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A legislature is a law-making body of a political subdivision within a federal system. Within the United States, there are only 50 state legislatures, despite not requiring passports to travel to Puerto Rico and Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, or US Virgin Islands. They are considered self-governing territories and are thus exempt. In addition, the District of Columbia is a special federal district. Only states can have federal voting privileges.


The formal name of a state legislature can vary, depending on the state. For certain states, it is known simply as the Legislature. For others, it is called the General Assembly. 


Contrary to popular belief, long before the 19th Amendment even granted women the right to vote in 1920, women were already running for office. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the name of the first woman to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. She ran as an Independent from New York State, even though she herself was not eligible to vote. She managed to receive an impressive 24 votes out of the 12,000 that were cast that day.  In a state known for traditional women roles, female citizens in the Utah Territory became the first to legally vote in a US election under an equal suffrage law on Feb. 14, 1870.  Wyoming was actually the first territory to grant the right to women, but elections in Utah were held before Wyoming’s elections. For 17 years, Utah women claimed the right to vote until they were disenfranchised by federal anti-polygamy laws. When Utah became a state in 1896, Utah women won the right to vote for a second time.  Emmeline B. Wells, who was one of Utah’s most active leaders of women’s suffrage, represented Utah at the 1879 National Woman’s Suffrage Association convention. Later that year, her friends Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, national women’s rights activists, visited Utah to address the Mormon Female Membership of the Relief Society.


The first women to get elected to the state legislature were Clara Cressingham, Carrie C. Holly, and Frances S. Klock. They all won their campaigns in 1894 to join the Colorado State House of Representatives. This, interestingly, was only one year after the state of Colorado won the right to vote through a popular election, meaning the people could vote directly for the candidate that they wanted. Clara Cressingham became Secretary of the House Republican Caucus and was officially the first woman to fill a leadership position within the American legislature.


Congress and state legislatures are made up of two houses. The upper house is called the Senate, and the lower house is called the House of Representatives. Two years after Clara Cressingham became Secretary of the House, Martha Hughes Cannon became the first woman elected to the upper-body. She won a seat in the Utah State Senate after defeating her own husband, Angus M. Cannon.


These remarkable women paved the way for many others, Eventually, all 50 states had female state legislators in their lower houses. The last one was Hawaii in 1959 when Dorothy Devereux and Eureka Forbes joined the state’s House of Representatives. The final upper house state to welcome a female was Alabama, with the elections of Ann Bedsole and Frances Strong in 1983.