Women Take Their Place in State Legislatures

Mahoney, Anna Mitchell. 2018. Women Take Their Place in State Legislatures: The Creation of Women’s Caucuses. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

How do women strategically make their mark on state legislatures? Anna Mitchell Mahoney’s book traces the development of women’s state legislative caucuses and the influence both gender and party have on women’s ability to organize collectively. She provides a comprehensive analysis of how and why women organize around their gender identity in state legislatures—or why they do not.

Women Take Their Place in State Legislatures includes a quantitative analysis of institutional-level variables and caucus existence in all 50 states. Case studies of caucus attempts in New Jersey, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Iowa between 2006 and 2010 examine attempts at creating women’s caucuses that succeeded or failed, and why. Mahoney’s interviews with 180 state legislators and their staff explore the motivations of caucus creators and participants. Ultimately, she finds that women’s organizing is contextual; it demonstrates the dynamic nature of gender.

Mahoney also provides insights into broad questions regarding gendered institutions, collective action, and political party governance. Women Take Their Place in State Legislatures fills a lacuna in the evaluation of women in government.

Peer Reviewed Articles

Brown, Nadia, Christopher J. Clark, and Anna Mahoney. 2022. Editors. Special Issue: Women of Color Political Elites in the U.S. Journal of Women, Politics, and Policy. 43(1). 

More women of color were sworn in to the 117th U.S. Congress than ever before. For instance, Cori Bush became the first Black woman elected from the state of Missouri, accomplishing this feat by taking down William Clay, whose family served in that seat for decades. Cori Bush’s victory, along with those of other women of color, is simultaneously something to celebrate and investigate. How can it be that in 2021, women of color elected officials are still achieving firsts? How have scholars assessed, theorized, and studied these women who are novel players in American government? Political Science, as a discipline, is merely decades out from viewing women of color via a single-axis lens of either race or gender. Thusly, scholars are still grappling with how to examine women of color by their own merits. This special issue seeks to do just that. The essays in this volume are chiefly concerned with studying the multiplicity of women of color political elites as distinct actors in American democracy. As guest co-editors of two issues on the subject, we wanted to curate a set of essays from both established and burgeoning thought leaders and empiricists on the complexities of seeking elected office and governing as women of color.

Holman, M. R., Mahoney A. and E. Hurler. 2021. “Let’s Work Together: Bill Success via Women’s Cosponsorship in U.S. State Legislatures.” Political Research Quarterly.. DOI:10.1177/10659129211020123

Not all pieces of legislation introduced for consideration are equally likely to be successful. The characteristics of legislation’s cosponsors can influence bill passage rates. Despite facing marginalization in legislative bodies and more electoral vulnerability, women are effective lawmakers. We argue that one way by which women overcome marginalization and gendered expectations of performance is bill success from legislation cosponsored with other women. Testing this expectation on bills (140,000+) introduced in U.S. state legislatures in forty states in 2015, we find increased bill success from women’s cosponsorship with each other and women from the other party. Using variation in the share of women in legislative chambers and in legislative leadership, we find evidence to suggest that women’s success emerges both from marginalization and gendered opportunities.

Holman, M. R. and Mahoney, A. 2019. “The Choice Is Yours: Caucus Typologies and Collaboration in U.S. State Legislatures.” Representation. 55(1): 47-63. DOI:10.1080/00344893.2019.1581079

The marginalisation of some groups in legislative bodies promotes the construction of subaltern public spaces, including caucuses. In this paper, we evaluate whether the substantive focus of women’s caucuses in state legislatures matters in shaping women’s collaboration with each other. We first present an evaluation of the types of women’s caucuses in U.S. state legislatures, drawing on qualitative examples and evidence from founding efforts. We then evaluate whether it matters if a caucus is focused on social cohesion among women, sets policy agendas, or is has ad hoc policy focus. We theorise that the focus of the caucus should not matter, as it is the existence of the subaltern space (versus the absence of the space) that confers trust and collaboration among members. Using all co-sponsorship behaviour between women legislators in every U.S. state legislature in 2015, we find little evidence of consistent patterns of a type of caucus mattering across institutional arrangements; instead, all caucuses increase collaborative patterns. Our findings provide evidence for the importance of institutional arrangements that build trust and cooperation in increasingly polarised and divided legislative bodies.

