How Did New Hampshire Come To Be Ruled by Women?

What Women Really Think
Jan. 2 2013 4:15 PM

How Did New Hampshire Come To Be Ruled by Women?

151298339
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, one of New Hampshire's two female senators

Photograph by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

In a country where women’s representation in Congress hovers below 20 percent, how did New Hampshire come to be ruled by women? Once its new representatives are sworn in tomorrow, the state will be led by two female congresswomen, two female senators, one female governor, a female speaker of the State House, and a female chief justice. Yesterday, the New York Times’ Katharine Q. Seelye dropped a New Hampshire state civics lesson that hints at why female politicians may have advanced so impressively there: New Hampshire has more state legislators than any other state, and they’re all paid next to nothing.

Though New Hampshire is small, its political pipeline is wide. Four hundred representatives serve in its State House—it’s bigger than any other state legislature, and rivals the U.S. House of Representatives in size. That means that the barrier for entry is lower, and women have a better chance of snagging a seat. Once they are elected to office, they’re barely compensated. State legislators in New Hampshire are paid $100 a year flat. (Meanwhile, Pennsylvania reps are living well at a salary of $82,026 a year.) Other states offer lowly salaries for their legislators, too, but few rival New Hampshire’s paltry sum. Most at least forgive expenses (Alabama, for example, pays its legislators just $10 a day, but allows them $4,308 per month in expenses). New Hampshire doesn’t.

Advertisement

What does it mean that the first state ruled by women is also the state where local politicians are valued the least? Seelye notes that the state “has a long history of volunteerism,” and serving as a local rep is so low-paying that it “amounts to an act of volunteerism.” Maybe nonwealthy men were unable or unwilling to seek office. Maybe women were more easily accepted into a version of public office that was seen as a public service as opposed to a high-status, high-paid political gig. After all, volunteering is a historically feminine realm, where women have been able to find meaningful unpaid work while their husbands followed a traditional career track. For whatever reason, women were well-represented in the New Hampshire state legislature as early as 1975—since that year, the number of women in the House hasn’t dipped below 100.

Maggie Hassan, who will be sworn in as the state’s new governor tomorrow, is one woman who came up through the state’s legislative system. “There are lots of opportunities for women to pitch in, prove their competence and learn a lot about governing and the political process,” she told the Times of her state. “We’ve had a very deep bench of women.” Not all of Hassan’s peers originated in the State House, but the body’s early acceptance of women may have helped build a formidable female network statewide—one that’s finally paying off.

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?