Ella Grasso
Ella Grasso.jpg
83rd Governor of Connecticut
In office
January 8, 1975 – December 31, 1980
LieutenantRobert Killian
William A. O'Neill
Preceded byThomas Meskill
Succeeded byWilliam A. O'Neill
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Connecticut's 6th district
In office
January 3, 1971 – January 3, 1975
Preceded byThomas Meskill
Succeeded byToby Moffett
64th Secretary of the State of Connecticut
In office
January 3, 1959 – January 3, 1971
GovernorAbraham Ribicoff
John Dempsey
Preceded byMildred P. Allen
Succeeded byGloria Schaffer
Personal details
Ella Rosa Giovianna Oliva Tambussi

(1919-05-10)May 10, 1919
Windsor Locks, Connecticut, U.S.
DiedFebruary 5, 1981(1981-02-05) (aged 61)
Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.
Resting placeSt. Mary's Cemetery, Windsor Locks, Connecticut
Political partyDemocratic
Other political
Republican (1942-1951)
Thomas Grasso
(m. 1942; died 1999)
MotherMaria Oliva
FatherJames Giacomo Tambussi
EducationMount Holyoke College (BA, MA)

Ella Tambussi Grasso (May 10, 1919 – February 5, 1981) was an American politician and member of the Democratic Party who served as the 83rd Governor of Connecticut from January 8, 1975, to December 31, 1980, after rejecting past offers of candidacies for Senate and Governor. She was the first woman elected to this office and the first woman to be elected governor of a U.S. state without having been the spouse or widow of a former governor. She resigned as governor due to her battle with ovarian cancer.

Grasso started in politics as a member of the League of Women Voters and Democratic speechwriter. She was first elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives in 1952 and later became the first female Floor Leader in 1955. She was then elected as Secretary of State of Connecticut in 1958 and served until 1971. Grasso went on to serve two terms in the United States House of Representatives from 1970 to 1974.

Early life

Ella Rosa Giovianna Oliva Tambussi was born in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, to Italian immigrant parents Maria Oliva and James Giacomo Tambussi, a mill worker.[1] Ella Tambussi learned to speak fluent Italian from her parents.[2] She attended Chaffee School in Windsor.[3] Although she excelled at Chaffee and was named most likely to become mayor in the school year book, Tambussi claimed she often felt out of place as someone from a poor mill town.[3] She went on to study sociology and economics at Mount Holyoke College, in South Hadley, Massachusetts,[4] where she earned her B.A. in 1940.[5] Two years later, she earned a master's degree, also from Mount Holyoke.[5]

Grasso married Thomas Grasso, a school principal, in 1942, and later had had two children, Susanne and James.[5][2] During Grasso's tenure in the United States House of Representatives, her family remained in Connecticut while Grasso commuted home from Washington, D.C., on weekends.[6] Thomas Grasso retired when Ella Grosso became governor.[6]

After graduation, she served as a researcher for the War Manpower Commission in Washington, D.C., rising to the position of assistant director of research before leaving the Commission in 1946.[2][3] She married Thomas Grasso in 1942, and together they owned a movie theater in Old Lyme.[6] In the summers, the pair would operate the theater, with Ella Grasso selling tickets at the box office.[6]


Early politics

Grasso's entry into politics came in 1942 when she joined the League of Women Voters. In 1943, she became a speechwriter for the Connecticut Democratic Party.[5] After graduating from Mount Holyoke College she joined the Republican until she switched in 1951 to the Democratic Party to support incumbent Governor Chester Bowles.[7] Through the Connecticut Democratic Party, she met and became an ally of John M. Bailey.[6] Bailey would become a key figure in Grasso's career, recognizing her as someone who could appeal to voters, particularly women and Italian voters in the state.[6]

In 1952, Grasso was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives and served until 1957.[5] She became first woman to be elected Floor Leader of the House in 1955.[5] As a state representative, Grosso worked to eliminate counties as a level of government in Connecticut.[6]

