Women in Western legislatures

Which states are lagging and which lead the way?

  • The Awakening, an illustration by Hy Mayer c. 1915, shows a torch-bearing woman in a "Votes for Women" cape striding across the Western states, where women already had the right to vote, toward the East.

    Library of Congress LC-USZC2-1206

By percentage, women hold more state legislative seats in the West than in any other part of the U.S. Four of the top 10 states with the highest percentage of female legislators are here, and Colorado is No. 1.

There are exceptions; Wyoming and Utah – pioneers in women's suffrage – today have some of the fewest female lawmakers. But overall, the West has traditionally led the way. It's a trend that apparently crosses the red/blue divide, with conservative Arizona No. 3 in the nation.

That said, former Colorado Sen. Suzanne Williams sees a growing split along party lines, with more and more women in Democrat-controlled legislatures, while in Republican ones, she believes, "I think we'll see less women."

Still, Western women do well compared to women in regions with older power structures, such as the South, says Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "In the West, there's a real history of women working alongside men, on the wagon trains and ranches, and that's had real impact on its political culture."

Compare the number of women in Western legislatures today to the number 20 years ago, and you can see how our political culture may be changing, for better or worse.

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