Ella Grasso the first woman elected State Governor in her own right.

Ella Rosa Giovanna Tambussi (1919-1981) deserves a place in American political history because she was the first woman to be elected governor of any state on her own --that is, not as successor to a husband who had formerly been governor. She was born in Windsor Locks, Connecticut in 1919 to immigrant parents from northern Italy, attended Mount Holyoke for her bachelor's and master's degrees, and married Thomas Grasso, an educator. She became a mother and housewife, while also becoming active in local Democratic Party politics. Ella Grasso was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives in 1951 and rapidly gained recognition within her party, who rewarded her in 1956 with a seat on the national Democratic Committee that formulated policies for the national ticket. Her next elected office came in 1958 as Connecticut Secretary of State, a post she held for a number of years. In 1970 Grasso was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives –probably the first of her sex and nationality to achieve that rank. Her huge plurality in winning re-election in 1972 instantly propelled her into the front ranks of potential nominees for governor that in fact she became in 1974. An effective and popular legislator, she was elected governor of Connecticut with a plurality of 59% thereby becoming the first woman to win that station without the benefit of following a husband who had formerly held the office. It was a milestone not only for women but also for Italian Americans. Indeed her victory elicited enthusiastic response even in her parent's Italian hometown where Italians celebrated a victory of one of their own to such a high rank of honor.

Grasso's election as Governor of Connecticut was indeed a tribute to the high regard in which the electorate held her and to the large plurality of Democratic Party voters over Republicans in the state. It may also be attributed to the large Italian American electorate, one that in 1970 was estimated to be one-third of Connecticut's total population and an ethnic group that had long desired to attain the highest rungs of the political ladder. As governor Ella Grasso followed a moderately liberal policy rejecting a state income tax, decreasing the number of state employees, and denying state funds for abortions. She also opposed the Vietnam War. Grasso won reelection in 1978 with another large plurality and was soon rumored to be under consideration as a potential vice presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. However, cancer struck preventing her from completing her second administration and ending her life in 1981. Grasso's victorious race for governor would soon compel other nearby states with large Italian American populations, such as New York that had never elected an Italian American for governor, to ponder that feasibility in their own states.

View Previous Entry     View Next Entry       Back to Timeline