by Julia Fennell, Colorado Newsline
April 13, 2022

Colorado has the third-highest percentage of women in municipal office and the second-highest percentage of women in the state legislature compared to other states, according to 2022 data from the Center for American Women and Politics.

About 45% of people serving in municipal offices in Colorado this year are women, which is higher than in surrounding states and higher than the national percentage. It is almost one percentage point higher than last year.

Across the country, women make up almost 32% of people serving in municipal offices.

The Center for American Women and Politics, based at Rutgers University, researches women’s participation in U.S. politics.



Colorado was also the state with the third-highest percentage of women in municipal office and the second-highest percentage of women in its state legislature in 2021, according to 2021 data from the Center for American Women and Politics.

When Ashley Smith, mayor of Cañon City, was first elected to city council, there were some older men who were dubious of her ability to do the job, and it took some time for them to realize that she is capable, Smith said.

Smith had both men and women express how glad they were to be able to vote for a woman during her campaign for mayor, she said.

Smith, the mother of six children, said that recently there was a heated debate on a controversial subject at a city council meeting, and afterwards some people told Smith that they were impressed with how well she handled the situation, and they asked where she learned to do that.

“The answer was very easy — I was trained as a mother of six children on how to handle those controversial situations in a really diplomatic way,” she said.

Smith said that while some people may have thought that being a stay-at-home mother was a weakness, for her it was actually a strength.

“It really translated well, from being a caregiver to my family to being a caregiver to my community,” Smith said.

When asked what advice she would give young women in Colorado considering a career in politics, Smith said she would tell them to go for it, that they will make a meaningful impact and that it is incredibly rewarding.

Cañon City has the most elected women serving on the dais at the same time in the city’s history, Smith said. Though this year is the 150th anniversary of Cañon City, Smith is only the second female mayor to serve the city.

CAWP ranks states by the percentage of women who hold municipal office, but the ranking only considers incorporated municipalities with a population of at least 10,000, and the number of municipalities in each state differs significantly. For example, California, which ranks eighth, has 394 incorporated municipalities with a population of at least 10,000, whereas Hawaii, which ranks first, has only one municipality, according to a statement last month from the Center. Mississippi ranks 50th, with 19.7%.

This year, 45% of the Colorado Legislature is women, which is the second-highest percentage in the country, according to the Center’s 2022 Women in State Legislatures report. Nevada has the greatest percentage of women in its state legislature at almost 59% and West Virginia has the lowest at just over 13%.

Across the United States, 31% of state legislature seats are filled by women.

Percentage of women in state legislatures by year

  • 1975: 8%
  • 1985: 15%
  • 1995: 20.6%
  • 2005: 22.4%
  • 2015: 24.6%
  • 2020: 29.3%
  • 2022: 31.3%

According to the Center for American Women and Politics

Hannah Gay Keao, an Edgewater City Council member, said she had people tell her that she talked too much about being a mother during her campaign. Gay Keao has been outspoken about the child care crisis in Colorado, where child care costs more than half the income of some Colorado parents. “The money I make as a Councilmember would never cover childcare during my meetings,” Gay Keao tweeted earlier this year.

Alison Coombs, an Aurora City Council member, tweeted an email she and other members of the Council received, telling her that strapping her baby on didn’t look professional.

“This is what it’s like being a new mom in office,” Coombs wrote.

Not just sexism

Heather Graham, the president of Pueblo’s City Council, said she experienced more ageism than sexism during her campaign.

“Some of the older men on the board do not like a younger woman being in charge and leading the meetings, so there’s definitely some sexism and ageism,” said Graham, 33.

In terms of the advice she would give to women considering a career in Colorado politics, Graham said she would tell them to just go for it, and that people are ready for a change.

“I think it’s a good time to be a woman in politics,” Graham said.

Four women and three men sit on Pueblo’s City Council.

When Colorado Springs City Council member Yolanda Avila won her first election, the first two tweets she got said “women should stay in the home” and “it’s now really time to build that wall,” said Avila, who is Latina. Former President Donald Trump repeatedly promised to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Avila thinks her experience being a woman in Colorado politics is slightly different from the experience of other women in El Paso County politics, partly because Avila is progressive, she said. She thinks her experience being a woman in elected office would be different in a more progressive place like Boulder or Denver.

The Colorado Springs City Council is dominated by white men, Avila said. Six of the nine Council members are men.

There hasn’t been a Democrat on the El Paso County Commissioners Board in 52 years, Avila said.

“They have majority women, but it’s different, they are all white and very conservative,” Avila said. Avila encourages women considering a career in politics to find mentors who are in the position the young women aim to be in, she said.

“It’s really important to have those mentors who blazed the trail before you,” Avila said.

Federal Heights recently became the first all-woman city council in Colorado history, according to The Denver Post.

This year, two of Colorado’s five statewide elective executives are women: Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Lt. Gov Dianne Primavera, both Democrats.

Women in U.S. Congress in 2022:

121 women in the U.S. House of Representatives:

  • Democrats: 90
  • Republicans: 31

24 women in the U.S. Senate:

  • Democrats: 16
  • Republicans: 8

According to the Center for American Women and Politics

A record-high number of women serving in the 100-member U.S. Senate was set in January 2021, when there were 26 women serving as senators. There are 24 women serving in the U.S. Senate this year.

In Colorado, two current U.S. representatives are women: Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican in the 3rd Congressional District, and Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat in the 1st Congressional District.

There has never been a female U.S. senator from Colorado.

In addition to Boebert and DeGette, just three other women from Colorado have served in Congress: Democrat Reps. Betsy Markey and Patricia Schroeder, and Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

Women make up just over 3% of people who have ever served in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to the Center’s Women in the U.S. House of Representatives. Women make up just over 4% of people who have ever served in the U.S. Senate, according to the Center’s Women in the U.S. Senate.

History of women in U.S. Congress (includes former and current lawmakers):

349 women in the U.S. House of Representatives:

  • Democrats: 230
  • Republicans: 119

58 women in the U.S. Senate:

  • Democrats: 36
  • Republicans: 22

According to the Center for American Women and Politics

Last year, Vice President Kamala Harris became the first woman, as well as the first South Asian person, to be elected as vice president of the United States. In 2007, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, became the first woman to hold the Speaker of the House position.

The percentage of women in office has increased across the country since the 1970s. In 1975, women made up just 4% of Congress. This year, women make up about 27%, according to the Center.

The first woman elected to Congress was Rep. Jeannette Rankin, a Republican from Montana, who first served in 1917. “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last,” Rankin said, according to the Columbia School of Social Work.

Rankin was known for working to expand voting rights for women, improve health care for women and infants, and trying to ensure better labor conditions for workers, according to the History of the U.S. House of Representatives website.

The first woman who served in the U.S. Senate was Rebecca Latimer Felton, a Democrat from Georgia, who was appointed to fill a vacancy in 1922 and served just one day in office.

“When the women of the country come in and sit with you … you will get ability, you will get integrity of purpose, you will get exalted patriotism, and you will get unstinted usefulness,” Felton said during her speech in the Senate Chamber, according to the Senate website.

The first woman elected to the U.S. Senate was Hattie Wyatt Caraway, a Democrat from Arkansas, who was appointed to the Senate in 1931 to fill the vacancy that occurred after the death of her husband, and was elected to the Senate in 1932, according to the Senate.    


Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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