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Missouri’s female senators, past and present, recognized on first day of session

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Before the gavel pounded, the Senate floor bustled with excitement as 18 women, many wearing black and red, lined up near the dais for photos. 

The women made up the cohort of the 36 female state senators in Missouri, past and present, who were able to be in town to celebrate the culmination of a new book sharing their stories. 

Mary Gant Newquist, the first female state senator in Missouri, was also on hand for the event. She received a standing ovation when she was introduced on the floor.

Called “You Can, Too!” the book was a project spearheaded by the 11 women who currently serve in the Senate — the most ever at one time. Sen. Jeanie Riddle said the book, which tells the stories of every woman who ever served in Missouri’s upper chamber, was a “group effort,” from the title to a page of fun facts. 

Former Sen. Mary Gant Newquist (left) was the first woman to serve in the Missouri state Senate. (THE MISSOURI TIMES/KAITLYN SCHALLHORN)

Riddle said the 11 got together for dinner and decided they wanted to champion literacy legislation together and promote it in each other’s districts. 

“I said, ‘Well, if we’re going to do that, we might as well write a book,’” Riddle said. 

Riddle, a Republican, stressed that the book was a group effort among all 11 women, with collaboration on the title, fun facts, and other details. “You Can, Too” includes pages on every woman who has ever served in the Missouri Senate as well as letters from first lady Teresa Parson and second lady Claudia Kehoe. 

“I love the book. The larger, important piece of it is what it represents, and that is we, in a bipartisan way, as women legislators want to leave this legacy that means that every Missouri child will be able to read,” Democratic Sen. Jill Schupp told The Missouri Times. “This is about literacy, and this is about making sure kids have opportunities for a better future because they are able to read.” 

The book’s forward said: “We know that state legislatures across the country include women with varied interests and aspirations. We know that those women make important contributions to their communities and reflex the increased involvement of women in the workforce and in public service.”

Aside from the women in the current Senate banded together last year during a special session on an FRA reauthorization and enacted tangible change. 

Nearly every female senator on both sides of the aisle met Friday to discuss a provision in the FRA reauthorization package that would exclude certain medications from Medicaid coverage “when used to induce an abortion.” Concerns were levied that women who use Medicaid could be prevented from accessing birth control or emergency contraceptives because of the way the drugs and devices were listed out in the bill. 

The senators brought their concerns to Sen. Paul Wieland — who championed the issue of excluding abortifacients from Medicaid coverage throughout the FRA reauthorization fight — and he agreed with them. 

“You Can, Too!” tells the stories of the 36 women who have served in Missouri’s Senate. (THE MISSOURI TIMES/KAITLYN SCHALLHORN)

“I am simply a public servant. I am here to help my constituents, first and foremost, and as far as laws, there are things I think are great that we need to protect, and there are things that maybe we need to fix, and there are things that maybe should go away,” Riddle said. “I’m just here for a little while and then maybe someone else will come in and they will serve this area.” 

The book was funded by the Missouri Humanities Council and published by Missouri Life. It’s available for purchase online for $14.99. 

For comparison, Missouri has had 1,118 men who have served in the upper chamber.