But there's plenty of work left to do

By Lindsay Dreyer
December 09, 2016
South Carolinan Brenda Brisbon wears the 'Stars and Stripes' after the Confederate 'Stars and Bars' was lowered from the flagpole in front of the statehouse on July 10, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina.
| Credit: John Moore / Getty Images

South Carolina made history on Tuesday, Dec. 6 when it swore in four female state senators—the most to ever serve in the state's upper house at one time.

For incumbent Senator Katrina Shealy, it was an especially exciting day, as she had been the only woman in the legislative body for nearly two years. She was joined by Senator Margie Bright Matthews in October, while the number of women grew to four when Senator Mia McLeod and Senator Sandy Senn picked up their seats last month.

"The first two years, I'm not sure they knew I was there," Sen. Shealy told Governing.com. "You know, every day it would be like: 'Gentlemen of the Senate —wait, we've got to stop. We've got to start over again.'"

While four female senators is certainly worth celebrating, there's still a long way to go. There are 46 seats in the state senate, after all. And when you look at the entire makeup of the state legislature, including the House of Representatives, women account for just 14.7% of all elected officials—even though women make up 51.4% of the state's population.

But the good news is that the four new senators—two of whom are Democrats and two of whom are Republicans—are planning to reach across the aisle.

"It makes me hopeful about the future, just knowing that I serve alongside senators who understand what it's like to be a woman in this state and some of the challenges that are specific and unique to us," said Sen. McLeod.

For Sen. Matthews, who won by an overwhelming landslide, it's all about empowering the next generation of women to get involved with local politics. "When I go into my church and start talking, I see those young girls," she said. "They're ready. They saw how we did it."