Sen. Joan B. Lovely and Rep. Hannah Kane
The 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote and hold office, was ratified in 1920. Just three years later, in 1923, Massachusetts elected the first two women to the state Legislature: Reps. Susan Walker Fitzgerald and M. Sylvia Donaldson. 100 years later, 234 women have served in the Massachusetts General Court — compared to over 20,000 men.
Today, women make up 31% of the Massachusetts Legislature. To support the 62 women currently serving in the Legislature and the women to come, and to advance policy issues that disproportionately impact women, the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators has existed for almost 50 years.
The Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators was established in 1975 with two goals in mind: to support the Equal Rights Amendment and to foster a sense of camaraderie and community among the 14 female state representatives then serving in the Legislature. At the time, caucus members would support each other on the floor of the House of Representatives by relinquishing their speaking time to one another. They would offer their female colleagues undivided attention when speaking, affording them a level of respect not always given by their male colleagues.
In the years since its founding, the number of women legislators has grown and the caucus has taken on a variety of different policy issues to support women in Massachusetts. There is a strong, consistent thread of support among caucus members that has guided their work over the decades. Membership of the caucus has also grown increasingly diverse, as women of different backgrounds, experiences, races, ages, and districts continue to be elected.
The caucus has maintained its focus on support and camaraderie while also expanding its reach to address the most pressing policy issues facing women in Massachusetts. The caucus continues with its mission to enhance the economic status and equality of women and to encourage and support women at all levels of government.
While still a minority of the 200-member Legislature, the 62 members who are part of today’s women’s caucus are a force to be reckoned with. They hold leadership titles including senate president, senate majority leader, house speaker pro tempore, house and senate assistant majority and minority leaders, and more.
Women serve as committee chairs and vice chairs and are the leading experts on policies ranging from energy to health care. Massachusetts also now has the first female governor and lieutenant governor team, with Maura Healey and Kim Driscoll serving in the executive branch. Women hold an unprecedented number of constitutional offices, serving in five of the six positions statewide.
We are honored and thrilled to be co-chairing the Women’s Caucus for the 2023-24 legislative session. Supported by a 12-member Board of Directors and Executive Director Nora Bent, the caucus aims to harness the power of its members and advance issues that predominantly impact women.
The caucus’ strategic priorities for this session include elevating women’s economic opportunity and eliminating barriers, addressing racial and gender disparities in health care, and empowering women in government. Legislatively, the caucus is focusing on five priorities that span these broad and important areas.
Under the economic topic, the caucus is supporting two bills. Reps. Brandy Fluker Oakley and Josh S. Cutler and Sen. Patricia D. Jehlen filed An Act Relative to Salary Range Transparency. This bill would have Massachusetts join a growing number of states requiring employers to disclose the salary range when advertising a position. Research has found that salary range transparency in the hiring process is one of the best tools to help close the gender wage gap. This law would remove pay barriers and put everyone on a level economic playing field.
An Act Relative to a Livable Wage for Human Service Workers, filed by Rep. Kay Khan and Sen. Cindy F. Friedman, addresses disparities between the rate of pay for human services workers employed directly by the state and those employed by agencies with state contracts. Human services workers are more likely to live below 150% of the poverty level, have lower median wages, and have lower household incomes than workers in other industries.
In an effort to address racial and gender disparities in health care, Reps. Christine P. Barber and Jay D. Livingstone and Sen. Jehlen have filed An Act to Increase Access to Disposable Menstrual Products in Prisons, Homeless Shelters, and Public Schools. This bill requires all schools, prisons, and homeless shelters to provide free access to menstrual products. Period products are a basic need and should be made easily accessible to everyone so that period poverty can no longer impact the lives and abilities of menstruators to fully participate in society.
An Act Relative to Postpartum Depression Screening, filed by Rep. Carole A. Fiola and Sen. Friedman, also aims to address racial and gender disparities in health care. Postpartum depression is vastly underdiagnosed, partly because women are not being screened enough. This bill would require MassHealth to provide coverage for postpartum depression screenings by pediatricians for 12 months, an increase from the current time period of six months. Women often do not come forward with their symptoms, so having a pediatric physician who is trained to spot them can be critical.
Empowering women in government has long been a priority for the caucus, and we enthusiastically support An Act Supporting Parents Running for Public Office, filed by Reps. Joan Meschino and Mike Connoly and Sen. Jehlen. Currently, child care costs incurred during campaign events and activities are considered personal expenses and therefore not eligible for reimbursement. This bill would allow state and local candidates to use their campaign funds to pay for campaign-related child care expenses. Doing so would eliminate a major barrier for parents seeking public office in their communities and advance equitable political representation throughout the Commonwealth.
Bipartisan and bicameral in nature, the caucus is a unique entity on Beacon Hill, bringing together all the women who serve. The caucus’ membership spans generations, geography, backgrounds, cultures, and political views. That diversity is what keeps the caucus strong. We come together on issues that impact all women, using our members’ lived experiences to ensure that the generations of women to come have expanded opportunities.
We encourage you to connect with the caucus, support our priorities, and consider how you can get involved in your community. With all of us working together, we can continue to make strides toward true equality.
Sen. Joan B. Lovely represents the Second Essex district in the Massachusetts Senate. Rep. Hannah Kane represents the 11th Worcester District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.