Mahoney, Anna Mitchell and Christopher J. Clark. 2018. “When and Where Do Women’s Legislative Caucuses Emerge?” Politics and Gender. 15(4): 671-694. DOI:10.1017/S1743923X18000806

Women have organized around their gendered identity to accomplish political goals both inside and outside legislatures. Formal and informal institutional norms shape the form this collective action takes and whether it is successful. What, then, are the favorable conditions for organizing women’s caucuses inside legislatures? Using an original dataset and employing an event history analysis, we identify the institutional conditions under which women’s caucuses emerged in the 50 US states from 1972 to 2009. Within a feminist institutional framework, we argue that women’s ability to alter existing organizational structures and potentially affect gender norms within legislatures is contextual. Although we find that women’s presence in conjunction with Democratic Party control partially explains women’s ability to act collectively and in a bipartisan way within legislatures, our analysis suggests that institutional-level variables are not enough to untangle this complicated phenomenon. Our work explains how gender and party interact to shape legislative behavior and clarifies the intractability of institutional norms while compelling further qualitative evidence to uncover the best conditions for women’s collective action within legislatures.

Holman, M. R. and Mahoney, A. 2018. “Stop, Collaborate, and Listen: Women’s Collaboration in US State Legislatures.” Legislative Studies Quarterly. 43(2): 179-206. DOI:10.1111/lsq.12199

Collaboration plays a key role in crafting good public policy. We use a novel data set of over 140,000 pieces of legislation considered in US state legislatures in 2015 to examine the factors associated with women’s collaboration with each other. We articulate a theory that women’s collaboration arises from opportunity structures, dictated by an interaction of individual and institutional characteristics. Examining the effect of a combination of characteristics, we find support for an interactive view of institutions, where women’s caucuses accelerate collaboration in Democratic‐controlled bodies and as the share of women increases. Collaboration between women also continues in the face of increased polarization in the presence of a caucus, but not absent one. Our findings speak to the long‐term consequences of electing women to political office, the importance of institutions and organizations in shaping legislative behavior, and the institutionalization of gender in politics.

Books Chapters

Holman, Mirya R. and Anna Mahoney. “Women in Louisiana Politics: Barriers and Opportunities.” in The Party is Over: The New Louisiana Politics, edited by G. Pearon Cross and Christie Maloyed. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: LSU Press, 2022.

Mahoney, Anna, Meghan Kearney, and Carly Shaffer. “MeToo in the Statehouse.” in Politicking While Female: The Political Lives of Women, edited by Nichole M. Bauer, 158-179. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: LSU Press, 2020.

Blogs, Editorials, and Reviews

Brown, Nadia, Christopher J. Clark, and Anna Mahoney. Happy 50th Anniversay, Womemn’s Legislative Caucuses! Here’s How to be Even More Effective,” in Washington Post. Washington, D.C. February 10, 2022.

Mahoney, Anna. “Community Engagement and State Legislative Research,” in The Legislative Scholar. Fall 2020.

Shaffer, Carly and Anna Mahoney. “Women on the VP Short List are Qualified to Serve Today or Tomorrow,” in Election Watch Center for American Women and Politics. August 8, 2020. 

Mahoney, Anna. Book Review. 2019. “100 Years of the Nineteenth Amendment: An Appraisal of Women’s Political Activism,” Perspectives on Politics. 17.1. 252 – 253.

Mahoney, Anna. “Now is Time to Boost Paid Family Leave, and These Louisiana Representatives Can Help.” in The Advocate. December 2, 2018. 

Mahoney, Anna. “Record Numbers of Women in State Legislatures: Caucuses will Help Them Get Work Done,” in The Gender Policy Report, Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. November 15, 2018. 

Mahoney, Anna. “The Utility of Women’s Caucuses in Today’s Political Climate,” in North Philly Notes, Temple University Press. October 10, 2018.

Mahoney, Anna. “The Continued Importance of the ‘Bros Caucus’ Underscores the Need for More Women’s Caucuses,” in LSE US Centre. August 28, 2018. 

Mahoney, Anna. “One More Time,” in Footnotes: A Blog of the Center for American Women and Politics. August 16, 2016.