Since the early 20th century, women have been playing an active role in Massachusetts politics at both the state and congressional levels.  Below is a timeline with notable facts that celebrate women’s “firsts” in Massachusetts politics.

1923 - Susan Fitzgerald  (D - Jamaica Plain) and Sylvia Donaldson (R - Brockton) are the first women elected to the Massachusetts legislature, specifically to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

1925 - Edith Nourse Rogers  (R - MA) of Lowell is the first woman elected to serve Massachusetts in the United States House of Representatives.

1926 - On February 18th, Sylvia Donaldson is given the honor of being Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives for a day. She would be the first and last woman in Massachusetts to hold this honor.

1935 - Representative Mary Livermore Norris Barrows (R - Melrose) is the first woman to hold a committee chair (Committee on Pensions and Old Age Assistance) in the legislature.

1937 - Sybil H. Holmes  (R) is the first woman to be elected to the Massachusetts Senate.

1972 - Representative Iris Holland (R - Longmeadow) is the first female legislator from western Massachusetts. 

1973 - Representative Doris Bunte (D - Roxbury) becomes the first black woman elected to the legislature.  Senator Mary L. Fonseca (D - Fall River) is the first woman to hold a position of leadership in the Massachusetts Senate, specifically as the Senate Majority Whip. 

1979 - Representative Iris Holland (R - Longmeadow) is the first woman to hold a position of leadership in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, specifically as House Minority Whip.

1986 - Evelyn Murphy (D) becomes the first woman to serve as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and the first female constitutional officer of the Commonwealth.

2001 - Jane Swift (R) becomes the first female [Acting] Governor in Massachusetts after Governor Paul Cellucci is appointed as the United States Ambassador to Canada by President George W. Bush.  She is the first sitting Governor in United States history to give birth to a child during a term in office.

2007 - Therese Murray (D) becomes the first female Senate President in the Massachusetts legislature.

2012 - Elizabeth Warren (D - MA) is the first woman elected to serve Massachusetts in the United States Senate.

Other Notable Facts

Shannon O'Brien, with her election to the office of State Treasurer in 1999, became the first woman elected to a constitutional office in Massachusetts other than Lieutenant Governor.

In 2013, Massachusetts ranked 19th out of the fifty states in the percentage of women serving in the state legislature (Center for American Women and Politics).


Sullivan, Cynthia M. Women in the Massachusetts General Court, 1923-1980. Wellesley, Massachusetts: Wellesley College, 1979.

Center for American Women and Politics

Massachusetts Women in Politics

More Information

Aucoin, Don. "Beacon Hill's Glass Dome - Massachusetts Has One of the Nation's Worst Records in Electing Women to Statewide Office. An Ambitious Group of Candidates Hopes to Change that in 1998". Boston Globe. November 2, 1997. p. BGM 20.

Savage, Neil J. "Given the Gavel on Beacon Hill Women Still Struggling to be Recognized". Boston Globe. February 13, 2000. p. E3.

Levenson, Michael; Estes, Andrea. “Women’s ranks on Beacon Hill drop”. Boston Globe. November 10, 2010.

State Library of Massachusetts. Number of Women in the Massachusetts General Court 1923/24-present. Boston, Massachusetts: State Library of Massachusetts, 1971.

Taymor, Betty. Running Against the Wind: The Struggle of Women in Massachusetts Politics. Northeastern University Press: Boston, Massachusetts, 2000.

Women’s Legislative Network of NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures)

Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators Newsletters

History of women in the Massachusetts legislature, 1923-present: (as of August 2012) by the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators.

This information is provided by The State Library of Massachusetts.