Women who inspire: history lessons from Pennsylvania politicos

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, female leaders from across the state share who they’ve admired.

Clockwise from top left: Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, Senator Maria Collett, Reesa Kossoff, Stacy Garrity, Brit Crampsie, Nina Ahmad & Senator Tracy Pennycuick

Clockwise from top left: Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, Senator Maria Collett, Reesa Kossoff, Stacy Garrity, Brit Crampsie, Nina Ahmad & Senator Tracy Pennycuick 39th District - Interim President Pro Tempore; Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus; Jared Gruenwald; Roger That Photography; James Robinson; Provided; PA Senate

March marks Women’s History Month, a time to highlight strong female role models. The Keystone State has had its fair share of changemakers already this year, with the commonwealth’s first female state Senate and House leaders being elected and first congresswoman of color taking the oath of office. With that in mind, we spoke to several of Pennsylvania’s leading women and asked them who has been their inspiration. 

Maria Collett, State Senator

Maria Collett
Senator Maria Collett. Photo credit: PA Senate Democratic Caucus; Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc./Getty Images
  • “From recent history, it’s Michelle Obama. Not only was she breaking ground as the first First Lady of color, but she really taught us a lot about what it means to defend democracy, to stand with dignity and to rise up and use our voices in a unified and passionate way to make progress.”

Reesa Kossoff, Executive Director, Pennsylvania SEIU State Council

Reesa Kossoff
Reesa Kossoff. Photo credit: Harris & Ewing Collection; Jared Gruenwald
  • “As a woman in labor in PA, I go back to the ultimate woman in labor -- Frances Perkins.  Coming to prominence as the driving force behind safety reforms for workers and women following the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, Frances broke ground as the first woman to serve as a cabinet secretary and was the architect of the New Deal.  Frances' fingerprints are on the Social Security Act, the abolition of child labor, and the 40-hour work week and the minimum wage.”

Kim Ward, Senate President Pro Tempore 

Kim Ward, Senate President Pro Tempore
Kim Ward, Senate President Pro Tempore. Photo credit: Provided
  • “All mothers are history makers. My mother, Joanna Renko, is no different and has inspired me in so many ways. She taught me to never give up, even when a situation seems impossible, because there is always a way. Her steadfast example has instilled that same determination in me and I am beyond honored, as the first woman to hold the top position in the Pennsylvania State Senate, to be an example for women that they can do whatever they set their sights on.”

Brit Crampsie, Founder, Brit Crampsie Communications, LLC

Brit Crampsie
Brit Crampsie. Photo credit: James Robinson
  • “I was watching Hillary Clinton run for the 2008 nomination … she has always been strong and graceful under pressure, intelligent without apology, and tireless in the fight for every issue she cared about. She inspired me to engage in politics then and to stay with it through her setbacks and my own. She didn't shatter that last glass ceiling but her career cracked it over and over, and one of us is going to have an easier time breaking through because of her.”

Tracy Pennycuick, State Senator

Senator Tracy Pennycuick
Senator Tracy Pennycuick. Photo credit: PA Senate
  • “I deeply admire then-Maj. Rhonda Cornum. She was my flight surgeon at Ft. Rucker who helped me get through the waiver process after a knee surgery from an injury. I was able to finish flight school and become an Army aviator. She was always encouraging, supportive and someone I could bounce ideas off of. Her strength and courage after being taken as a prisoner of war during Operation Desert Storm has always been inspirational to me.”

Nina Ahmad, President, Pennsylvania NOW

Nina Ahmad
Nina Ahmad. Photo credit: Provided
  • “My fondest memories of childhood are those spent with my mother either at bookstores, or her sitting patiently at my ballet lessons or cooking meals from faraway countries. She was always encouraging me to try new things that she never could since she was orphaned, losing her mother at age 2 and then her father by 7 … That she would move to a new country with different customs and language, at an advanced age, make friends and make the most of life despite missing her home was inspiring to me.”

Stacy Garrity, State Treasurer

Stacy Garrity
Stacy Garrity. Photo credit: Roger That Photography
  • “My grandmother June was a huge influence in my life and a true role model. She was the glue that held our family together, and she taught my sisters and me the importance of community service. I remember fondly the many times we visited local nursing homes to sing to the residents.”