Like all of you, we woke up this morning to the news that Sen. Dianne Feinstein—a trailblazer for women as San Francisco’s first female mayor and the first woman elected to the US Senate from California—had died.
This news was a shock, but not unexpected. Her announcement in February that she would retire came at the end of her fifth term in office, during which her health had declined. While there is already considerable speculation about the looming appointment of her successor, we are taking a moment to pause and honor her legacy.
It was a quiet end to a barrier-breaking 63 years in politics and public service, which started with an appointment in 1960 to the California Women’s Parole Board. Though her accomplishments are too many to list here, what stands out is the way she established the importance of women’s voices at every level of government.
One of the first crucial moments for her to use her voice came in 1978, during her ninth year on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors when her colleagues, Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, were assassinated by a disgruntled ex-colleague. Supervisor Feinstein was first on the scene and announced the deaths to the public. The Board then appointed her to serve as mayor, an office to which she was re-elected two times.
She stepped down to run for California governor in 1990. Though she was unsuccessful, she notched another first as the only woman nominated, up to that point, to run for the state’s highest office on a major party ticket.
In 1992—the “Year of the Woman”—she ran and won a US Senate seat, becoming the first woman to serve California in the Senate, and both Sen. Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer became the first two women Senators to serve a state at the same time. Since then women’s representation in the Senate has grown, to a high of 26 in 2020, and seven other states have had two women serving concurrently (the high was six states at once). But in the last two years, those numbers have fallen—to 25 women in the Senate, and only four states with two women senators.
Now, at the end of her tenure, Sen. Feinstein has set two more milestones for women, becoming the longest serving female senator, and the first female senator to die in office—not a milestone to celebrate, but one that normalizes women serving as 301 men already have, until the very end.
We expect things to move quickly with regard to the appointment of her successor, and will be in touch as we learn more.
Our focus right now is on honoring her legacy by ensuring we elect a woman to California’s open Senate seat, and adding many more women to public office across the country.