Claiming a Vote: Women Legislators of Maryland
The General Assembly

By Kathy Postel Kretman and Gregory G. Lebel
January 1, 1991
Revised by the staff of the Maryland State Archives, March 1997


1648 Margaret Brent asks the Maryland General Assembly for the right to vote.

1921 Mary Eliza Risteau, of Harford County, is the first woman elected to the General Assembly.

1935 Delegate Risteau selected first woman senator.

1955 Mary Nock is elected to the post of Senate President Pro Tem, a post she would hold until 1961.

1958 Verda Welcome is elected the first African-American woman in the Maryland Senate.

1972 Delegate Pauline Menes is appointed to chair the "Women's Rest Room Committee" by Speaker of the House Thomas Hunter Lowe.

Acting on a resolution offered by Senator Rosalie Abrams, the Women's Legislative Caucus of Maryland is created by the women members of the General Assembly.

1973 Delegate Nancy Brown Burkheimer is elected President of the National Organization of Women Legislators.

1974 As a result of the November elections, women now hold nineteen seats in the Maryland General Assembly.

Delegate Pauline Menes is elected first President of the Caucus.

1976 The Ms. Foundation awards the Women's Caucus a grant for the establishment of an intern program in conjunction with Goucher College and the Center for the American Woman and Politics at Rutgers University.

1977 The Women's Caucus establishes its first comprehensive list of legislative priorities for the legislative session.

1978 Senator Rosalie Abrams is chosen Senate Majority Floor Leader.

The Caucus holds its first fundraising event in cooperation with the Women's National Education Fund.

1979 The daily Issue Report of Legislative Activity, produced by the Women's Caucus, achieves wide distribution and regard.

1983 The Caucus holds its first annual retreat at which priorities for the upcoming session are agreed upon.

1985 The Caucus begins actively courting media coverage with the production of press advisories regarding its legislative priorities.

1987 The Women Legislators win a commitment from the incoming House and Senate leadership to include women in key leadership positions in both parties.

Delegate Ellen Sauerbrey is elected first woman Minority Leader.

1989 Forty-two women are sworn in as members of the Maryland General Assembly -- one of the largest contingents of women in a state legislature in the country.

The Caucus wins a highly publicized fight to defeat a bill in the House of Delegates. The bill, seen by the Caucus as detrimental to women in divorce cases, is the first bill of the session to be defeated after receiving a favorable committee report.

The Women Legislators of Maryland join the Black Caucus in a boycott of private clubs with restrictive membership rules, forcing changes in their policies.

1990 Facing growing challenges and a more diverse membership, the Women Legislators of Maryland begins the process of reviewing and rewriting its bylaws.

1991 Majority of Caucus supports reproductive rights legislation that passes both Houses and is signed into law. Although the legislation is due to become effective July 1991, implementation is halted pending outcome of statewide referendum vote at general election held in November 1992, as required by the Maryland Constitution. This legislation was overwhelmingly approved by the voters of the state and became effective December 2, 1992.

1992 Caucus members sponsor legislation which passes that makes substantive changes to current Domestic Violence law regarding issuance of protective orders and expands persons eligible for relief from abuse to include coinhabitants.

1993 The mumber of Women Legislators is now increased to 46, or 24% of the General Assembly. Caucus members sponsor and work successfully to pass a much-awaited bill to make stalking a crime.

1994 The Caucus unites on the House floor to introduce a number of amendments to restore provisions of a Comprehensive Domestic Violence Bill that had been deleted by Committee. After extensive floor debate, four amendments are passed and the bill passes in both Houses. There is major press coverage throughout the state and the bill is signed into law.

1995 This year, marking the first of the four year term, a record number of women take office - 7 Senators and 47 Delegates for a total of 54 Women Legislators. Significant passed legislation supported by the Caucus includes the bill to strengthen the domestic violence laws and the proposed constitutional amendment to restructure the Commission on Judicial Disabilities.

1996 Have selected Substance Abuse as its number one priority, members of the Caucus sponsor and work successfully to pass legislation that provides state funding for alcohol and drug abuse treatment for prison inmates.

1997 The Caucus celebrates the 25 anniversary of its founding with a special Joint Session of the Legislature on March 7.

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