Secretary of State

In 1958 she was elected Secretary of the State of Connecticut and was re-elected in 1962 and 1966. She was an architects of the state's 1960 Constitution.[6] In 1961 she chose not to attend the national convention for the National Association of Secretaries of State in Arizona despite it being state funded as it was of negligible value and would only allow other officials to go to national conventions that would benefit the state.[8]

In 1962 the Supreme Court ruled in Baker v. Carr that the 14th Amendment applies to state apportionment and that federal courts are open to lawsuits challenging state legislative districts leading to further lawsuits over redistricting. After Reynolds v. Sims the Joint Committee on Constitutional Conventions to hear proposals for a constitutional convention by the Connecticut General Assembly to bring the state constitution in line with federal rulings.[9] A special election was ordered to select the eighty four delegates that would attend the convention and Grasso was elected as one. As Secretary of State Grasso swore in the eighty four delegates made up equally from both parties and was selected as Democratic floor leader by the forty two Democratic delegates.[10][11]

She was the first woman to chair 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.[5] She was the co-chairman for the Resolutions Committee for the Democratic National Conventions of 1964 and 1968.

House of Representatives

During the 1970 election cycle she was considered a candidate for higher statewide or federal office. After Senator Thomas J. Dodd was censured in 1967 his seat was left up and Ella was considered a possible candidate for the 1970 Senate race with the Democratic Town Committees of Windsor Locks, Glastonbury, and New Milford voting to endorse her if she would announce a Senate campaign.[12][13][14][15] Thomas L. Loy, her Republican opponent for Secretary of State in 1962, asked her to run for governor.[16] Stephen Minot, a novelist who had run for Congress in 1966, asked her to run for the Sixth House District.[17] Sitting Sixth District Congressman Thomas Meskill chose to run for governor leaving his district open and on March 17, 1970 Ella announced that she would run for the Democratic nomination for that district.[18] Grasso faced Republican Richard Kilborn in the general election and narrowly defeated him by 4,063 votes.[19][20]

During her tenure, she served on the Veterans' Affairs and Education and Labor House committees. In December 1971 she and other House members signed a telegram to President Nixon protesting Operation Linebacker II and to halt all bombing in Vietnam; Grasso was the only representative from Connecticut to sign the telegraph.[21]

She was reelected to the House in 1972 against John F. Walsh with 140,290 votes to 92,783 votes.


In 1973 a gubernatorial poll was conducted by the AFL–CIO showing Grasso defeating incumbent Governor Meskill with 46% to 39% and a campaign committee was later organized although Grasso hadn't announced her intention to run yet.[22][23] On January 8, 1974 she announced that she would run for the governorship and filed with the secretary of state.[24]

In order to win the gubernatorial endorsement, a candidate would need to receive the support of 607 out of 1,213 delegates to the state convention with multiple primaries being held beforehand to select the delegates. She participated in a difficult primary against Attorney General Robert Killian who received the support of multiple party leaders, but after narrowly winning the seventy delegates of Hartford by two thousand votes she effectively secured the nomination with her pledged delegates.[25][26] Democratic Party leader John Bailey preferred Killian as the party nominee and hoping to avoid a primary that would negatively effect the Democratic nominee's chance in the general election Bailey convinced Killian to drop out in exchange for the lieutenant gubernatorial nomination. By the time of the gubernatorial endorsement balloting all of her opponents had dropped out except for Norwalk Mayor Frank Zullo who dropped out during the convention and as she was the only candidate to receive at least twenty percent of the delegate votes to appear on the primary ballot no primary was held.[27] On July 20, 1974 she was given the Democratic nomination by the delegates with acclamation.[28] Her opponent was Republican Representative Robert Steele who she defeated by 200,000 votes.[5] Grasso became the first woman to be elected governor without being the wife or widow of a previous governor.[6]

