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Women in the Ohio State Legislature

As of the 2016 election, Ohio has elected 169 women to the Ohio Legislature since statehood.

  • Ohio ranks 27th out of the 50 states based on the proportion of women in state legislature.
  • Out of the 99 members of the Ohio House of Representatives, 25 are women.
  • Out of the 33 members of the Ohio Senate, 6 are women.     

Ohio has never elected a female governor, although Nancy Hollister served for 11 days in 1999 to fill the unexpired term of Governor George Voinovich after he resigned and became a U.S. Senator. 

State Representative Nickie Antonio

In an interview conducted by BW students, State Representative Nickie Antonio talks about the impact of having more women in public office.

Highlights in the History of Women in the State Legislature

Maude Comstock Waitt

Maude Comstock Waitt

Maude Comstock Waitt was one of the first of two women elected to the Ohio Senate in 1922 and served until 1930 representing Cuyahoga County. According to Waitt, "Politics is a great game, better than bridge."
Photo: Ohio Ladies Gallery

1922 6 women elected to the Ohio state legislature for the first time

Nettie MacKenzie Clapp

Nettie MacKenzie Clapp

Nettie MacKenzie Clapp was one of the first of four women elected to the Ohio House in 1922 and served until 1930 representing Cuyahoga County. She chaired the House Committee on Universities and Colleges.
Photo: Cleveland Public Library

1926 8 women elected to the House 3 women elected to the Senate

Margaret Mahoney

Margaret Mahoney

After 2 terms in the House, Margaret Mahoney served in the Senate from 1943 to 1950 and was the first woman to serve in a Senate leadership position. In 1949, she was elected majority leader. Once criticized for venturing outside a woman's proper place, she offered to quit if someone would marry her.
Photo: Columbus Citizen-Journal/photohio.org

Catherine Dobbs

Catherine Dobbs

Catherine Dobbs served one term in the Ohio Senate from 1949-50. She then served 3 terms as the mayor of Barberton. During her entire political career, the media fixated on her wardrobe, repeatedly commenting on her "Pilgrim Style".
Photo: Ohio Ladies Gallery

1950 number of women in House drops from 7 to 5, Gorman only woman in Senate

Ethel Swanbeck

Ethel Swanbeck

Ethel Swanbeck holds the record for the longest continuous service in the House. She served from 11 terms (22 years) from 1955-76. After her retirement, the seat was held by a woman until 1994, when Katherine Walsh lost to a male candidate by 12 votes.
Photo: Columbus Citizen-Journal/photohio.org

Clara Weisenborn

Clara Weisenborn

Clara Weisenborn is one of only a handful of women to serve in both the House (1953-66) and Senate (1967-74). She chaired the Senate Education Committee, making her one of the few women to ever chair a standing committee.
Photo: Ohio History Connection/Columbus Citizen-Journal

1960 5 women elected to House, none to Senate

Gertrude Polcar

Gertrude Polcar

Like many of the women in state legislature, Gertrude Polcar was a city council member prior to her service in the House (1969-71). She said, "The time has come for women to get off their verandas and make policy decisions."
Photo: Cleveland Public Library

1970 3 women elected to House, 2 to Senate

Helen Rankin

Helen Rankin

In 1978, Helen Rankin became the first African American woman to serve in the Ohio Legislature. She was appointed after the death of her husband and served until 1994.
Photo: Ohio Ladies Gallery

Francine Panehal and Donna Pope

Francine Panehal and Donna Pope

In 1979, the first women served in the House leadership: Francine Panehal (left) as majority whip and Donna Pope (right) as minority whip.
Photos: Columbus Citizen-Journal/photohio.org (left) and Cleveland Public Library (right)

1980 9 women elected to House, Valiquette only woman in Senate

Marigene Valiquette

Marigene Valiquette

Marigene Valiquette holds the record from longest service: 3 terms in the House (1963-69) and 4 1/2 terms in the Senate (1969-86), for a total of 24 years. She is responsible for pushing the ERA through the Senate, making Ohio the 33rd state to ratify the constitutional amendment.
Photo: Ohio History Connection/Columbus Citizen-Journal

1992 11 women elected to House, 5 to the Senate

1994 8 women in Senate, a record

Jo Ann Davidson

Jo Ann Davidson

In 1995, Jo Ann Davidson became the first female speaker of the House. During her 20 years in the House (1981-2000), she also served as minority whip and majority leader. She began her political career in 1967 on the Reynoldsburg City Council. In 2011, at the age of 84, she was appointed as the first chair of the Ohio Casino Control Board.
Photo: Ohio Ladies Gallery

2000 23 women elected to House, 4 to the Senate

2010 20 women elected to the House, 8 in the Senate

Christina Hagan

Christina Hagan

In 2011, Christina Hagan became the youngest women to ever serve in the state legislature, at age 22. She was appointed to the House while she was a senior at Malone University. She had her first child in 2015, making her one of a handful of women to have a baby while serving in the legislature.
Photo: Ohio House

2014 26 women elected to House, a record

Janine Boyd and Stephanie Howse

Janine Boyd and Stephanie Howse

In 2014, Janine Boyd (left) and Stephanie Howse (right) become the first daughters to follow their mothers into the state legislature. Janine is the daughter of Barbara Boyd (1993-2000; 2007-14) and Stephanie is the daughter of Annie Key (2001-2006).
Photos: Ohio House

2016 25 women elected to the House, 6 to the Senate

History by the Numbers

CWPO Women Running for Ohio House 1922 to 2016 (download Excel file)
This file includes data on female candidates for the Ohio House of Representatives from 1922 to 2016. Source: Ohio Secretary of State

CWPO Women Running for Ohio Senate 1922 to 2016 (download Excel file)
This file includes date on female candidates for the Ohio Senate from 1922 to 2016. Source: Ohio Secretary of State

Things to know about Ohio's state legislature

The 99 state house members serve 2-year terms, limited to 4 terms.

The 33 state senators serve 4-year terms, limited to 2 terms. Senate elections are staggered, with half of the seats up for election every 2 years. Prior to 1956, Senate terms were 2 years.

The Legislature passed term limits in 1992, with the first legislators termed out in 2000.

Legislators resigning prior to the end of their term is not uncommon. Vacancies are filled by appointment.

Prior to 1966, the size of the Ohio House and Senate varied. Apportionment and the number of legislators was based on a complex formula that combined counties and population; this avoided the problem of partisan gerrymandering but did cause substantial malapportionment. After the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions regarding apportionment in the 1960s, Ohio adopted the current single-member district system it currently uses.

Source and Resources

Gold, David. 2009. Democracy in Session:  A History of the Ohio General Assembly.
Athens, OH:  Ohio University Press.