Do you dare? These four fabulous women, Carole “Bunny” Welsh, Barbara McIlvaine Smith, Kathi Cozzone and Carole Rubley have dared to represent and serve the Chester County community and greater Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as political officials. Carolyn Bunny Welsh is the first woman to ever be elected as Sheriff of Chester County. She stands as the only female Sheriff in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and one of only 33 female Sheriffs in the nation. Barbara McIlvaine Smith, alumni of West Chester University, is a State Representative, making history as the first Native American to ever be elected to legislature.
State Representative Carole Rubley, is also a WCU graduate. As a Representative, who stands on the Environmental Resources and Energy committee in the House of Representatives, she is very proactive in addressing Pennsylvania’s environmental issues.
County Commissioner, Kathi Cozzone was elected in 2007 after serving the Chester County Democratic Party as committee person in Uwchlan Township and as District Leader for the 155th district.
On Thursday Sept. 25, these impressive women were welcomed to the WCU community to stand on a panel as Women Who Dare to Run for Office. The panel discussion touched on the parameters of politics, duties that these women carry out while serving their communities, and personal experiences as being politicians and women. The program was hosted by the women’s center and Robin Garrett, the women’s center director, facilitated the discussion.
Garrett started by asking the panel, “What has been your most significant accomplishment during your term in office?”
Commissioner Cozzone replied first, describing a resolution she helped to develop that was created to eliminate issues for voters who fill out absentee ballots in Chester County. Recently, there has been a dilemma with some absentee ballots not getting counted because they come in too late.
Commissioner Cozzone, along with 26 other state representatives, proposed to sponsor a legislation that will help to prevent this problem from re-occurring in the future. We all know this is a very crucial issue to address because every vote counts in this upcoming election and especially because of its historical significance.
Sheriff Welsh went on to proudly state that her most significant accomplishment was her office receiving the award for “finest Sheriff’s office in the Commonwealth- providing the most outreach and service in preventing crime.” This award is truly something to take pride in receiving especially due to the fact the Chester County office is only one of 67 offices to have received this honorary award.
State Representative Barbara McIlvaine Smith spoke about her feelings of entering an “all boys club” when she first became a politician.
Although these women do have impressive accomplishments they all have experienced gender differences in the work-place. Political affairs has long been a male-dominated field and sometimes thought of as a male-exclusive field. Other issues as well in their immediate communities motivated these women to stand their ground, speak their minds and work even harder for change.
Sheriff Welsh told the story of having to break into the same threshold when she said, “In 1998 Chester County was filled with fine cops who were men, but they did not have the background nor were they capable of running a $5 million budget or administration and I was.”
While running for the position she was faced with gender biases which included several people insisting that she drop her nickname “Bunny” and darken her hair. However, Welsh refused to change, she persevered and won. She credits these incidents as motivation factors in her decision to run for Chester County Sheriff.
State Representative Rubley was also encouraged to run for office by issues that she saw that needed to be fit or tended to in her community. With the endorsement of her colleagues and community members she began her campaign to run for office.
These women stayed motivated through the trials, gender differences, and sexism. They all encourage young women to get involved in politics and to not be discouraged by possible sexism, or feeling hesitant due to preconceived notions about political affairs being a male exclusive field.
“Women are underrepresented in the field of state representatives,” State Representative Rubley said.
One reason is because of family commitment and the balancing act of playing several family roles along with your responsibilities to the people you serve; which takes up long hours of one’s time. However, this should not keep women from running and serving in office. The issues are important; there is still progress to be made.
“I was the first woman to get in to the Finance Committee in Chester County and I am only one of two Republican women that is part of the Chester County delegations,” Rubley said.
“Know what you’re running for, define yourself and define yourself in the job,” said Welsh. “Politics is not for sissies; surround yourself with people you trust. People vote for people they meet.”
“Be prepared to work and work hard,” McIlvaine said.
“Have great time management skills, know your commitment and be able to stick to your guns,” Cozzone said.
Women are slowly growing in numbers in prominent positions in government. We see evidence of the capabilities of exemplary women in our politicians of Chester County and the greater Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, women who know what it means to take the dare.
Danae Lee Irvis is a second-year student. She can be reached at DI652427@wcupa.edu.