Governor Ella Grasso In Memoriam

Ella Grasso was elected the first woman governor in the United States in 1975 and became a symbol for women in politics. She remained true to her convictions, not swayed by trends or lobbyists. Never forgetting her hometown of Windsor Locks, Conn., where she lived for most of her life, Grasso’s focus remained on the people of Connecticut and their welfare, particularly children and families.

Grasso began her political life by joining the League of Women Voters in 1943, and she proceeded to have a long and distinguished career in government. She served in the Connecticut General Assembly from 1952 to 1956, and served on the Democratic National Committee from 1956 to 1958. She then served as Secretary of the State for Connecticut from 1958 to 1970. She went on to represent Connecticut in the U.S. House of Representatives, from 1970 to 1974, where she served on the Education and Labor and Veterans’ Affairs Committees, fighting to create and protect jobs.

In 1974, she became the first woman governor in the United States to be elected on her own merits – all previous female governors had been wives of former governors. She held the position for two terms, from 1975 to 1981, until her battle with cancer caused her to step down in 1981. In her twenty-eight years as a public servant, she never lost an election.

Grasso’s focus during those years was not her own political career as much as the opportunity to make positive changes in Connecticut. She was a trailblazer for women across the United States, making inroads in a traditionally male environment. Her political career began at a time when women politicians were scarce, particularly in higher offices. American women politicians, legislators and public servants everywhere owe a great deal to Ella Grasso. Grasso combined efficient economic policy and thoughtful social programs. Her door was always open to her constituents in every office she held. Grasso was never afraid to let her opinions be known, even if they were met with challenges. This was the case with her pro-life stance. Many in the women’s movement were enthused by her elections to higher offices but disappointed by her prolife position.

Grasso prohibited the use of state funding for abortions under Medicaid. She is quoted in a biography entry by Marilynn Wood Hill as saying she did not “wish to be a party to the killing of children of the poor.” A mother of two children herself, she thoroughly understood the issues involved.

Throughout her political career, Grasso held on to her convictions and remained an advocate for women’s issues and a protector of the unborn. According to the Windsor Locks Historical Society, “She was a champion for those who needed help, including minorities, women, young people, working people and senior citizens.” Connecticut’s Heritage Gateway ( says, “Her greatest strength was her identification with ordinary people, exemplified by her advocacy of legislation such as the Sunshine Law, that ensured the public’s access to government meetings and records, and by her taking personal command during the snow emergency in the winter of 1977.” Her efforts have earned her a place in the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

After Grasso died of cancer in 1981, many people all over the state displayed bumper stickers bearing the legend “Thank You Ella.” Three years after her death, the Catholic Church in Connecticut hotly debated the topic of abortion. The then-Archbishop of Hartford John Wheaton addressed the issue in his weekly column in the Connecticut Catholic Transcript. His headline read: “We Need More Ella Grassos.”

The American Feminist, “Remarkable Pro-Life Women III”