Upon taking office, Connecticut had an $80 million budget deficit so Grasso promised fiscal responsibility. In 1975 she laid off 505 state employees, decreased her promise of giving $25 million to cities with federal revenue sharing money to $6 million, returned to the state treasury a $7,000 raise she was legally required to take and sold the state's limo and plane.[29][5][6][3][30]

During the 1976 presidential election she supported Senator Henry M. Jackson in the primaries and was presented as a possible vice presidential nominee for the Democratic Party with the Young Democrats of Connecticut attempting to convince her to present herself as a possible vice presidential candidate although municipal leaders angry over the decreased federal revenue sharing funds promised to prevent her nomination and she stated that she was not interested.[31][32] She later served as co-chair of the national convention.[33]

Following John Moran Bailey's death there was no longer somebody strong enough to prevent a primary challenge between Grasso and Lieutenant Governor Robert K. Killian.[34] In December 1978 Killian announced his gubernatorial campaign, but after defeating his primary challenger by Grasso was re-elected in 1978 with little difficulty against Representative Ronald A. Sarasin.[35]

A high point of her career was her decisive handling of a particularly devastating snowstorm in February 1978. Known as "Winter Storm Larry" and now known as "The Blizzard of 78" this storm dropped around 30 inches of snow across the state, crippling highways and making virtually all roads impassable. She "Closed the State" by proclamation, forbade all use of public roads by businesses and citizens, and closed all businesses, effectively closing all citizens in their homes. This relieved the rescue and cleanup authorities from the need to help the mounting number of stuck cars and instead allowed clean-up and emergency services for shut-ins to proceed. The crisis ended on the third day, and she received accolades from all state sectors for her leadership and strength.[36][37]

In March 1980, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and resigned from the governorship on December 31. Shortly before her resignation the mayor and city council of Torrington, Connecticut signed a proclamation thanking her for her service as governor, secretary of state, and representative.[38]

The Grasso Cabinet
GovernorElla Grasso1975-1980
Lieutenant GovernorRobert K. Killian1975–1979
William A. O'Neill1979–1980
Secretary of StateGloria Schaffer1975-1978
Henry Cohn1978-1979
Barbara B. Kennelly1979-1980
Secretary of TreasuryHenry E. Parker1975-1980
ComptrollerJ. Edward Caldwell1975-1980
Attorney GeneralCarl R. Ajello1975-1980

Death and legacy

On February 5, 1981, less than a year after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer and less than six weeks after leaving office, Grasso died at Hartford Hospital after suffering a heart attack and organ failure after falling into a coma earlier in the day.[39] She was survived by her husband and their two children. Following her death she was laid in state from February 8 to 9 at the Connecticut State Capitol and was later buried in St. Mary's Cemetery in Windsor Locks.[40]

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the National Women's Hall of Fame inducted her in 1993.[5] She was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame in 1994; the Ella Tambussi Grasso Center for Women in Politics is located there.

Metro North named Shoreliner I car 6252 after her. Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School in Groton is named after her. The Ella T. Grasso Turnpike in Windsor Locks is named after her, as are Ella Grasso Boulevard in New Britain, the Ella T. Grasso building in the University of Connecticut's Hilltop Apartments, and Ella T. Grasso Boulevard (often referred to by New Haven locals simply as "The Boulevard") in New Haven.

Over two years after her death Arch Communications Corp., won a construction permit for Hartford's channel 61 in September 1983; James Grasso was minority partner in Arch Communications. Arch Communications Corp. planned to memorialize Grasso by using the call letters "WETG" for channel 61, as Grasso's initials were ETG, however, Channel 61 came on the air September 17, 1984, as WTIC-TV, and was dedicated in Grasso's honor.

