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CAWP at Eagleton Institute of Politics creates Women Elected Officials Database

The Center for American Women and Politics at the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics launched a database to make it easier to find every woman who has ever held, or currently holds, state legislative, statewide executive, elective or congressional office. – Photo by Rutgers.edu

The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics recently launched the Women Elected Officials Database, where you can find every woman who has ever been elected to a U.S. public office.

Chelsea Hill, leader of the project and data services manager at CAWP, discussed the process of creating the database and why it is important.

“It’s the first (and) the most complete collection of information in the world about women elected officials,” Hill said.

The database, which launched at the end of June, took approximately two to three years to complete, she said. It includes every woman who has ever held, or currently holds, state legislative, statewide executive, elective or congressional offices.

The data dates all the way back to 1893 when the first woman served in a statewide executive office, Hill said. CAWP used its own research combined with KnowWho data services and a book by author Elizabeth Cox, "Women, State and Territorial Legislators, 1895-1995: A State-by-State Analysis, with Rosters of 6,000 Women," to collect the data for its project, she said.

“CAWP has had a historical record of women officeholders for a really long time, but it hasn't ever been in the format that it's in right now,” Hill said. “The process was getting that data, (and) making it into a format that was accessible to the public.”

Since this is the first database that puts all of this information together, it takes the work out of researching and is more user friendly for anyone looking to access this data, she said.

“The reason that we made this and the thought process behind designing it was so that it could be a really helpful tool for people who are trying to look for trends in their state and in the country,” Hill said.

Being able to identify these trends and use this knowledge is important so people can inspire more women to run for office, she said. Hill said she also hopes that this database makes this research feel more accessible.

The idea behind the database came out of a resource CAWP was previously working with, Hill said. At the time, it was using KnowWho to collect information on candidates and officeholders but realized it could use this to its advantage to create a database, she said.

“We thought, we have this great resource that's really easily transferable to a database format, we should try to start doing that,” Hill said. “Then the process that we had to start was the digitization of the historical data.”

Hill said this database is significant since it is something that has never existed anywhere before. If people cannot see this data, they are not going to be able to identify and treat the issues that exist, she said.

“It’s a huge opening of the door for people to try to get the portrait of women in politics,” Hill said.

For example, without data, you would not be able to know that about only seven percent of state legislators in the country are women of color, she said. It is hard enough to identify these problems, but now people can recognize them and work to treat them, Hill said.

Hill said she hopes that this database inspires more people to learn about the issues surrounding women in politics. She specifically mentioned the importance of researchers and programmers having access to this information. 

“(The database) gives researchers a tool that they've never had before," she said. “If researchers find it easier to look up data on women in politics, they're going to find it easier to write about women in politics.”

Also, it gives new tools to programmers who can use this information to understand who they should be targeting for candidate recruitment, Hill said. They can now easily look at what states really need help, which are doing well and see which models are working and can be replicated, she said.

“I think it's an incredibly timely resource and I think people have responded really well to it,” Hill said.

With the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment this year, Hill said the database is an eye-opener. In addition to just the raw numbers, there are a lot of interesting anecdotes and stories that can be found as well, she said.

“(With the database) you can really see the lifespan of a woman’s political career,” Hill said.


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