Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli Thrasher is joining a small group of elected officials to give birth while in public office when she and husband, Ernie Thrasher, welcome their first child, a boy, this month.
Jean Sinzdak, associate director of Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics said 11 women have given birth while serving in Congress. Allegheny County Democrat Chelsa Wagner, a common pleas judge, gave birth to two children while serving as county controller and as a member of the state House of Representatives.
Even being a mother of a young child while in office is unusual, Sinzdak said.
“That can be really galvanizing for a lot of people,” she said. “It can be really inspiring.”
Nationally, 5.3% of state legislators are the mother of a child under 18, compared to nearly 18% of adults in the U.S. population, according to Vote Mama Foundation. In Pennsylvania, that number is much lower. The foundation found that there are eight mothers of young children in state government, about 3% of lawmakers.
The numbers could grow, however, as the amount of women holding local, state and national offices has been on the rise in the past few decades.
In 1977, just 4% of state Legislature offices in Pennsylvania were held by women, compared to nearly 30% now, according to the Rutgers center. Those numbers are mirrored at the U.S. Congress level.
Sinzdak and Dana Brown, executive director of Chatham University’s Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics, agreed that female candidates started coming out in droves in 2018. The year before, the Pennsylvania center’s Ready to Run preparation program saw a big increase in participation both in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Brown said.
“Women can make a really strong, good case for gender diversity in office,” she said, by bringing different perspectives to legislation.
Some candidates have been blowing by the party committee gatekeepers and forging ahead to run, rather than being told to wait their turn, Brown and Sinzdak agreed.
“Women, when they do run, win at the same rates as men,” Brown said. “Women do bring a different lived experience to the campaign trail.”
Beating an incumbent can be challenging, Sinzdak said. But when a newcomer wins at the polls, that can spark something in other would-be female candidates or the younger generation. In 2018, she noticed female candidates touting motherhood as an asset to the job they wanted and “women ran more authentically as themselves.”
“People can relate to that,” she said.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .