After being elected president of the Women Legislators of Maryland, Del. Ariana Kelly (District 16) proclaimed that she had just “fulfilled one of my legislative dreams.”
Kelly, who is already known around Annapolis for fighting for women’s causes, now heads an organization dedicated to the rights and needs of women and girls on issues such as child care, domestic violence and human trafficking.
“I think it’s an incredible opportunity. I think there are a lot of ways to improve women’s lives,” she said.
“For me, it’s both a tremendous honor to be elected by my colleagues, but it also is a tremendous opportunity to improve the lives of the women of Maryland.”
Maryland was the first state to have a women’s legislative caucus in the United States, according to Executive Director Marsha Wise.
The caucus has 67 members, seven of whom are male, Wise said. Men gained the ability to join the organization in 2015. Members meet weekly when the General Assembly is in session and then on an as-needed basis throughout the rest of the year.
It is a bipartisan group. Currently, there are 54 Democrats and 13 Republicans, Wise said.
Each year, the caucus decides what issues the members work on for that year, she said. While “all issues are women’s issues,” the state’s women’s caucus chooses a few “to concentrate on the issues that affect women’s lives.”
Last year, they focused on sexual assault and violence prevention, Kelly said. She is in the process of conducting a poll to see what issues most members are interested in pursuing during the next legislative session.
Kelly, whose one-year term began on April 1, spent the past year as the caucus’ president-elect, so her new title hardly came as a surprise. Being named to the executive board and now president was the result of “an open election,” she said, adding that she ran unopposed.
The Bethesda native has been a member of the House of Delegates since January 2011 and is the deputy majority whip. Kelly has two children and went to Walter Johnson High School before attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied history and women’s studies.
She is executive director at Suited for Change, which provides professional clothing and education to low-income women. She previously has been the environmental health and fair-pay campaign director at Moms Rising and executive director at NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland. She has been a member of the board of directors at the Democratic Women’s PAC of Maryland.
The women’s caucus of the General Assembly started in 1969 and was first called the Maryland Order of Women Legislators. It became the Maryland Chapter of the National Order of Women’s Legislators in 1972. Today it goes by the title Women’s Legislators of Maryland.