Celebrating Women's History Month
Written by Karen Kominsky, Partner, CLB Partners
Women's History Month is a momentous occasion to reflect on how far we have come as a country and appreciate the empowering women who came before us. Politics is an industry where women are continuously breaking barriers. I feel lucky to have worked with many game-changers throughout my 30+ years of experience in the public and private sectors.
Attorney, First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State: Hilary Clinton
When I think of empowering women that I have had the opportunity to work with, Hilary Clinton rises to the top. I had the pleasure to serve as the New Jersey State Director for her 2008 presidential campaign, and it is an experience I will never forget. As well-known as Clinton is now, many people forget that she has been breaking barriers since her early days.
Clinton graduated from Yale Law School with honors in 1973 and went on to work for the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she became the firm’s first female partner. And when Bill became President in 1993, Clinton became the first ‘First Lady’ to have a post-graduate degree.
In 2000, Clinton ran for a seat in the United States Senate and became the first ‘First Lady’ to win an elected office. Even after she suspended her 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama named Clinton to become the third-ever female Secretary of State in United States history.
And perhaps her most notable achievement, Hilary Clinton, made history by becoming the first woman to accept a major political party's nomination in 2016.
New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Fabiana Pierre-Louis
Justice Fabiana Pierre-Louis is the New Jersey Supreme Court's newest member and an inspiration to women everywhere. Governor Phil Murphy nominated Pierre-Louis in 2020 as his very first nominee to the state’s highest court.
Subsequently, the State Senate unanimously voted to confirm Pierre-Louis, making her the first Black woman AND the youngest person to ever serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court. She was sworn in eight days before her 40th birthday.
Pierre-Louis is a first-generation American, growing up in a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with her family of seven. Her father drove a New York City taxi, and her mother worked at a hospital in Manhattan for many years.
The Associate Justice attended Rutgers University-New Brunswick for undergrad and graduated with honors from Rutgers Law School in Camden. She later served as a law clerk for state Supreme Court Justice John Wallace Jr., the last Black member of the court.
Pierre-Louis served nine years as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey. She was the first woman of color to run both its Trenton and Camden offices. Most recently, she returned to private practice before moving to the bench.
I am so proud to work at CLB Partners, a top New Jersey government relations firm that makes sure women have a voice at the table and are represented in leadership positions. Not only am I a Partner at the firm, but we have many smart and talented women throughout our ranks.
Nicole Howarth is a shining example. We are fortunate to have her serve as Director at CLB Partners, focusing on fundraising, association management, office management, legislation, and committee tracking. Nicole started her government affairs career as an Association Manager with the New Jersey Concrete and Aggregate Association (NJCAA). Then she expanded her responsibilities and became Administrative Director of the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association (NJCIA).
Nicole and I have worked hard to be where we are today, but we also have the women who came before us to thank for paving the way.
Milestones for Women in New Jersey Politics
In honor of Women’s History Month, I would be remiss if I did not include the incredible timeline Rutgers put together to show the milestones women have made in New Jersey politics. All of these achievements are notable, but we are not done yet. All women should be encouraged to fulfill their dreams – and hopefully, soon, New Jersey will have the first woman to represent our state in the United States Senate.
- In 1921 Margaret Laird and Jennie Van Ness became the first two women elected to the New Jersey Assembly.
- Rebecca Estell Bourgeois Winston of Estell Manor was elected in 1925 and became the first woman to serve as mayor in New Jersey.
- Mary Teresa Norton served in the United States House of Representatives from 1925 to 1951 and was the first woman to represent New Jersey in Congress.
- In 1957 Madaline A. (Worthy) Williams became the first Black woman elected to the New Jersey Assembly.
- Marion West Higgins became the first woman speaker of the New Jersey Assembly in 1965 when Mildred Barry Hughes became the first woman elected to the New Jersey Senate.
- In 1968 Wynona Lipman became the first Black woman elected to a county freeholder board in New Jersey.
- Wynona Lipman became the first Black woman to serve in the New Jersey Senate in 1972.
- In 1977 Ruth Carpenter became the first woman elected sheriff in New Jersey.
- In 1981 Jane Burgio became the first woman appointed secretary of state in New Jersey.
- Marie Garibaldi became the first woman in 1982 to serve on New Jersey's Supreme Court.
- Nidia Davila-Colon was elected in 1983 and became the first Latina elected to a county freeholder board.
- In 1994 Deborah Poritz became New Jersey’s first female attorney general, and Christine Todd Whitman became the first woman (and only woman to date) to serve as New Jersey's Governor.
- Nilsa Cruz-Perez became the first Latina to serve in the New Jersey Assembly in 1995.
- In 1996 Deborah Poritz became the first woman to serve as chief justice on the New Jersey State Supreme Court.
- M. Teresa Ruiz became the first Latina to serve in the New Jersey Senate in 2008.
- In 2010 Kim Guadagno took office as New Jersey’s first lieutenant governor, and Barbara Buono became the first woman to be elected majority leader of the New Jersey State Senate.
- In 2011 Mildred Scott became the first Black woman elected county sheriff in New Jersey and the first woman elected sheriff in Middlesex County.
- Sheila Y. Oliver became the first woman of color (and second woman) to serve as the New Jersey Assembly speaker in 2011. She was the second Black woman in the nation to serve as speaker of a lower house.
- In 2015 Bonnie Watson Coleman became the first Black woman and the first woman of color to represent New Jersey in Congress.
- Susan Shin-Angulo became the first Asian American woman elected to a county freeholder board in New Jersey in 2016.
- Sheila Oliver became the first woman of color to serve as New Jersey's lieutenant governor in 2018 and the first woman of color to serve in a statewide office in New Jersey.