As of August 2019, forty-four women have served or are serving as the governor of a U.S. state (and two acting governors due to vacancies), three women have served or are serving as the governor of an unincorporated U.S. territory. Two women have served or are serving as mayors of the District of Columbia. Currently, nine women are serving as governors of U.S. states, along with the Mayor of the District of Columbia Muriel Bowser, and territorial governors Lou Leon Guerrero of Guam and Wanda Vázquez Garced of Puerto Rico.
The first woman to act as governor was Carolyn B. Shelton, who served as acting governor of Oregon for one weekend – 9 a.m. Saturday, February 27, through 10 a.m. Monday, March 1, 1909. The outgoing governor, George Earle Chamberlain, had been elected to the Senate and had to leave for Washington, D.C., before his term was over, and the incoming governor, Frank W. Benson, had gotten sick and couldn't assume office early. Chamberlain left Shelton, his secretary, in charge for the weekend. It was another three and a half years before women were allowed to vote in Oregon.
The first female acting governor to be entrusted with substantial duties while in office was Soledad Chávez de Chacón, who held the powers and duties of Governor of New Mexico for 2 weeks in 1924 while Governor James F. Hinkle attended the Democratic Convention in New York. Lieutenant Governor Jose A. Baca had died unexpectedly in May, so Chacón, the Secretary of State, filled the position. Chacón said she believed that her 1924 elevation was the first time in the U.S. that a woman had been called on to assume the responsibilities of governor.
The first woman to assume office as governor pursuant to a special election was Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming (widow of late Governor William B. Ross, served January 1923 to October 1924), who was elected on November 4, 1924, and sworn in on January 5, 1925. Wyoming was the first state to provide women's suffrage after New Jersey had abolished it in 1807. Elected on the November 3, 1924 general election, and sworn in on January 20, 1925, was Miriam A. Ferguson of Texas, whose husband, Governor James Edward Ferguson, had previously held the office but been impeached and removed from office in 1917. The first female governor elected without being the wife or widow of a past state governor was Ella T. Grasso of Connecticut, elected in 1974 and sworn in on January 8, 1975.
To date, no woman has ever changed parties during her gubernatorial term, been elected as a third party member or an independent, or, after resigning from the governorship, been appointed to the United States Senate by her successor.
Connecticut, Arizona, Alabama, and New Mexico are the only four states to have elected female governors from both major parties. Arizona was the first state where a woman followed another woman as governor (they were from different parties). Arizona also has had the most female governors with a total of four, and is the first state to have three women in a row serve as governor.
A record nine out of 50 state governorships have been held by women since Kristi Noem was inaugurated as governor of South Dakota on January 5, 2019. This ties a record previously met on two different occasions: first, between December 4, 2006, when Sarah Palin was inaugurated as the first female governor of Alaska, and January 14, 2008, when Kathleen Blanco left office as governor of Louisiana, and second, between January 10, 2009, when Beverly Perdue was inaugurated as governor of North Carolina, and January 20, 2009, when Ruth Ann Minner retired as governor of Delaware. The U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, though not states, have also had female chief executives: Governors Sila María Calderón and Wanda Vázquez Garced, and Mayors Sharon Pratt Kelly and Muriel Bowser, respectively. Additionally, Lou Leon Guerrero has served as the governor of Guam since January 2019.
As of 2019, a total of 20 states have never had a female governor. Those states are: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Six states (Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, and Utah) have never even seen a major party nominate a female candidate in a gubernatorial election, although nine consecutive female lieutenant governors have served in Minnesota, from 1983 to the present day.
There have only been three ethnic minority female governors of states: Susana Martinez and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico (both Hispanic) and Nikki Haley of South Carolina (Asian American). Martinez and Haley are both Republican; Lujan Grisham is a Democrat. All five territorial female governors have been ethnic minority: Sharon Pratt and Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C. (both African American), Sila María Calderón and Wanda Vázquez Garced of Puerto Rico (both Hispanic), and Lou Leon Guerrero of Guam (Pacific Islander), all Democratic.
List of female state governors and acting governors
Territories and the District of Columbia
Timeline of female U.S. Governors
There have been two female governors who were pregnant and gave birth during their tenure.