Gov. Hochul joins Northeast’s other first female governors


New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, left, swears in Kathy Hochul, right, as the first woman to be New York’s governor while her husband Bill Hochul holds a bible during a swearing-in ceremony in the Red Room at the state Capitol, early Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, Pool)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- On Tuesday Governor Kathy Hochul joined an exclusive group of women, those who can say they were the first female governor of a state. Like many of the women in the group, Gov. Hochul had already spent many years in politics before becoming governor.

She’s served as on the town board, Erie County Clerk, and was elected to Congress in a special election in 2011, it said on her website. Gov. Hochul also chairs 10 Regional Economic Development Councils, according to the Associated Press.

The Syracuse University graduate supports free college education, the $15 minimum wage, Obamacare, and spearheaded Governor Cuomo’s “Enough is Enough” campaign aimed at tackling sexual assaults on college campuses, according to a NEWS10 sister station.

Below are the first female governors that have made history in each state in the Northeast.

Connecticut – Ella Grasso

Grasso (D) began her political career in the Connecticut House of Representatives where she served from 1952 to 1957 after earning a master’s degree in economics and sociology from Mount Holyoke College, the Museum of Connecticut History said. She began her run as governor in January 1975 and was re-elected to a second term that she resigned from in December 1980 after being diagnosed with cancer earlier in the year.

In 1994 she was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame for her long public service career.

Admirers had speculated that she could be a future Vice President or Cabinet member, but Grasso’s loyalty remained with the state of Connecticut. Considered a liberal, old-style Democratic pro, Grasso was seen as a warm, motherly person who remembered her Italian roots and the needs of the working class. She paved the way for more women in Connecticut politics and set a wonderful example of what a public service-minded individual can accomplish.

Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame

Maine – Janet Mills

Gov. Mills (D) began her first term almost three years ago in January 2019 and also served as the state’s first female attorney general from 2009-2011 and 2013-2019, according to Iowa State University.

During her State of the Budget address in February, she said her administration would be focused on education, healthcare, and the state’s economic recovery. Gov. Mills also said the state would spend millions of dollars to expand internet connectivity across the state, provide childcare, develop the workforce, and support “heritage industries” like farming and fishing.

In her inaugural speech, Gov. Mills talked about the importance of her election by telling the story of a mother who put a note in her daughter’s lunch box that read, “Janet Mills won last night and she is the first woman to be the governor in Maine ever. Think about all the things you can do.” The Governor responded by saying, “This year, this milestone, one day it will all be commonplace like drinking milk or eating toast. When future generations read of this day they will wonder what all the fuss was about.”

Massachusetts – Jane Swift

Swift (R) was sworn in as governor in 2001 after Governor Paul Cellucci resigned to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Canada. Swift served as governor until 2003. She was the youngest female governor or acting governor to serve in U.S. history. She was also the youngest female elected to the state senate, according to the Iowa State University and Boston College.

She was elected as lieutenant governor in 1998 and worked with Gov. Cellucci to improve accountability and strengthen the public education system, find ways to stimulate the economy, and better the lives of working families, said National Governor’s Association (NGA).

The dual responsibility of working and raising children places competing demands on many
parents. But government can share in the responsibility of easing some of those pressures.
Governor Cellucci and I can do our part by providing affordable and high quality child care,
and by demonstrating the value of policies like flexible hours, telecommuting, and
meaningful part-time work.

From Swift’s 1999 lieutenant governor inaugural speech

New Hampshire – Jeanne Shaheen

Born in Mississippi, Senator Shaheen (D) graduated from Shippensburg University and the University of Mississippi, according to the NGA. She served as New Hampshire’s first woman governor from January 1997 to January 2003. She has been a U.S. Senator since 2009, according to the U.S. Senate website.

Shaheen is accredited with creating New Hampshire’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, launching a program that allows seniors to get a discount on prescription medications, creating a multi-state prescription drug purchasing pool with the governors of Vermont and Maine, and new education policies like testing first-year teachers, according to NGA.

When I delivered my inaugural address on that January morning in 1997, I wasn’t the only woman who had made history in that room. I stood beside Donna Sytek who, the month prior, became the first woman in New Hampshire to be elected Speaker of the House. In the years since my first inauguration, I was reelected governor twice, and in 2008 I became the first woman in New Hampshire elected to the U.S. Senate and the first woman in U.S. history to serve as both governor and senator.

Gov. Sheehan from the National Museum of American History

New Jersey – Christine Todd Whitman

Elected as the governor of New Jersey in 1993, Whitman (R) served from January 1994 to January 2001 when she resigned to serve in President George W. Bush’s administration as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to Rutgers University.

Before being elected as governor, Whitman headed the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and the Somerset County Board of Freeholders, it said on the state’s website. In her first term, the New Jersey native and Wheaton College graduate cut three state departments including the Department of Higher Education, to reduce the cost of government. She also enacted a 30% reduction in income tax over three years, said Rutgers.

Fellow New Jerseyans, my time remaining as governor may well be measured in days and weeks, not months. Should that day come soon, I will leave the state in good hands, with exciting things in our future: new schools, more relief for property taxpayers, many more acres of open space. We’ve done great things together because we have put the people’s needs first.

From Gov. Whitman’s final State of the State address in January 2001

Rhode Island – Gina Raimondo

Raimondo (D) was serving her second term as governor of Rhode Island when she resigned in March 2021 to serve as the United States Secretary of Commerce. She graduated with honors from Harvard, earned her doctorate from Oxford University, and went on to graduate from Yale Law School, according to Rutgers.

In July 2018, Raimondo signed legislation that would create a task force dedicated to reducing the state’s reliance on single-use plastics in order to clean up its beaches. In January 2020, she signed an executive order that set a goal for Rhode Island to generate 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

My fellow Rhode Islanders, at this moment we face a choice. We can continue on our current path avoiding the difficult decisions because we are afraid of special interests or political ramifications, or simply of changing the way we’ve always done it. If we stay on the course we’re on, our children will be left behind, more cities and towns will go bankrupt, and other states will continue to pass us by. But there’s another choice, a better path.

From Gov. Raimondo’s 2015 inaugural speech

Vermont – Madeleine Kunin

Kunin (D) served three two-year terms as the governor of Vermont from January 1985 to January 1991. She also served as the state’s lieutenant governor from 1978 to 1982, according to the NGA. Prior to her political career Kunin, who was born in Switzerland, earned her master’s degree from the University of Vermont, working as a journalist, author, and college professor. She held her first elected position in the Vermont House of Representatives, to which she was elected in 1972.

In her 1985 inaugural speech, archived in the Vermont state records, she talked about her experiences as an immigrant and the significance of being Vermont’s first female governor. She outlined her goals for the state including a strong economy, a top-of-the-line education system, property tax relief, and a focus on a cleaner environment.

Our challenge in the next two years is clear — we must learn to live in a world of financial limits, while moving forward on the problems of our time. But, we must distinguish between financial restraint and political paralysis. We cannot afford to stand still, because that too, has a cost. In fact; if we do not invest now, despite the sacrifice it will demand, in a sound education and a clean environment, we will pay a greater price years from now.

From Gov. Kunin’s 1985 inaugural speech

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