Ella T. Grasso

Ella T. Grasso

Ella T. Grasso
83rd Governor of Connecticut
In office
January 8, 1975 – December 31, 1980
Lieutenant Robert K. Killian
William A. O'Neill
Preceded by Thomas Joseph Meskill
Succeeded by William 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 by Thomas Joseph Meskill
Succeeded by Toby Moffett
64th Secretary of the State of Connecticut
In office
January 3, 1959 – January 3, 1971
Preceded by Mildred P. Allen
Succeeded by Gloria Schaffer
Personal details
Born Ella Rose Tambussi
(1919-05-10)May 10, 1919
Windsor Locks, Connecticut, U.S.
Died February 5, 1981(1981-02-05) (aged 61)
Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Thomas Grasso
Alma mater Mount Holyoke College
Profession Politician
Religion Roman Catholic

Ella T. 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 1975 to 1980. She was the first woman elected to this office and the first woman to be elected governor of a U.S. state "in her own right", as all three female governors preceding Grasso had been married to men who were previously the governor of their states.


  • Early life 1
  • Politics 2
  • Personal life 3
  • Legacy 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Ella Rose Tambussi was born in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, to Italian immigrant parents Maria (née Oliva) and Giacomo Tambussi, a mill worker.[1] After attending St. Mary's School, Windsor Locks, and the Chaffee School, Windsor, she attended Mount Holyoke College, in South Hadley, Massachusetts,[2] where she earned her B.A. in 1940, and her M.A. two years later. After graduation, she served as assistant director of research for the War Manpower Commission of Connecticut.


In 1952, Grasso was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives and served until 1957. She became first woman to be elected Floor Leader of the House in 1955. In 1958 she was elected Secretary of the State of Connecticut and was re-elected in 1962 and 1966. 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. She was the co-chairman for the Resolutions Committee for the Democratic National Conventions of 1964 and 1968. In 1970 she was elected as a Democratic 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, and won. Contrary to popular belief, she was not the first elected woman to serve as governor of a U.S. state; however, Grasso was the first woman who was elected governor "in her own right", i.e. without being the wife or widow of a past governor.[3]

Grasso gained a reputation as an extreme penny pincher who cut budgets to a minimum by reducing the number of state employees as well as welfare programs and aid to municipalities. Despite widespread criticism over her financial policies, Connecticut's economy prospered and she was reelected 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 "The Blizzard of 78" this storm dropped around 30 inches of snow across the state, crippling highways and making virtually all roads impassable. In a bold move, she "Closed the State" by proclamation, and 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.[4][5]

Personal life

Grasso was married to Thomas Grasso in 1942, and together they had two children, Susanne and James. In 1980, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and resigned from office on December 31. She died on February 5, 1981 at the age of 61.[3] A couple of years later, a group led by Arnold Chase and his company, Arch Communications Corp., won a construction permit for Channel 61 in September 1983. Chase originally planned to call his new station WETG-TV, in memory of Ella T. Grasso, the first woman to serve as governor of Connecticut, who died in 1981. However, those call letters were claimed by a station in Erie, Pennsylvania – now fellow Fox affiliate WFXP. This station ultimately became WTIC-TV.

Later that year, President Ronald Reagan posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the National Women's Hall of Fame inducted her in 1993. 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. 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.


  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.  
  2. ^ Mount Holyoke biography
  3. ^ a b Wald, Matthew (1981-02-06). "Ex-Gov. Grasso of Connecticut Dead of Cancer". The New York Times. Retrieved November 14, 2006. 
  4. ^ "Grasso Closes the State" by proclamation". Connecticut State Library. Retrieved February 6, 2013. 
  5. ^ "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".  

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

  • Brief biography
  • Bartleby biography
  • Ella T. Grasso Papers at Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections
  • Connecticut State Library Bio
  • Photo of Grasso's Statue on the Connecticut State Capitol building – the first woman to be represented there
  • Brief Bio of Governor Grasso
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Thomas Joseph Meskill
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Connecticut's 6th congressional district

Succeeded by
Toby Moffett
Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas Joseph Meskill
Governor of Connecticut
Succeeded by
William O'Neill