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The Entrance of Women to the U.S. Congress: The Widow Effect

Lisa Solowiej and Thomas L. Brunell
Political Research Quarterly
Vol. 56, No. 3 (Sep., 2003), pp. 283-292
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of the University of Utah
DOI: 10.2307/3219789
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3219789
Page Count: 10
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
The Entrance of Women to the U.S. Congress: The Widow Effect
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Abstract

This article explores what is perhaps the single most important method of entrance into Congress for women‐ replacing a deceased husband. As was evident with the death of Governor Mel Carnahan (D-MO) and his wife, Jean Carnahan (D-MO), who subsequently served in the Senate, the succession of dead congressmen by their widows has been treated popularly by the news media, but has not received too much scholarly attention. In this study we examine the dramatic differences between widows and non-widow females and find that the groups differ in statistically significant ways in terms of their characteristics, their length in office, and their manner of leaving office. We also look at the difference between southern widows and non-southern widows and find support for the theory that widows from the South are more likely to serve short terms-act as standins-until the party can determine who the more traditional candidate ought to be. We theorize that widows are apt to run for these seats because they enjoy high name recognition, which makes running in an election less risky. This, as Bledsoe and Herring (1990) demonstrate, increases the likelihood for women to run for office. We model widow succession in terms of the theoretical basis for the widow effect and find that the more senior a House member is before he dies, the more likely the widow is to serve in his place.

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