Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date



There are two narratives that provide the story behind this guide. These stories may seem contradictory at first, but they are both true: it is only by telling both sides of the story that we can understand the full meaning and impact of the experiences of the women pictured in the pages that follow.

On the one hand, there is a story of exclusion, marginalization, and lack of representation of women of color in governing bodies all across Massachusetts – from local to federal office. The Massachusetts Legislature has existed since 1780, yet we have only had 14 women of color elected as state representatives and/or state senators to date. The General Court, as it is called, has 40 senators and 160 representatives, and, in 2015, only four women of color currently hold these seats. Of the thousands of individuals who have served or currently serve on local governing bodies in Massachusetts, only 81 women of color have been elected to serve in municipal offices such as city council, board of aldermen, board of selectmen, mayor, and school committee. In fact, the vast majority of women of color and women from diverse backgrounds who have been elected in the Commonwealth have been elected at the local level. While they have played important roles on these local governing bodies, only two women of color have been popularly elected mayor and only one has been elected sheriff. No women of color have been elected to statewide office – such as Treasurer, Attorney General, or Governor – or to either chamber of the U.S. Congress.

There has been some documentation and research about gender disparities in political representation at the state and local levels, but there has not been in-depth research on how gender and race/ethnicity intersect leading to greater disparities for women of color in Massachusetts. The experiences, needs, and voices of women from diverse and often underrepresented communities have largely been absent from discourse on many issues that directly impact women of color, their families, and their neighbors. An effort to eliminate both gender- and race/ethnicity-based exclusion from governance has been launched in Massachusetts, and it is our hope that this publication will catalyze its growth.

The second story that must be told – and retold and amplified – is that women of color in Massachusetts have been stepping forward to serve the public since the early 1970s, declaring their decision to run for office and winning local and state elections. The profiles in this guide provide a window into the backgrounds, experiences, and careers of 94 women who have seized opportunities, overcome barriers, and/or cleared the path for others. The profiles also showcase the tremendous contributions made by women who have served. The thematic analysis that follows utilizes these women’s own words to explain their diverse forms of leadership.

In order to gain a richer and fuller picture of the women profiled here, and to better understand their struggles and accomplishments, perspectives and insights, we conducted interviews with 22 women of color who have been elected to office in the Commonwealth. These women spoke about what drew them to public office, and candidly discussed their journeys as candidates and as elected officials. And they shared their hopes and concerns, as well as words of encouragement and advice, as they reflected on what it would take to get more women of color and those from diverse underrepresented communities into elected office at all levels of government in Massachusetts.


A collaboration between the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy and the Women’s Pipeline for Change.

This guide was made possible by a Public Service Grant from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Strategic Initiatives and Dean of Graduate Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston.

Community Engaged/Serving

Part of the UMass Boston Community-Engaged Teaching, Research, and Service Series.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.