Monday, January 11, 2010

An Historical Look at Pennsylvania Women in Congress

More geek-ery on women in Congress, Pennsylvania style.

I’ve been reading “Comparing predictors of women’s congressional election success: candidates, primaries, and the general election,” by Heather L. Ondercin and Susan Welch, in the July 2009 issue of American Politics Research. It isn’t freely available on the internet but worth tracking down for those interested in the topic.

The authors looked at national congressional races from 1992 to 2000 and found some patterns in when and how women were elected. One factor was an open seat; women are more likely to be elected to an open seat than to defeat an incumbent. [In general incumbents are difficult to defeat.] Before the 1970’s women had an easier time winning a traditionally Republican seat but that has shifted and now it is easier for women to win a traditionally Democratic seat. Another factor is whether or not the district has been represented by a woman before. The percentage of women as a total of the state legislature can also have an effect. There are some other factors included but those are ones that caught my interest.

I decided to look at the history of Pennsylvania women in the US House of Representatives relating to these factors. Pennsylvania has a poor history of women in the state legislature so we can knock that one out right away. Chatham University’s Pennsylvania Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy has a quick list of Pennsylvania women who have been elected to Congress:

In total, only six women from Pennsylvania have served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Veronica Grace Boland (1942-43), Vera Daerr Buchanan (1951-55), and Kathryn Elizabeth Granahan (1957-63) all succeeded their deceased husbands. Buchanan and Granahan were subsequently re-elected. Marjorie Margolies Mezvinsky (1993-95) was the first elected in her own right.

Melissa Hart served from 2000-2006. Allyson Schwartz has represented the 13th district since 2004. Both Hart and Schwartz were elected to open seats. Kathy Dahlkemper defeated an incumbent in 2008.

I went back through and looked at PA Congressional elections as listed in volumes of America Votes. Districts change over the years and I did not have older district maps and am going my general descriptions or other geographic clues. I was also going by names and those can sometimes by deceiving. The Sam Bennett who ran against Charlie Dent in 2008 is a female Siobhan not a male Samuel. Women have run for Congress and lost. Julia L. Maietta ran against James Van Zandt in 1948 and 1958. Margaret Lee Walgren ran against James Fulton in 1960 and 1962. Both of these women were Democrats. Democrat William Barrett faced women Republicans in 1962 (Winifred Malinowsky) and 1966 (Beatrice K. Chernock). There were some other women candidates as well.

Looking at the 13th district, which has been represented by both Margolies-Mezvinsky and currently by Schwartz. One of the early women representatives, Kathryn Elizabeth Granahan, who succeeded her late husband in the then 2nd district (in 1957) and was then was elected and served until the district was eliminated in 1963. I didn’t have historical district maps but she served in the Philadelphia area and was buried in Norristown, Montgomery County, which is now primarily in the 13th district. In 2000, Joe Hoeffel, then the 13th district representative, spoke of her service in Congress. R. Lawrence Coughlin, the Republican who represented the 13th for many years had female Democratic opponents in 1972 (Katherine L. Camp), 1976 (Gertrude Strick), The 13th has also seen the only girl on girl action in congressional elections. In 2004 Schwartz and Dr. Melissa Brown battled over the seat. In 2008, Schwartz face Republican Marina Kats. Clearly Montgomery County and the 13th district have the longest history of female congressional representation in the state.

Melissa Hart represented an area near Pittsburgh. Vera Daerr Buchanan succeeded her husband in the then 33rd and 30th congressional districts (the 33rd was eliminated in 1953 and Buchanan then represented the 30th) which is also near Pittsburgh, though perhaps not the exact location as Hart’s. Austin Murphy who represented part of the Pittsburgh area for almost 20 years (1977-1985), the then 22nd district, faced Republican women opponents in 1980 (Marilyn Ecoff), 1984 (Nancy Pryor), and 1990 (Suzanne Hayden)

Dahlkemper’s election doesn’t have the precedent that the other congresswomen do. However, Tom Ridge who represented the then 21st district (roughly the same area) faced Democrat Joylyn Blackwell in 1986.

This is by no means definitive research; it’s just shifting around through some of the data. Hopefully someone out there will do an in-depth study.

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