Governor Ella Grasso was a determined and spirited public servant who brought to her life the energies of the committed. She worked hard to make State government work, and her service to the people of Connecticut was unstinting.
President Ronald Reagan, February 6, 1981
Born Ella Rose Tambussi Grasso on May 10, 1919, in Windsor Locks, Connecticut to Italian immigrant parents, she would become the first Governor of a US State in her own right; not by filling in for a husband who died in office, but by winning an election.
After attending St. Mary’s School in Windsor Locks, and then the Chaffee School in Windsor, Governor Grasso went on to Mount Holyoke College, in South Hadley, Massachusetts, where she was awarded her BA in 1940 and her MA in 1942. After graduation she served as assistant director of research for the War Manpower Commission of Connecticut.
In 1952, Ms. Grasso was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives, and served until 1957. She became first woman to be elected floor leader of the House in 1955. In 1958 she was elected Secretary of State of Connecticut and was re-elected in 1962 and 1966. She was the first woman chairperson of the Democratic State Platform Committee and served from 1956 to 1968. She served as a member of the Platform Drafting Committee for the 1960 Democratic National Convention. She was the co-chairperson for the Resolutions Committee for the Democratic National Conventions of 1964 and 1968. In 1970 she was elected as a Democrat Representative of Connecticut to the 92nd Congress, and in 1972 she was re-elected, and so served Connecticut from January 3, 1971 through January 3, 1975, in the US House of Representatives.
"I'm having trouble managing the mansion. What I need is a wife."
Ella T. Grasso
In 1974 Grasso was not a candidate for re-election to Congress. Instead she ran for the office of Governor of the State of Connecticut and won. She began her first term in 1975 and was re-elected to her office in 1980.
I remember Governor Grasso best from the Blizzard of 1978. On February 6, 1978, the nor'easter began, which eventually dumped over two feet of snow on the State. I remember seeing her on television from the State Armory, talking about the storm and how proud she was of how Connecticut residents were responding to the storm. Then we lost power. For three days. When the power (and television came back on), we heard that the Governor had shut down the entire State for three days and President Carter had declared Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts to be disaster areas. Every time there is a "big storm" in Connecticut, the blizzard of '78 and Governor Grasso get discussed.
It's a small, boring, State folks ... it's not like we have a lot to talk about.
On New Year's Eve 1980, Governor Grasso resigned her office due to illness. She died of cancer on February 5, 1981. President Reagan awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom after her death in 1981 and she was inducted to the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993.