One of the final panes in the legislature’s “glass ceiling” has been broken.
Members of the Iowa House of Representatives formally elected the first woman to serve as the speaker of the House during Monday’s opening day of the 2016 Iowa legislative session.
Late this summer, House Republicans held a private vote to elevate Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake from her role as the second-ranking Republican in the House, but the move was ratified in a public vote yesterday morning.
“It is humbling to be the first woman to preside over this prestigious chamber and it is exciting that we’re making history in a room that has experienced so much of it,” Upmeyer said.
Upmeyer, who is 63 years old, has a master’s degree in nursing. She was elected to the legislature in the year 2000.
“I hope my election as speaker shows all young women and Iowans who come from diverse backgrounds that opportunities abound,” Upmeyer said. “For a long time we’ve told our children that they can be anything that they want when they grow up. Today, better than ever, we’re showing them that this is a reality.”
Upmeyer’s husband, adult children, grandchildren and her mother were in the House for her speech.
“This is such a personal moment for our family,” Upmeyer said. “I think it will probably take me a little bit of time to fully appreciate following in my father’s footsteps to this chair.”
Upmeyer’s late father, Delwyn Stromer, served in the Iowa House for 23 years. In the early 1980s, he served as speaker for two years. Upmeyer’s first cousin — a lay minister at a church in Kansas — delivered the opening prayer in the House on Monday, but before the prayer, he mentioned Upmeyer’s father.
“Thirty-five years ago, on January 12th, her father Delwyn, my uncle Delwyn took over as speaker of the House,” he said. “I’m pretty sure they’re the first father-daughter combination in the history of the United States to be speakers.”
Delwyn Stromer died in 2003. Upmeyer’s mother, Harriet Stromer, was a secretary for her husband during legislative sessions and she was on the House floor yesterday to see her daughter sworn in to the job her husband once held.
Former Senator Mary Lundby was the first woman to serve as co-majority leader in the Iowa Senate. Pam Jochum, the current president of the Iowa Senate, was the first woman elected to that post. Former Lieutenant Governor Jo Ann Zimmerman also served as the presiding officer in the Iowa Senate from January of 1987 through January of 1991, but she was an independently elected officer in both the legislative and executive branches of state government. Since 1991, Iowa’s lieutenant governors have been part of the executive branch and have been chosen by the state’s governors. All four of the lieutenant governors who’ve served since 1991 have been women.