Celebrating Women’s History Month: Jeanne Shaheen, Kelly Ayotte and Marilla Ricker

Learn about the work and impact of these Granite State women in the fields of public service and politics

Welcome to our third Women’s History Month series installment! This week we are featuring three influential New Hampshire women who blazed trails in the fields of politics, law and public service. 

This series will run throughout the month of March, highlighting historical female Granite Staters each week. 

Jeanne Shaheen

First female governor and first female United States Senator for New Hampshire

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Jeanne Shaheen was the first woman ever elected governor of the state of New Hampshire in 1996. Additionally, she was the first woman ever elected to represent the state in the United States Senate in 2008. Today, she is joined by the state’s third-ever female senator, Maggie Hassan. Shaheen is the first woman in American history to be elected both governor and senator of a state. Hassan is the second. 

Shaheen serves on many committees, including the Senate Committees on Armed Services, Foreign Relations (where she is the only woman), Appropriations, and the Select Committee on Ethics. Prior to her time in the Senate, Shaheen served as director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government.

As a former small business manager, Shaheen brings her insight to the Senate Small Business Committee, where she has worked on legislation including the Small Business Jobs Act.

Shaheen has three daughters and seven grandchildren, and lives in Madbury with her husband, Bill.

Kelly Ayotte

First female attorney general, second woman elected United States Senator for New Hampshire

My Approved Portraits

Appointed by Gov. Craig Benson, Ayotte was the first female attorney general for the state of New Hampshire. She served from 2004 to 2009, at which point she resigned and successfully ran to represent New Hampshire in the United States Senate from 2011 to 2017. 

During her time in the Senate, Ayotte worked on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which aimed to improve addiction prevention, treatment and recovery efforts. She also worked on legislation to reform the nation’s mental health system.

After attending Villanova University School of Law, Ayotte clerked for the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

A close ally of many party members in Washington, Ayotte was asked to deliver a Bible reading at the late Sen. John McCain’s memorial service. She was also seriously considered by Sen. Mitt Romney to be his running mate in the 2012 presidential election.

Ayotte attended high school in Nashua, where she lives today with her two children and husband, Joseph. 

Marilla Ricker

First woman to be admitted to the New Hampshire bar

Ricker Portrait

Portrait by artist Kate Gridley

Ricker was a lawyer, suffragette, teacher and philanthropist who put much of her own money into her cases, often even working for free. She tried for many years to vote in New Hampshire, believing it was her right as a tax-paying, property-owning resident.

Born in New London in 1840, Ricker attended what is known today as Colby-Sawyer College and became a teacher. After marrying a wealthy farmer, she was widowed in 1868 and began a second career. She took the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia bar exam in 1882, ranking higher than all 18 men she tested with.

Throughout her career as a lawyer, Ricker was known as the “prisoners’ friend,” because she constantly visited prisons, assisted inmates and gave them materials and supplies. 

A tireless advocate of voting rights, Ricker is rumored to have been the first woman to ever attempt to register to vote in New Hampshire. Her efforts to vote, as well as to run for governor, were of course shut down at the time.

She published four books on free-thinking throughout her lifetime and was the subject of a 1991 film, “True Light: The Life of Marilla Ricker” by Catherine O’Brien.

In 1920, following the passage of the 19th amendment, Ricker finally voted for the first — and only — time before her death. You can read more about her here.


Categories: People, Remarkable Women