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story.lead_photo.caption Ward 3 Councilwoman Erin Wiseman poses for a portrait Tuesday next to the law office in which she works. Her desire to run for elected office came from her family — her father's own work in an elected seat and inspiration from her aunt. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

As women in America celebrate 100 years with the right to vote, women holding elected offices in Jefferson City have their minds on those who came before them and the paths paved that led to where they are.

When thinking about the seat she holds, Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin is OK with being second because it means progress is continuing to move forward.

"I like being the second, because we've already had the first woman to be mayor, and this is a path that's not new to us," Tergin said. "Having me in this seat is not new for Jefferson City, and it shouldn't be. We will look forward to having more women in higher elected office or leadership in organizations within the community."

If they ask whether she is the first, Tergin is happy to share about the woman who paved the path. The city's first female leader, Mayor Louise Gardner, was elected in 1987 and served until 1995.

As a business owner, Tergin had no plans to run for office, back before she was first elected to the City Council. However, when others asked her to, she said, she looked at the opportunity for the first time.

Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin, the city's second female mayor, stands in the lobby of Jefferson City Hall on Aug. 25, 2020.

"I think sometimes there are others that see qualities in us that we don't even recognize ourselves," Tergin said. "There are studies that show women often need to be asked to run."

Tergin said she looks to Gardner and other previous female city leaders as inspiration. Former council members Jane Smith, Cindy Latham and Carolyn McDowell were also instrumental in Tergin's path to the mayor's seat.

For Ward 3 Councilwoman Erin Wiseman, the desire to run for elected office came from her family — her father's own work in an elected seat and inspiration from her aunt.

"My aunt was really a mentor for me. She is a woman who got her Ph.D., she worked hard and did it on her own," Wiseman said. "A mixture of those two made me always believe that I could do whatever I wanted to do and drove me."

Tergin said, coming onto the council and later moving to the mayoral position, she didn't feel being a woman could stop her from achieving what she set out to do.

"I've never let that be a barrier, and I've never felt that it was," Tergin said. "You can't let it, and I think as long as you don't allow it to, you'll be able to proceed and lead and do great things in the office, by not letting others' perception influence how you act or react in the office."

Missouri state Rep. Sara Walsh said she felt similarly about her path to office.

"I've never really felt, in my life, that there's ever been anything holding me back other than my own ambition and initiative," Walsh said.

Once in office, women can bring unique qualities that benefit the office and those they serve, Walsh said — a sentiment echoed by others.

"Women bring a different kind of perspective to politics. I think that helps provide a good balance," Walsh said. "All the perspectives that we can get are very helpful with legislation that impacts people's lives."

A mixture of perspectives, ideas and backgrounds is a benefit to adding diversity of any kind to elected office, Wiseman said.

"When you have that diverse group, you're going to get a lot of ideas and you're going to find something that works," Wiseman said. "I think it's really important to have women take part in government and community organizations."

Looking back on the past century, Jefferson City's elected women can't help but think of their own families.

For Wiseman, it's her great-grandmother who became a businesswoman in an era when that wasn't typical.

"I just think about these ladies who came before me who really paved that way, who weren't supposed to do those things because they were against the societal norms at those times," Wiseman said. "If all the women who came before me didn't do those things, then I wouldn't be a lawyer today."

Ward 2 Councilwoman Laura Ward said the anniversary is a reminder of those who fought to gain the equality we now have.

"I think we need to realize that any outcome that is worthy, it took a lot of work and a lot of heartache and a lot of hardship by others before us," Ward said. "I feel it's owed to them that we need to honor them by going out and voting, which is our right. We shouldn't take it for granted."

Tergin said reflection on the work that led to the 19th Amendment places an extra importance on making sure to utilize the rights it provided.

"It's something that, although we have the opportunity to vote, sometimes it's taken too lightly, and we don't even realize the amount of work it took for everyone to be able to vote," Tergin said. "We take it for granted now — as we should, because this is how it should be. We should all have the opportunity to vote, to run for office, to get involved."

Looking forward, the women hope their positions can inspire future generations and continue to bring diverse viewpoints to elected office.

Tergin said women shouldn't let what other think define them, or define others based on their gender or background.

"We can all do what we put our minds to," Tergin said.

Wiseman has a simple but important message she hopes she and other elected women can show society.

"This is normal," Wiseman said. "I would hope people think it's normal that a woman is in this position."

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