Monday numbers: A closer look at the history of women serving in the NC General Assembly

Monday numbers: A closer look at the history of women serving in the NC General Assembly

To get a sense of the historical marginalization of women in the General Assembly, look no further than the bathrooms in the Legislative Building. Slightly larger than a phone booth, the bathrooms contain only one toilet and one sink, because the man who designed the building in 1963, Edward Durrell Stone, apparently couldn’t envision a time when there would be enough women in the statehouse to form a line.

Indeed, in the 1960s, women could have bathrooms all to themselves. In 1968, the North Carolina House of Representatives was a lonely place for a woman. Of 120 members, only one — Nancy W. Chase of Wayne County — was serving in that chamber. Women fared incrementally better in the 50-member Senate, where there were three: Mary Brumby of Cherokee, Geraldine Nielsen of Forsyth, and Martha Evans of Mecklenburg.

(And in the legislative directory, women’s names were listed with the title “Mrs.” because apparently a woman’s identity was incomplete without her husband.)

A Black woman wouldn’t be elected to the General Assembly until 1982, although Alfreda Johnson Webb was appointed in 1971, followed by Annie Brown Kennedy in 1979. After losing the 1980 election, Kennedy won two years later and served six consecutive terms.

While more women serve in the General Assembly than a half-century ago, they are still underrepresented by gender. Women make up more than half of the 10 million North Carolinians, yet just a quarter of each chamber — 30 in the House and 13 in the Senate — is female.

The good news is a record number of women are running for state legislature this fall: 77 for the House and 23 for the Senate. Not all of them will win, but let’s imagine for a moment if they did. Women would have proportional representation in the General Assembly. And after advocating for their social and economic platforms, perhaps they could lobby for larger bathrooms.

Number of women running for House: 77
Republican candidates: 25
Democrats: 50
Unaffiliated: 1
Libertarian: 1

Number of women running for Senate: 23
Republican candidates: 10
Democrats: 13

Total number of women serving in legislature in the 1920s: 3
1930s: 3
1940s: 5
1950s: 4
1960s: 15
1970s: 32
1980s: 44
1990s: 59
2000-2016: 119

Number of women currently serving in NC House: 30
Republicans: 13
Democrats: 17

Number of women currently serving in NC Senate: 13
Republicans: 8
Democrats: 5

Source: General Assembly, Legislative Library