Since our state was founded 200 years ago, ordinary citizens from all walks of life have come forward for seats in the Missouri General Assembly. Farmers, traders, lawyers, community leaders and many other Missourians have taken time away from their families and careers to represent their neighbors on the State Capitol. Despite their diverse origins, a unifying character has prevailed among these dedicated public servants throughout much of our history. They were all men.
Women first sat in the Missouri General Assembly in 1923, shortly after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which established women’s suffrage in the United States. That year, two women sat in the House of Representatives. The first female senator for the state of Missouri was elected in 1972. Today, the 34-member Missouri Senate is nearly one-third female, with 11 women currently in office, the highest number of the history of the room.
In 2021, these 11 senators came together to leave a positive and lasting legacy in Missouri. Driven by a desire for all Missouri children to read, they produced a book recalling the 36 women who served in the State Senate. Entitled “You can too!” The book is aimed at young readers and aims to both encourage literacy and inspire girls to follow their passions and give them confidence so that they can overcome obstacles and become themselves.
âIn Missouri’s history, there have been 1,118 male senators. There were only 36 women, âsaid Senator Jeanie Riddle, who represents six counties in central Missouri in the Senate. âWe come from different backgrounds and experiences, but we have one thing in common. We are part of a brotherhood of state legislators. We hope our stories inspire young readers and provide an example of the many opportunities that lie ahead. “
The book features profiles of every past and present senator from Missouri and describes each woman’s journey to elected office. Copies of the book will be provided to fourth-grade classes across Missouri, and will also be mailed to libraries, pediatricians’ offices, and other places young readers are likely to read.
The inspiring life stories contained in the book are as diverse as the women themselves. There’s Gwen Giles, the first African-American woman in the Missouri Senate, and Jamilah Nasheed, who changed her life after a troubled youth. Readers learn the story of Pat Danner, representing the United States for four terms, who served in the Senate alongside her son, Steve Danner, making them the first mother and son to sit together in the same body. legislative in America. Kids looking for an example of a blue-collar lawmaker will learn about Gina Walsh, who worked in construction, installing pipe insulation before serving in the Senate. The girls will applaud the accomplishments of Roseann Bentley, a former schoolteacher who was once fired by a male critic as an “intrusive housewife” and said she shouldn’t run for office because she was a woman .
As the 2022 legislative session began, Senator Riddle hosted a reception in her Capitol Hill office to roll out the book and celebrate its publication with her Senate sisters – currently serving lawmakers, as well as eight surviving trailblazers. Among the former Senators in attendance was Mary Gant (now Newquist), the first woman to serve in Missouri’s upper house. A member of the House of Representatives for three terms before serving in the Senate, Gant Newquist insists she has always been treated with deference and respect. While she gladly accepted a coveted parking spot in the Capitol’s basement, she didn’t believe she was being treated any differently inside the Senate Chamber. âI have never seen a difference between men and women,â said Gant. âI thought we were more alike than different, depending on the issues. We didn’t always agree, but it wasn’t because of our gender.
When former Senators arrived at the reception, former colleagues greeted each other and current Senators hugged the women who inspired them. For many, it was the first time they had met, but all shared a common bond that they hope will inspire a new generation of young women.
“Our first goal with this project was to encourage children to read, but we also wanted to inspire young readers, especially girls, to aspire to big things,” said Senator Jill Schupp. “We don’t expect all the girls who read this book to want to become a State Senator, but we do hope that they will see that a world of opportunity awaits them.”
There was a pleasant sense of pride and camaraderie as the women gathered in Senator Riddle’s office and autographed copies of “You Can, Too!” While the governor and lieutenant governor visited the guests of honor. Throughout the event, Missouri’s first senator posed for photos and spoke with female lawmakers who stopped by to pay their respects. âI am so impressed with the quality of these ladies. They’re awesome, âsaid Gant Newquist. âI am proud to be part of this group.
For more information on the “You Can, Too!” contact your Missouri state senator’s office.