Women have major roles in politics

When it comes to the growing influence of women in politics, Thurston County has been leading a state that has been leading the nation.

A public symposium on the challenges and successes of women in public office is being held at noon today at the Capitol. The Office of the Secretary of State and the Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service are sponsoring the event in the Cherberg Building.

It’s fitting that Secretary of State Kim Wyman will welcome people to the symposium. She is the only woman holding a statewide executive office in Washington.

But Washington has historically elected more women to public office than most other states. We recently celebrated the 100-year anniversary of our state’s first female legislators this year, and swore in a fifth female justice to the state Supreme Court, giving women a majority for the first time.

Women have also played a key role in the county’s three main cities, but not in recent times.

The City of Lacey has had four female mayors, starting with Karen Fraser in 1976, who has gone on to a successful multi-term career as a state senator in the 22nd Legislative District. Kay Boyd, Jean Liddell and Nancy Peterson also have held the post. However, Peterson was the city’s last female mayor in 1999.

Amanda Benek Smith was the area’s first female mayor, elected in the City of Olympia in 1953. Since then, only Holly Gadbaw in 1988 has held the post. Tumwater has never had a female mayor.

That doesn’t seem like a lot of progress since the Women’s Suffrage movement began in 1848 at Seneca Falls, N.Y., or even since the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was passed in 1920.

But comparatively speaking, the South Sound fares well. The City of Seattle, for example, has only had one female mayor in its history, in 1926.

When considered against the backdrop of women around the world struggling for even the most basic human rights, we’ve come a long way.