California's First Female State Senator Refused to Be Ignored

2 min
Sen. Rose Ann Vuich (California State Library)

Women in the California Capitol have been speaking up recently, calling out an atmosphere of sexual harassment.

They’re part of a long line of women in Sacramento who refuse to be ignored, including Rose Ann Vuich, California's first female state senator.

The Central Valley Democrat was elected in 1976 and was known for ringing a bell whenever the presiding officer referred to the “gentlemen” of the Senate. Congressman John Garamendi served with Vuich in the Legislature and remained friends with her for years.

“She would ring her bell, reminding all of us that there was a woman senator seated in the California State Senate," he said.

Sponsored

There were fast learners and slow learners, Garamendi said. And sometimes, Vuich took extra measures to make sure she was acknowledged.

“Occasionally, getting out of her chair, walking over and saying, 'Do you know who I am? I am Senator Vuich. Rose Ann Vuich,' " Garamendi recalled.

A display in the California State Senate honors the first female state senator, Rose Ann Vuich. The display includes the rose-shaped bell Sen. Vuich used to ring on the Senate floor.
A display in the California State Senate honors the first female state senator, Rose Ann Vuich. The display includes the rose-topped bell Sen. Vuich used to ring on the Senate floor. (Katie Orr/KQED)

Several women had served in the state Assembly before Vuich, but she was the first to serve in the Senate. She was a conservative Democrat and won her first race in an upset against a better-known Republican assemblyman. Her father was an immigrant from Serbia who settled in Tulare County to farm.  Garamendi said she was a champion for agriculture.

“She was a very, very strong advocate for the family farmers," he said, "and carried a series of bills over the years to really make it possible for the farmers, particularly in the southern valley, to prosper.”

Vuich served in the Senate for 16 years. She died in 2001, but her presence lives on in the Capitol. There is a rose on the door of the female senators’ restroom, which was first built to accommodate Vuich. Her portrait hangs in a hearing room that bears her name. And every chairwoman of the Legislative Women’s Caucus is given a bell at the end of her tenure to commemorate her time as caucus leader.