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Ella Grasso

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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. 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.

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 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.
Political partyDemocratic
Thomas Grasso
(m. 1942; died 1999)
EducationMount Holyoke College (BA, MA)

Grasso started in politics as a member of the League of Women Voters and Democratic speech writer. She was first elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives in 1952, becoming the first female Floor Leader in 1955. Her next office was Secretary of State of Connecticut, where she won re-election twice. Grasso went on to serve to serve two terms in the United States House of Representatives, from 1970-1974.

Early lifeEdit

Ella Rosa Giovianna Oliva Tambussi was born in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, to Italian immigrant parents Maria (née Oliva) and 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]


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]

Grasso's entry into politics came in 1942 when she joined the League of Women Voters. Grasso was briefly a registered Republican before switching to the Democratic Party.[3] In 1943, she became a speech writer for the Connecticut Democratic Party.[5] 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] 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]

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.

In 1970 she ran for the United States House of Representatives in Connecticut's Sixth District. The seat was open after sitting Congressman Thomas Meskill chose to run for Governor. Grasso faced Republican Richard Kilborn in the general election.[7] Grasso won and was elected as a representative to the 92nd Congress, and won re-election in 1972.


In 1974, Grasso did not run for re-election to Congress, instead running for the Connecticut governorship.[5] Democratic Party leader John Bailey preferred Robert Killian as the party nominee. Grasso persuaded Killian that she should run for Governor instead and Killian became the nominee for Lieutenant Governor.[3] Her opponent was Republican Congressman Robert Steele.[5] She defeated Steele by 200,000 votes.[5] Grasso was the first woman who was elected governor without being the wife or widow of a past governor.[6]

Upon taking office, Grasso promised fiscal responsibility.[5][6] In furtherance of that promise, Grasso returned to the state treasury a $7,000 raise she was legally required to take.[5] Grasso also sold the state's limo and plane.[3]

Grasso was re-elected in 1978 with little difficulty.

A high point of her career was her decisive handling of a particularly devastating snow storm 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.[8][9]

In March 1980, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and resigned from office on December 31.

Personal lifeEdit

Grasso married Thomas Grasso, a school principal, in 1942.[5] Together they had two children, Susanne and James.[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] Both children went on to become teachers.[6]

Less than a year after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and less than six weeks after leaving office, Grasso died on February 5, 1981, at the age of 61. She was survived by her husband and their two children.[6]


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 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.

See alsoEdit


  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 e f 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 k l m "Ella Tambussi Grasso". Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame. Retrieved February 4, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Wald, Matthew (February 6, 1981). "Ex-Gov. Grasso of Connecticut Dead of Cancer". The New York Times. Retrieved November 14, 2006.
  7. ^ "Ella Giovanna Oliva (Tambussi) Grasso" (PDF). Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  8. ^ "Grasso Closes the State" by proclamation". Connecticut State Library. Archived from the original on February 6, 2013. Retrieved February 6, 2013.
  9. ^ "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.

Further readingEdit

  • 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 linksEdit