Sunny Mojonnier on California women’s political history
In the 1980s, Joyce “Sunny” Mojonnier represented San Diego in the state Assembly becoming just the 30th women elected to the California Legislature. She is also founder and chairman of the board of the Women In California Politics Foundation & Museum (WICP). Next week on Tuesday Aug. 17, WICP will open Sacramento’s newest museum to focus for the first time on the history of California’s elected women legislators. The grand opening will start at 4:30 p.m. at 1415 L Street, Suite 120. For more info, visit here.
I have always been determined to solve problems that present themselves. For every problem there are always multiple solutions.
I was first elected to serve the people of San Diego in the State Assembly in 1982. At that time, there were little more than a dozen other women serving in either chamber of our state legislature, and just a fraction of the number of women serving in administrative positions than today. Soon I realized the camaraderie that existed between my male colleagues in the Capitol was rarely extended to the women professionals who were equally as competent and worked just as hard – if not harder – than our male counterparts.
The only thing that was missing was the opportunity to communicate in a welcoming, non-competitive setting. So one of the first things I did was establish the Capitol Network, a network for female legislative and administrative professionals in Sacramento. We started with roughly 60 members, and today has grown well beyond that with membership is open to women and men.
I ultimately served eight years in the State Assembly, but in my first years, I was aware I was just the 30th woman in state history to take that oath of office and serve in the legislature. I commemorate this today by signing all of my letters and emails with “#30” after my name. But after learning the first four women were elected in 1918, I was shocked to see it had taken 64 years to reach my meager number. So I dug a little further only to find relatively little information existed about California women legislators.
Although about half of the women were already deceased, I decided to act fast to capture the history of those California female pioneers still with us. Unable to get any state or public funding, I turned to my friends, and together with their financial support, we raised the seed money to start a 501.c.3 non-profit charitable organization. Today Women in California Politics remains a completely non-partisan organization.
The very first thing I did was purchase a 4K video camera to record oral histories and so began our video recorded oral history project called “Her Words.” Today, WICP has been recognized for having one of the largest video-recorded oral histories collection of California’s women legislators. Today that collection has grown to 20 individual videos. Short excerpts of these videos will be on display at the exhibition.
Some of the women I have recorded are no longer with us, and I am grateful I did not miss out on the honor of capturing and learning from their interviews. As I interviewed these women, I also had the foresight to always asked, “When the time comes, what are you going to do with all of your stuff?” I gently let them know what they may think had no historic value may actually be significant and I would happily pick up whatever they wished to add to the WICP’s growing collection.
These artifacts and memorabilia comprise the true “heart” of the museum exhibit we will open Tuesday. Guests will be treated to seeing the Olympic torch run by one of the members in the torch relay. They can see clothing all the way back to 1918 when the first four women were elected to California’s legislature. They can also find out who took a sledge hammer to a toilet on the Capitol steps and who was responsible for banning corporal punishment in schools. And find out why wearing pants on the Senate floor caused national news coverage for one member.
Combined, this history not only tells our stories as California women, but it will also guide us forward into the future. As the collection keeps growing, it can keep us from repeating mistakes and provide models of strength and leadership for us to emulate. These women are our pioneers, our trailblazers, just as the women in our legislature today will serve as beacons for those yet to follow. Regardless of our race, creed, color, or political party, first and foremost we are women, we must elevate women. Our daughters, nieces, sisters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters are counting on us.
Today 38 women currently serve in California’s state legislature. However, we hold just a third of all seats there. Twenty-three of 75 in the Assembly and 15 of 40 in the Senate. WICP looks forward to continuing to commemorate the new history they are making every day and that we expect to culminate someday in the election of California’s first female governor.
So raise your daughters to be strong leaders. And remember women bring all voters into this world!
This has been my passion project, my labor of love, and my singular focus since 2013. So come join me in commemorating all the history California women in politics have made so far at our grand opening event 4:40 p.m. Tuesday. And if you can’t join us then, call 916-716-9168 for limited open hours, private tours and events.
Together we will elevate Women!