Quarterly. 84: 257–76. 
  3. ^ "Milestones: Jul. 26, 1926". Time. July 26, 1926. Retrieved March 27, 2011. 
  4. ^ Albuquerque Journal, October 24, 2010, reporting on an article from Albuquerque Morning Journal, June 21, 1924.
  5. ^ "Today in History". Library of Congress. Retrieved July 27, 2012. 
  6. ^ http://www.nellietayloeross.com/Virginia%20Scharff%20Article.pdf
  7. ^ "Governors of Texas, 1846–present". Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Retrieved May 19, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Ella Grasso: First Woman Elected State Governor". Essortment. May 16, 1986. Retrieved August 12, 2015. 
  9. ^ "Minnesota: Where Female Lieutenant Governors Reign | Smart Politics". editions.lib.umn.edu. Retrieved January 22, 2017. 
  10. ^ Rea, Tom. "The Ambition of Nellie Tayloe Ross". Wyoming State Historical Society. Retrieved January 3, 2017. 
  11. ^ Huddlston, D. JOHN (June 12, 2010). "FERGUSON, MIRIAM AMANDA WALLACE [MA]". Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved January 3, 2017. 
  12. ^ Wald, Matthew L. (February 6, 1981). "EX-GOV. GRASSO OF CONNECTICUT DEAD OF CANCER". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 4, 2017. 
  13. ^ "From Mt. Rainier to the Governorship of Washington, Dixy Lee Ray Was a Climber". American Association of University Women. Retrieved January 4, 2017. 
  14. ^ "Vesta Roy, 76, New Hampshire Ex-Governor". The New York Times. Associated Press. February 22, 2002. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 4, 2017. 
  15. ^ Crawford, Allison (March 29, 2016). "Former Kentucky Governor Martha Layne Collins Partners with Baptist Health Paducah". Retrieved January 20, 2017. 
  16. ^ "Once a Refugee from Nazi Europe, Madeleine Kunin Takes Charge as Vermont’s First Woman Governor – Vol. 23 No. 13". People. April 1, 1985. Retrieved January 20, 2017. 
  17. ^ Hickey, Donald R.; Wunder, Susan A.; Wunder, John R. (2007-01-01). Nebraska Moments. U of Nebraska Press. p. 340. ISBN 080321572X. 
  18. ^ Bland, Karina; Harris, Craig (September 16, 2016). "Rose Mofford, first woman to serve as Arizona governor, has died". azcentral. Retrieved 2017-04-12. 
  19. ^ Myers, By Roger (July 29, 2001). "Trailblazer did it her way". cjonline.com. Retrieved April 18, 2017. 
  20. ^ "Swift’s Unusual Ride to the Governor’s Office". Boston Globe. April 8, 2001. Retrieved October 3, 2008. 
  21. ^ Herbst-Bayliss, Sva (November 4, 2014). "Democrat Gina Raimondo becomes Rhode Island's first female governor". Reuters. Retrieved May 31, 2017. 
  22. ^ NBC, AP,. "NEW INFORMATION: Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey sworn in as Alabama's 54th governor". Retrieved 2017-04-11. 
  23. ^ Noble, Jason (May 24, 2017). "Kim Reynolds becomes Iowa's first female governor". Des Moines Register. Retrieved May 27, 2017. 

External links[edit]