That is a particularly useful background to have in New Hampshire because serving in public office there can be tantamount to volunteer work. The New Hampshire state legislature is the largest in the country -- in fact, it's the third largest in the world, after the U.S. Congress and British Parliament. Each member represents roughly 3,000 residents, a representative-to-voter ratio that ensures elections are largely won through meeting and personally persuading individual voters. The pay is just $100 a term, so a lot of family breadwinners (who tend to be male) are dissuaded from running. And the legislature doesn't meet year-round, so it can be a good fit for mothers attempting to balance a political career with child rearing. As a result, women have long been well represented in that chamber and in the state senate, which in 2008 became the first to have a majority-female legislative body. (Men have since regained their edge.) It was in the state senate that Hassan and Senator Jeanne Shaheen began their political careers.
When women start occupying a critical mass of local political positions, it can help normalize the idea of women in more senior positions of power. "Once people get used to seeing women in local office," says Elizabeth Ossoff, director of research St. Anselm's New Hampshire Institute of Politics, "it's not so strange to see women moving into the U.S. Congress, governors seat, and the U.S. Senate." Female politicians who have established themselves in public life often serve as mentors to up-and-comers, much as men have guided their protégés over the years. Donna Sytek, the former New Hampshire speaker of the House, recalls how the first female state Senate president, Vesta Roy, not only encouraged her to run but also took care of her daughter while Sytek made her first campaign calls. And Hassan was first appointed to public office by then-Gov. Shaheen, who made her a citizen adviser for the Advisory Committee to the Adequacy in Education and Finance Commission.
Another part of the New Hampshire political landscape that benefits women is the fact that television time isn't all-important in such a small state, unlike places such as Illinois or New York. That means the monetary bar to running is lower. And because women have traditionally lagged men in fundraising, that can help level the playing field for them too.
Given all of the factors working in favor of the woman-volunteer-turned-politician, it's not surprising that the Granite State was the first to elect an all-woman slate to higher office. Over time, though, women are likely to achieve higher levels of political representation even in states that don't have the same tradition of retail politicking.
That's because the younger generation of women politicians have CVs more similar to their male counterparts' than the community-activist women who first won election to high office. The community-based path was common in the prior generation of female politicians: Madeleine Kunin became Vermont's first female governor in 1984 after commencing her political career by campaigning for sidewalks in her neighborhood; former Oregon governor Barbara Roberts entered public life initially to advocate for better public school options for her autistic son. Of the New Hampshire group, Shaheen, Shea-Porter, and Hassan all put time in behind the scenes and as activists before becoming elected office holders.