A room full of women who lead some of Maryland’s districts, counties and local agencies gathered for a luncheon at the Maryland Association of Counties in Ocean City on Friday to talk about the role and influence women can have in government and administrative positions.
The “Women of MACo” luncheon was filled with dozens of women in leadership positions, who cheered remarks from the state’s first Black speaker of the House of Delegates, Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County).
But another “first” provided opening remarks for the discussion — the first lady of Maryland, Dawn Moore, who shared her appreciation for the women of Maryland state and local government and the influence of women on the Moore-Miller administration.
“If we don’t use our positions of authority and influence to lift others, we will truly have failed,” Moore said. “That’s why ‘leave no one behind’ can’t just be a tagline, it is absolutely a governing philosophy with the Moore-Miller administration,” she said, referencing the governor’s campaign motto.
“I am grateful to call all of you ‘partners,'” she continued: “My husband is definitely grateful to call each and every one of you. I always said, prior to getting to this space, ‘my husband is never afraid to let a woman lead.’”
Frederick County Councilmember M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) drew attention to the fact that for the first time, the summer conference offered a private nursing room for new mothers attending the event, “so that they can come and enjoy our conference and yet still take care of their families.”
“A woman came to me last year, and was in that capacity, and did not have a place to go other than the regular woman’s room and that really wasn’t conducive to what we were looking for…and we’re really, really proud of that.”
She then introduced Jones, noting that she “shattered two glass ceilings” when she was chosen to be House speaker, as the first woman and the first Black delegate to hold the position.
Jones spoke about her legacy as the ‘first’ Black woman to serve as speaker, arguing that it was more important to be an effective lawmaker.
“When people ask me about being ‘the first’ — I tell them ‘it’s not about being the first. It’s about doing the best to help the people of Maryland,’” she said, which prompted a round of applause.
“The role of women in government and politics has always been crucial, though not necessarily recognized,” Jones said. “From the first women’s convention held in Seneca Falls in New York in 1848 to the first woman elected vice president of the United States in 2020, women have been here, serving and sacrificing for our families, our communities and our country.”
As for the effect of having more women lawmakers and administrators, Jones said there tends to be a greater interest in policies focused on quality-of-life issues, such as education and health, when more women are in leadership roles.
Jones recapped some of the legislation from the 2023 General Assembly session that she said benefits women and families directly.
“Right now, too many women across the state cannot get a second screening for breast cancer. When this disease goes untreated, as too many of us in the room know, the consequences women suffer can be very real. This year, we passed legislation that prevents insurance companies from charging for breast exams,” she said, referring to House Bill 376 which was sponsored by Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes (D-Lower Shore), who Jones anticipates replacing as speaker pro tem in January.
However, she noted that she could not talk about access to health care without talking about the importance of protecting abortion access for Marylanders.
“As other states began to restrict abortion access, we took action to guarantee our state will always be a safe haven for reproductive rights,” she said. “As long as I’m speaker, these rights will never be bargained for or chipped away.”
She also highlighted legislation from previous years that implemented paid parental and medical leave program in the state and bolstered protections for victims of domestic violence.
“Too often in the past, the question always has been ‘How can we afford to do these things?’” she said, prompting soft chuckles from around the room.
She continued: “With more women leading on the issues, the question has become ‘How can we afford not to?’”