In Pennsylvania and nationwide, state legislatures are lacking female representation.

New data out of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University shows that nationwide, women make up less than a quarter of lawmakers in state legislatures. In Pennsylvania, about 18 percent of state lawmakers are female.

In 2015, Pennsylvania had only one statewide elected executive who is a woman and did not have any female U.S. Congress members. In the state Legislature, nine out of 50 senators were women and 37 out of 203 house members were women.

Because of the low percentage, Pennsylvania ranks as 40th in the nation for proportion of women in their Legislature. The No. 1 spot goes to Colorado with 42 percent of office spots going to women. Only eight states rank below Pennsylvania; Wyoming came in lowest with 13 percent of lawmakers being women.

According to an NPR article about the data, the discrepancies in state legislatures come from difficulties women face when running for office that men don’t always deal with, including needing the encouragement and self-esteem to run as well as trouble acquiring the donations to fund a campaign.

Katie Ziegler, from the National Conference of State Legislatures, told NPR “It might take five or 10 points of contact for a woman to raise $1,000 whereas maybe a male candidate can call up one person and get a $1,000 check.”

In Pennsylvania, the number of female legislators has steadily increased by one or two new members since 2000, when the legislature had 32 women. In 2015, there were 45 women in the Legislature.

Colorado House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, the first female Democratic speaker, told NPR that the increase in female voices has changed the state from a “good old boys club,” something Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has repeatedly accused the state legislature of allowing.

In her time as attorney general, Kane released a stream of messages from the state email server among state officials and employees containing pornographic, racist and misogynistic messages.

Although Kane has since fallen into legal trouble as a result of the email sharing, she claims to be a “victim of a powerful, political old boy’s network,” according to a Washington Post article.  

In the PennLive article, multiple female legislators said they have to be more careful than their male colleagues to avoid making mistakes.

Rep. Patty Kim, D-Harrisburg, told PennLive, “If you screw up, you’ll be looked at as the dumb women, dumb female or whatnot.”

Sen. Judith Schwank, D-Berks County, told PennLive:

Women have a tendency to hold back a little bit and may not be as forthright in conversations in caucus or even standing up and speaking on the floor. I feel I better know 100 percent what I’m talking about before I stand up and speak on the floor. Based on what I hear, some of my male colleagues who I respect very much, don’t necessarily do that.

Reach PublicSource intern Lauren Rosenblatt at Follow her on Twitter @LRosenblatt_.


We don't have paywalls — but your support helps us bridge crucial information gaps.

Readers tell us they can't find the information they get from our reporting anywhere else, and we're glad to provide this important service for our community. We work hard to produce accurate, timely, impactful journalism without paywalls that keeps our region informed and moving forward.

However, only about .1% of the people who read our stories contribute to our work financially. Our newsroom depends on the generosity of readers like yourself to make our high-quality local journalism possible, and the costs of the resources it takes to produce it have been rising, so each member means a lot to us.

Your donation to our nonprofit newsroom helps ensure everyone in Allegheny County can stay up-to-date about decisions and events that affect them. Please make your gift of support now.