Opinion: Celebrating Influential Women in N.H. Political History

Opinion: Celebrating Influential Women in N.H. Political History

Anna Kate Munsey

New Hampshire is known for its unique political scene. Our first-in-the-nation primary means that every four years in February, voters living across the country learn the names of our counties and polling precincts. However, people don’t always recognize many of the women throughout New Hampshire political history who have broken records, made waves and blazed new trails. 

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’d like to highlight just a few of these influential female Granite State politicians, activists and public figures.  

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan are the first and third women to be elected to the U.S. Senate from New Hampshire, respectively. They are also the only women in American history to have been elected both governor and senator of a state. This is an incredibly big deal, one that is not often recognized. Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte was the first woman ever appointed as attorney general in the state of New Hampshire, as well as the second female U.S. Senator. 

Each of these three female senators were considered by the presidential nominees in their respective parties as potential running mates, in the 2012 and 2020 elections. They put New Hampshire – and women in politics – on the national stage. 

If you’ve never heard of New Hampshire political icon “Granny D,” then you’re missing out. When she was 88 years old, Doris “Granny D” Haddock’s political activism career began. The Nashua native walked across the country to protest current campaign finance laws and advocate for reform. Granny D feared corporations were overtaking and exploiting our democratic practices. She is well-known for getting Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich to shake hands and agree to work on campaign finance reform while campaigning in Claremont. 

In 2004, Granny D ran as a Democrat against incumbent Sen. Judd Greg, and did not accept any private campaign contributions. Though she obviously did not win, she received 34% of the vote, an impressive feat for a 94-year-old, exclusively publicly-funded candidate.  

Another lesser-known New Hampshire legal icon is Marilla Ricker, the first woman admitted to the New Hampshire bar. She began a teaching career, married a wealthy farmer, and when he passed away she began to study law. She passed the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia bar exam, ranking higher than all of the men she tested with.  

Ricker was a philanthropist, suffragette, teacher, published free-thought author and dedicated attorney who put her own money into her cases, often working for free. She was also a major voting rights advocate, and is even rumored to have been the first woman to ever attempt to register to vote in New Hampshire. She saw her dreams of voting realized for the first time in 1920, a few months before passing away. 

As women, we owe it to those who came before us – and to ourselves – to be bold, be passionate, be driven and be brave.  

They say a woman has to work twice as hard in order to receive half of the credit a man would. Historically, it has been more difficult for women to break barriers, pursue certain careers and participate in public life and service as they see fit. However, I truly believe we are turning a corner and will continue to progress if we actively promote equality, empowerment, and acceptance and celebration of our equal opportunities and roles in society. 

2020 was a big year for women in politics. Not only did a record number of women get elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, a woman is serving in the role of Vice President for the first time in our nation’s history.  

We can learn many lessons from each of these women. From Ricker and Hancock, we learn that it is never too late to begin a career in public service or activism, especially a wildly successful one. Shaheen, Hassan and Ayotte have shown us that no political position – no matter how prestigious or far-seeming, is unavailable to women. And, there is no reason that we cannot as women hold more than one of these positions.  

One of my favorite quotes is “a woman should be two things: who and what she wants.” We are so lucky that so many strong women have set the path for us. Their actions have given us privileges and opportunities. It is our responsibility to appreciate and progress based off of these things, and create a better future for those who come after us. Lifting up fellow women, especially women of color, and amplifying their voices and ideas, is one of our most important tasks as women. 

Today, and every day – not just during Women’s History Month – thank an impactful woman in your life. It could be a mother, sister, friend, grandmother, aunt, or even your barista, Uber driver, or someone you always see on your morning run. Spread the admiration and appreciation, and it will come back to you tenfold. 

Photo courtesy of Paul Chan and the International Museum of Women: “Granny D.”