• The Ascend Fund

Mississippi - Parity Takes Persistence


The Ascend Fund is a collaborative fund dedicated to accelerating the pace of change toward gender parity in U.S. politics. As part of our "Start with the States” strategy, we’re investing in three pilot states – Washington, Michigan, and Mississippi. By testing strategies in these very different states The Ascend Fund will gain valuable insight before expanding to all 50 states. Learn more about this project and the RFP process for this round of funding.


Achieving gender parity in politics will take persistence in states like Mississippi. Mississippi consistently ranks in the bottom 10 states nationwide for women’s representation and women have never held more than 20% of the state legislative seats. Additionally, the state has never elected a woman governor and only one woman, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, has represented the state in Congress. Sen. Hyde-Smith was appointed and later elected to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate after serving 12 years in the state senate and six years as the Mississippi Commissioner for Agriculture and Commerce. A transformational level of investment and work is needed to accelerate the pace of change toward gender parity in Mississippi. [1]


Percentage Women in the Mississippi State Legislature

Data: Center for American Women in Politics


While the first women were elected to the Mississippi Legislature in 1924, only four years after white women gained national suffrage, women have historically remained an anomaly in Mississippi politics. All the way through the 1980s women’s representation remained below 10%, and it wasn’t until 1992 that women made any significant progress. Since then women’s representation has slowly crept upwards, peaking at 17.8% in 2008 before declining again. [2]


The state currently sits at 48th in the nation for women’s representation in the state legislature; only Alabama and West Virginia are worse. Today, women make up only 14% of state representatives, holding 17 of 122 seats (7 Republicans, 10 Democrats). The numbers are slightly better in the state senate, where 11 women (7 Republicans, 4 Democrats) serve out of 52 seats, accounting for 21% of members. Only one woman, Attorney General Lynn Fitch, currently holds statewide office. [3]



Data: Center for American Women in Politics


The Push for Parity in Mississippi


At the current rate of change, women aren’t projected to reach gender parity in the Mississippi Legislature until 2218. We don’t think women should have to wait almost 200 years, so to increase the number of women running and winning, The Ascend Fund will invest an initial $180,000 in nonprofit, nonpartisan, state-based organizations in Mississippi.


Percentage Women in the Mississippi State Legislature

Data: Center for American Women in Politics


We will build broad, creative coalitions of organizations that support gender and racial equity and electing women from other underrepresented and marginalized communities. And we will work with our state partners to identify common barriers to elected office that are unique to the political environment in Mississippi and design strategies to remove, reduce, or circumvent them, allowing more women to run.


Additionally, our partners will analyze legislative districts and identify seats with the greatest opportunity, and then leverage the coalition members’ grassroots networks to recruit diverse candidates for targeted legislative seats on both sides of the aisle. To increase the likelihood that women win, the coalition will provide candidates with the training, tools, resources, and support to successfully run for office.


Mississippi’s Barriers to Progress


One of the major barriers to achieving gender parity is the fact that Mississippi is one of 11 states that has no limits for campaign finance contributions to candidates running for statewide or state legislative office. Individuals, political action committees (PACs), unions, and political parties can give unlimited amounts of money to candidates. This can have a stark effect on women’s representation as major donors, PACs, and political parties have historically given far more funding to men than to women.


Data: Follow the Money


Men running for the state legislature in Mississippi currently raise almost 30% more than women. This is a major barrier as candidates who raise the most win their elections 83% of the time. [4] We must equip women with the necessary fundraising skills to run for office successfully and break down the systemic barriers that hold women back from outraising their male opponents.


Why States & Why Women


A lot of attention is paid to the 535 members of Congress who represent Americans in Washington, D.C. But given the partisan gridlock plaguing politics in our nation’s capital, critical policy decisions are increasingly made by the 174 members of the Mississippi Legislature. The bills passed at the state level have a cascading influence across our communities and government, directly impacting the everyday lives of constituents in both positive and negative ways.



“I’m hoping that our young ladies will really realize that they can do whatever they want to do. They’ve just got to try.... If we had more women, I think our state and our nation would be a much better place. We take our time and really think about what it is that we're doing." [5]

- Representative Alyce Clarke



Electing more women and ensuring the composition of the Mississippi Legislature reflects the state’s diverse population isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s what’s good for democracy. [6] When elected, women are more effective lawmakers, working not just harder but also more collaboratively than their male peers. [7] Not only do women introduce and pass more bills, but they also prioritize legislation that benefits women, children, and families. [8] Women are also more likely to co-sponsor bills with other woman and reach across the aisle to find a bipartisan compromise. The bottom line: the more women in office, the more that gets accomplished. [9]


To learn more about our efforts or to apply for funding, visit www.theascendfund.org/RFP.




[1] Center for American Women and Politics (2021). State Fact Sheet – Mississippi.

[2] Center for American Women and Politics (2021). State Fact Sheet – Mississippi. [3] Center for American Women and Politics (2021). State Fact Sheet – Mississippi.

[4] Follow the Money. 2013 and 2014: Money and Incumbency in State Legislative Races.

[5] Mott. (2012, Oct. 3). Mississippi Women's Turn: Can They Break the Political Ceiling? Jackson Free Press. [6] Moscatello. (2019). Vote for the Woman Because She’s a Woman. Time. [7]Miller. (2016, Nov. 10). Women Actually Do Govern Differently. New York Times. Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt. (2001). The Leadership Styles of Women and Men. Journal of Social Issues. [8] National Women’s Law Center. (2020). Women’s Political Representation and Legislative Achievements: How Women Are Changing State Legislatures. Volden, Wiseman, & Wittmer. (2018). Women’s Issues & Their Fate in the U.S. Congress. Political Science Research & Methods. [9] Eagle & Johnson. (1990). Gender and Leadership Style: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Anzia & Berry. (2011). The Jackie (and Jill) Robinson Effect: Why Do Congresswomen Outperform Congressmen? American Journal of Political Science.