Electoral history

Ella Grasso electoral history
1970 Connecticut Sixth Congressional District election
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Ella Grasso. 96,969 51.07% +13.36%
Republican Richard C. Kilbourn 92,906 48.93% -13.36%
Total votes '189,875' '100.00%'
1972 Connecticut Sixth Congressional District election
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Ella Grasso. 140,290 60.19% +9.12%
Republican John F. Walsh 92,783 39.81% -9.12%
N/A Other 9 0.00%
Total votes '233,073' '100.00%'
1974 Connecticut gubernatorial election[41]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Ella Grasso. 643,499 58.35% +12.12%
Republican Robert H. Steele 440,169 39.91% -13.85%
American Independent Thomas J. Pallone 16,660 1.51% +1.51%
American Allen C. Peichert 2,291 0.21% +0.21%
N/A Other 163 0.02% +0.01%
Total votes '1,102,782' '100.00%'
1978 Connecticut Democratic gubernatorial primary[42]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Ella Grasso. 137,904 67.33%
Democratic Robert K. Killian 66,924 32.67%
Total votes '204,828' '100.00%'
1978 Connecticut gubernatorial election[43]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Ella Grasso. 613,109 59.15% +0.80%
Republican Ronald A. Sarasin 422,316 40.74% +0.83%
N/A Other 1,183 0.11% +0.09%
Total votes '1,036,608' '100.00%'

