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Ella Tambussi Grasso was an Italian-American politician, and the first woman elected governor of Connecticut. This was a historic election, making Grasso the first female to be elected governor of a US state "in her own right" (all three female governors preceding Grasso had been married to men who were governor of their states).

Ella Giovanna Oliva Tambussi was born on May 10, 1919 in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, to Giacomo and Maria Oliva Tambussi. Giacomo arrived in New York from Carezzano (province of Alessandria, Piedmont region), on May 25, 1904 when he was 17 and went to Windsor Locks to live with his father. He married Maria and operated the Windsor Locks Bakery, while she was a mill worker. They both valued education highly and made it possible for Ella to attend private schools.

Ella went to St. Mary’s School in Windsor and the Chaffee School in Windsor Locks. She entered Mount Holyoke College in 1936 and graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. degree in 1940. While an undergraduate she majored in economics and sociology, minored in history and political science, and earned a Phi Beta Kappa key her junior year.

For the next two years she was a part-time assistant and teacher for the Department of Economics and Sociology, and in 1942 she received her M.A. degree in economics and sociology from Mount Holyoke. Later in her career, she was awarded honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from Mount Holyoke College, Colgate University, Smith College, University of Hartford, and Trinity College.

She married Thomas A. Grasso, a school principal, in 1942, and they had two children, Susanne and James.

Ella began her political career working for the Connecticut State Department of Labor in 1942. In 1943 she became the Assistant Connecticut State Director of Research for the War Manpower Commission and served until 1946.

In 1952 Ella was elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives of the Connecticut General Assembly; she was re-elected in 1954. From 1958-1971 she served as Connecticut Secretary of State, and from 1956-1968 she was chair of the Connecticut Democratic State Platform Committee. From 1956-1958 she was Democratic Committeewoman. She co-chaired the Resolutions Committee for the 1966 and 1968 Democratic National Conventions.

In 1970 and 1972 she was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Connecticut’s 6th District. While in Congress she served on the Education and Labor Committee and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

In 1974 Ella was elected as Governor of Connecticut, becoming the first woman governor of Connecticut and the first woman governor elected in her own right. Ella Grasso took office in January of 1975 and almost immediately acquired the image of a "tough customer". Her records as governor demonstrate a hands-on approach to the administration of her office. She was a workaholic and expected her staff to perform with the same dedication and intensity; sometimes she would call the staff early in the morning to get them to the Capitol immediately for a meeting.

She was re-elected in 1978, but resigned from office on December 31, 1980 due to illness. After a ten-month battle with cancer, Ella Tambussi Grasso died on February 5, 1981 at the age of sixty-one in Hartford, Ct. Her body lay in state in the State Capitol for 24 hours, where she was mourned by the public and politicians of both parties. She was buried at St. Mary's Cemetery in Windsor Locks.

The people of Connecticut have honored Governor Grasso's contributions to the state in a number of ways. Streets in several Connecticut communities were named for her, including Ella Grasso Highway (Route 75) in Windsor Locks. State facilities in Groton and Stratford are named for her.



Mount Holyoke College