Celebrating Women of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives

100 Years of Women in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives 1923-2023.

The first national gathering dedicated to gaining rights for women, including the right to vote, was in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton of New York and Lucretia Mott of Philadelphia, the convention yielded the “Declaration of Sentiments, Grievances, and Resolutions.” The declaration stated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal,” and called for civil, social, and political rights for women.

 

Pennsylvania SuffragettesPennsylvania House of Representatives Archives

Women in Pennsylvania staged a number of public demonstrations aimed at rallying support for the suffrage cause. One of the most famous demonstrations took place in Philadelphia in 1914. Women protested at Rittenhouse Square and across Philadelphia. 

Justice Bell, Library of Congress, From the collection of: Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives
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Beginning in 1911, efforts to achieve this began in earnest. Resolutions successfully passed Pennsylvania’s legislature and in 1915 the measure was put to the voters of Pennsylvania for ratification. In an effort to gain support for the proposed amendment, Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger commissioned a replica of the Liberty Bell. Referred to as the Justice Bell, its clapper was chained so that it would remain silent until victory for women’s suffrage was achieved. 

After numerous failed attempts, on June 4, 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. On August 18, 1920, the 36th state required for ratification approved the amendment. The 19th Amendment was certified by the U.S. Secretary of State on August 26, 1920.

 

First 8 Women of the House by Pennsylvania League of Women VotersPennsylvania House of Representatives Archives

First Women Join PA House

The first 8 women to take office in 1923 were from across the state. Among these women were the first female to beat an incumbent male candidate, the first female committee chair, and the first female Speaker Pro Tempore. They were all members of the Republican Party. 

1923 Joint Session, Pennsylvania House of Representatives, 20th Century, From the collection of: Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives
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The first panoramic of the House that included women.

Anna Brancato by Pennsylvania House of RepresentativesPennsylvania House of Representatives Archives

Anna Brancato

In 1932, Brancato was elected as the first woman Democrat to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. She represented Philadelphia’s 5th District, and was reelected for four more nonconsecutive sessions in 1934, 1936, 1938, and 1944. 

Anna Brancato, From the collection of: Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives
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Anna Brancato 1920s, From the collection of: Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives
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Anna Brancato Speaker Pro Tempore, Pennsylvania House of Representatives, From the collection of: Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives
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Images of Brancato from the personal collection of Albert Brancato.

Crystal Bird Fauset by House ArchivesPennsylvania House of Representatives Archives

Crystal Bird Fauset

She was the first African-American woman to serve in any state legislature in 1938 when she was elected to represent Philadelphia’s 18th district.

Since then more Members have come from various heritage backgrounds. 

 

On January 10, 1940, Fauset resigned from Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives to take the job of assistant state director of Philadelphia’s WPA education and recreation programs. Because of her activism and involvement in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s campaigns, Fauset developed a close relationship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, ultimately leading to her appointment in 1941 as the Special Director of the Office of Civilian Defense in New York City.

Louise Williams Bishop by Pennsylvania House of RepresentativesPennsylvania House of Representatives Archives

Louise Williams Bishop

She was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1988 to represent the 192nd Legislative District. She was reelected for 13 subsequent sessions, making her the longest serving Black woman. 

Gerald Kaufman by Pennsylvania House of RepresentativesPennsylvania House of Representatives Archives

Equal Rights in PA

Rep. Gerald Kaufman introduced House Bills 1678 and 14 (1970 an 1971) which called for an amendment to the Constitution of the Commonwealth prohibiting discrimination based on gender. They unanimously passed both the House and Senate and were both successful at the ballot box. 

Anita P. Kelly by Pennsylvania House of RepresentativesPennsylvania House of Representatives Archives

Equal Rights Continued

In 1972, Rep. Anita P. Kelly sponsored House Bill 2070 which called for Pennsylvania to ratify the nearly identical proposed amendment to the United States Constitution calling for equal rights for men and women. While successful in PA, it did not have 3/4 state ratification. 

Marion Munley by Pennsylvania House of RepresentativesPennsylvania House of Representatives Archives

Widows

Marion Munley’s husband, Robert W. Munley, was a House Member from 1939 until his death on January 25, 1947. She was elected in a special election on September 9, 1947. She is one of fifteen women who served following their husband's death or retirement. 

The following are pieces of memorabilia that were on display in our in person exhibit. they show the diversity amongst the female Members of the House of Representatives since 1923.

Female Legislators, Pennsylvania House of Representatives, From the collection of: Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives
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Representative Martha Gibbons Thomas, Representative Barbara McIlvaine Smith, From the collection of: Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives
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Images from the House Archives collection that show the vast history of women in the House. 

Chelsa Wagner, Friends of Chelsa Wagner Campaign, From the collection of: Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives
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An example of the campaign memorabilia in the House Archives collection.

Elinor Z. Taylor, Pennsylvania House of Representatives, From the collection of: Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives
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Discussion on Floor, Pennsylvania House of Representatives, From the collection of: Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives
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Images from the House Archives collection that feature two former female House Members, Elinor Z. Taylor and Carmel Sirianni. 

Susie Monroe, From the collection of: Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives
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A unique campaign poster from the 1950s or 1960s. One of the oldest pieces of campaign memorabilia in the House Archives collection.

Lita Indzel Cohen, Pennsylvania House of Representatives, From the collection of: Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives
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Representative of the Year, Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, 20th Century, From the collection of: Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives
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Many former Members collected various awards over their years of service. This one from Lita Indzel Cohen is no exception. 

Campaign Flyer, Friends of Susan Laughin Committee, From the collection of: Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives
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Susan Laughlin is an example of one former Member who ran after the death of her husband. 

Rosita Youngblood, Pennsylvania House of Representatives, From the collection of: Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives
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Helen Tai, Pennsylvania House of Representatives, 21st Century, From the collection of: Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives
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More women of diverse backgrounds have become Members of the House. More nationalities are represented than ever before. 

The number of women in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives continues to grow each session. Here at the House Archives, we are continually preserving the history of these Members for years to come.

Credits: Story

This is a shortened version of the in person exhibit that was on display in 2023. Videos and more images are available on the House Archives social media pages. Check out our women's oral history playlist on our YouTube page for interviews with female Members of the House! 

For more information on these Members, please learn more on our biographical database: Official Website - PA House Archives Official Website (state.pa.us) 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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