She became the first woman of color to be elected to the District 1 City Council seat when she won in 2017 and recently became the first woman elected to the First Suffolk & Middlesex State Senate seat, a seat historically occupied by Italian American men.
Senator Lydia Edwards has found herself at the epicenter of a political movement that has seen more and more women and women of color being elected to political office in recent years.
“You don’t run on being “the first” you run for being effective, and I’m just very happy that we are at a point where we elect people based on their qualifications and their ability to serve people,” said Edwards. “I am honored. I’m honored to break through the glass ceiling and hopefully make sure that even more people of all different backgrounds have opportunities to serve.”
With the recent wave of women elected to powerful political offices like Mayor Michelle Wu, Senator Elizbaeth Warren and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Edwards argues politics and a woman’s place in politics has become more reflective of the populations they serve.
“I feel like our politicians are reflecting the people,” she said. “Half the population in Boston are women. So the fact that at least half of the City Councilors are women makes sense. It makes sense that our delegation in the House and Senate is including more and more women all the time. It makes sense that more women are running. I feel that there’s a real shift. More women are saying, more mothers are saying, more single mothers are saying “I want in and I’m running” and I’m really happy about that. I think we should really be celebrating that because a lot of women are putting their hat in the ring and it’s great. This is not to say that men don’t have a place in politics–it’s just time for women to also be at the table.”
Growing up in the small rural town of Gwinn in the upper peninsula of Michigan, Edwards said there were plenty of strong women in her life that shaped the person she eventually became.
The first of these women, of course, is Edwards’s mother Bridgett.
“I don’t know too many people who grew up with a single parent who aren’t inspired by them,” said Edwards. “My mother joined the military in the 1970s and to see my mother get up every day to put on military fatigues, put on combat boots and go to the base and then to also see her come home make dinner for me and my sister, Erica, help us pick out our prom dresses and help us with our school work gave me such a wonderful, well rounded view of power, grace and what it meant to be a real woman. That’s why I’m so inspired by my mom.”
And when her mom was busy serving in the Air Force there were other women in the small town of Gwinn that would step in to ensure Edwards’s success.
“I was blessed by having incredible public school teachers, who were sometimes single moms themselves, but they were mentors to me and helpful,” said Edwards. “I would give a shout out to Mrs. Deshambo who was always there for us when my mother couldn’t take the time off from work. This is a woman who got a substitute teacher for our history class, drove me nine hours to Detroit herself, got the hotel room herself and made sure I was there in person and available for my college scholarship interview—a scholarship that I was eventually awarded.”
There were also her women college professors that helped shape and inspire Edwards once she got to New York City.
“Dr. Ellen Silver gave me the advice that people don’t have to like you but they should respect you,” said Edwards. “That changed my whole life and changed my whole perspective. I ended up becoming my class president. I ended up becoming the number one tutor in chemistry and math for a lot of the girls in my college. I ended up using what I was good at to help keep other women in college. At the beginning I didn’t think they liked me because they were from New York and I was sort of a tomboy from the Midwest. I told Dr. Silver that I felt the girls didn;t like me and it was hurtful. That’s when she told me, “Honey, they don’t have to like you but they have to respect you. In the end they respected me. I think that advice and that experience taught me that being liked is one thing but being respected is everything. So you use your talents to do what you can for people and that’s what I’ve tried to do ever since.”
In the end, Edwards said she hopes her role as a strong woman holding political office will inspire others to do the same.
“One of the greatest joys I get in this job is when moms or dads intentionally bring their little girls to me and say, “This is your State Senator” and to see a little girls’ eyes light up brings a special honor because parents really want them to see what they can be,” said Edwards. “I didn’t have a Sen. Edwards or a local woman politician to look up to growing up. So I remind myself everyday that there might be a little girl watching and that makes me incredibly proud and honored.”