See also


  1. ^ Ware, S.; Braukman, S.L.; Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (2004). Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century. 5. Belknap Press. p. 249. ISBN 978-0-674-01488-6. Retrieved October 15, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c "GRASSO, Ella Tambussi | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". Retrieved February 4, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d Fellows, Lawrence (February 15, 1981). "To Ella Grasso, Life Was a Challenge". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  4. ^ "Ella T. Grasso Papers Open to Public". Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Ella Tambussi Grasso". Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame. Retrieved February 4, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Wald, Matthew (February 6, 1981). "Ex-Gov. Grasso of Connecticut Dead of Cancer". The New York Times. Retrieved November 14, 2006.
  7. ^ "She Was Known As Hard-Working, Smart Politician". Hartford Courant. 6 February 1981. p. 1. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019 – via
  8. ^ "Ella Grasso: shrewd politician from way back". The Boston Globe. 11 November 1974. p. 12. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019 – via
  9. ^ "1965 CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION". 16 October 2008.
  10. ^ "History Is Made As Governor Proclaims New Constitution". Hartford Courant. 31 December 1965. p. 1. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019 – via
  11. ^ "Fight Opens Constitution Convention". Hartford Courant. 2 July 1965. p. 6. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019 – via
  12. ^ "Daddario Will Seek Senate Seat of Dodd". Hartford Courant. 4 January 1970. p. 1. Archived from the original on 13 December 2019 – via
  13. ^ "Mrs. Grasso Proud Of Hometown Action". Hartford Courant. 22 January 1970. p. 4. Archived from the original on 13 December 2019 – via
  14. ^ "New Milford endorsement". Hartford Courant. 23 January 1970. p. 16. Archived from the original on 13 December 2019 – via
  15. ^ "Town Committee Urges Democrat To Senate Race". Hartford Courant. 11 February 1970. p. 12. Archived from the original on 13 December 2019 – via
  16. ^ "Former Opponent Urges Mrs. Grasso To Run". Hartford Courant. 9 February 1970. p. 9. Archived from the original on 13 December 2019 – via
  17. ^ "Minot Urges Ella to Seek Nomination". Hartford Courant. 25 February 1970. p. 25. Archived from the original on 13 December 2019 – via
  18. ^ "Today Is Mrs. Grasso's Day". Hartford Courant. 17 March 1970. p. 37. Archived from the original on 13 December 2019 – via
  19. ^ "Ella Giovanna Oliva (Tambussi) Grasso" (PDF). Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  20. ^ "CT District 6 1970". 8 February 2004.
  21. ^ "Ella Grasso Signs Protest On Bombing". The Bridgeport Post. 29 December 1971. p. 47. Archived from the original on 14 December 2019 – via
  22. ^ "Ella Grasso Gains Ground In 1974 Gubernatorial Race". Naugatuck Daily News. 6 September 1973. p. 2. Archived from the original on 14 December 2019 – via
  23. ^ "Committee To Boost Grasso for Governor". Hartford Courant. 1 January 1974. p. 33. Archived from the original on 14 December 2019 – via
  24. ^ "Grasso To File Today". Hartford Courant. 8 January 1974. p. 46. Archived from the original on 14 December 2019 – via
  25. ^ "Triumph Sews Up Nomination". Hartford Courant. 24 May 1974. p. 1. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019 – via
  26. ^ "Ella Wins Hot Primary; Killian Vows to Fight On". The Bridgeport Telegram. 24 May 1974. p. 1. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019 – via
  27. ^ "No Party Primary; Caldwell on Ticket". The Bridgeport Post. 21 July 1974. p. 1. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019 – via
  28. ^ "Ella Will Be Her Own Boss". Naugatuck Daily News. 22 July 1974. p. 5. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019 – via
  29. ^ "Glow Is Gone for Ella Grasso". The Atlanta Constitution. 15 January 1976. p. 28. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019 – via
  30. ^ "Gov. Ella Grasso meet state's problems head-on". Hattiesburg American. 12 December 1976. p. 38. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019 – via
  31. ^ "Jackson's Visit". The Bridgeport Post. 9 May 1976. p. 24. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019 – via
  32. ^ "Young Dems Boost Grasso VP Effort". Naugatuck Daily News. 1 July 1976. p. 3. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019 – via
  33. ^ "Ella Seem Ready To Back Jacksont". The Bridgeport Post. 1 April 1976. p. 49. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019 – via
  34. ^ "Convention Lacks Bailey Touch". Hartford Courant. 22 July 1978. p. 1. Archived from the original on 10 December 2019 – via
  35. ^ "Killian set to battle". The Bridgeport Post. 8 December 1977. p. 71. Archived from the original on 10 December 2019 – via
  36. ^ "Grasso Closes the State" by proclamation". Connecticut State Library. Archived from the original on February 6, 2013. Retrieved February 6, 2013.
  37. ^ "Blizzard Of 1978: Feb. 6-7, 1978: The Blizzard Of '78 Shut Down The State And Made Heroes Out Of Those With Four-Wheel Drive". Hartford Courant. Retrieved February 6, 2013.
  38. ^ "Statement Thanks Grasso for Service". Hartford Courant. 22 December 1980. p. 29. Archived from the original on 10 December 2019 – via
  39. ^ "Ella Grasso dies at age 61". El Paso Times. 6 February 1981. p. 3. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019 – via
  40. ^ "Tributes Mount, Military Rites Await Connecticut's Ex-Gov. Ella Grasso". The Salt Lake Tribune. 7 February 1981. p. 2. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019 – via
  41. ^ "1978 CT Governor Democratic primary". Retrieved 10 May 2007.
  42. ^ "1978 CT Governor Democratic primary". Retrieved 21 February 2012.
  43. ^ "1978 CT Governor general election". Retrieved 9 April 2005.

Further reading

  • Lieberman, Joseph I. The Legacy: Connecticut Politics, 1930–1980 (1981).
  • Purmont, Jon E. Ella Grasso: Connecticut's Pioneering Governor (2012)
  • Whalen, Ardyce C. "The presentation of image in Ella T. Grasso's campaign." Communication Studies (1976) 27#3 pp: 207-211.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Mildred P. Allen
Secretary of the State of Connecticut
Succeeded by
Gloria Schaffer
Preceded by
Thomas Meskill
Governor of Connecticut
Succeeded by
William O'Neill
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Thomas Meskill
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Connecticut's 6th congressional district

Succeeded by
Toby Moffett
Party political offices
Preceded by
Emilio Daddario
Democratic nominee for Governor of Connecticut
1974, 1978
Succeeded by
William O'Neill
Preceded by
Jim Hunt
Chair of the Democratic Governors Association
Succeeded by
Brendan Byrne

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