A Year of Inspiration and Motivation: Historic Firsts for Women of Color in Politics
Several women of color made history as the first women from their ethnic or racial group to serve in various political offices this year, affirming arguments put forth by candidates and political analysts that their electoral success is a sign of shifting politics.
At least six women of color made history as mayors, the most notable being Cherelle Parker, the first woman and first Black woman elected to lead Philadelphia. Parker joins Mayors Sharon Weston Broome of Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Vi Alexander Lyles of Charlotte, North Carolina; Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C.; Elaine O’Neal of Durham, North Carolina; Karen Bass of Los Angeles; LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans; London Breed of San Francisco; and Tishaura Jones of St. Louis in a growing list of Black women serving as mayors of major cities.
This year’s addition to the list of women of color mayors is part of a trend experts like Kelly Dittmar, director of research for the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), have observed over the past decade. Dittmar attributes it to the way many women of color value and interact with communities, and to the inspiration provided by other mayors who are women of color.
“I do think having role models and examples where you see other women of color, broadly speaking, be successful and be in these positions of leadership … can both be inspiring and motivating and also legitimizing to the insiders that these women can win and should win and make a difference in policy and policymaking and political leadership,” Dittmar said.
Women of color also made gains beyond City Hall. Pennsylvania had another major first, with Joanna McClinton being elected as the first woman and first Black woman speaker of the state House of Representatives. Dittmar pointed to McClinton’s ascension from House Democratic Caucus chair to House Democratic leader to her current first as a result of women of color in the statehouse who first encouraged her to run for party leadership and gave her the confidence and experience to seek the speaker’s seat. Dittmar also pointed to the work by women of color who have fueled the voter base in cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and how that work is helping them take their rightful place and demand a seat at the table.
CAWP released a report this month about the changes in women’s political power between 2010-’23, which included a 2022 interview with McClinton that addressed the misperceptions Black women were overcoming with each election.
“I think party leadership has always had this idea of who can win and many times that person was not a Black woman for certain communities,” McClinton told CAWP. “So we are learning, we are seeing, we are getting educated, and we’re seeing through the wins and losses how this is evolving.”
She added that her time as the House Democratic leader had shown her that others are eager to follow in her footsteps. “Some of the candidates that I meet and talk to ask me about the journey. …They see what’s going on in Pennsylvania and they’re encouraged to hear a woman’s voice at that podium.”
Here are some of the women of color whose success this year got their names written in history as firsts.