Ella Grasso, 1919–1981

First woman elected U.S. state governor in her own right

Ella Grasso was the first woman to be elected U.S. state governor without having been the spouse or a widow of a former governor. A first-generation American, Grasso was born in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, in 1919. While attending the Chaffee School, a private girls school, she was named most likely to become mayor in the school’s yearbook.

Grasso's entry into politics began when she joined the League of Women Voters in 1942 and became a speechwriter for the Connecticut Democratic Party the following year. She was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives in 1952 and became the first woman to be elected Floor Leader of the House in 1955. Grasso was elected Connecticut’s Secretary of State in 1957 and was one of the architects of the state’s 1960 constitution.

Grasso became Connecticut’s first woman governor in 1975. She resigned the governorship in 1980 due to illness. Following her death in 1981, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was inducted to the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1983. In 1994, Grasso was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.

Class year: 1940
Major: sociology and economics; Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, 1972