LOWELL -- U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas never endorsed a candidate in the crowded Democratic primary to fill her seat, but she often said she hoped the 3rd Congressional District would continue to be represented by a woman.
With Lori Trahan's victory in Tuesday's general election, that goal was fulfilled -- and on a night when women notched significant victories across the country, Massachusetts made history of its own.
Never before had the state elected a woman of color to Congress or four women to the delegation at once. Both records were smashed when first-time candidates Trahan and Ayanna Pressley won their elections to the House of Representatives, while U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren both secured re-election.
"I often say women can't win if women don't run," Tsongas said. "However long it has taken, change is certainly here."
A handful of races had not yet been called by Wednesday afternoon, but the results that were available projected a historic incoming class. At least 118 members of the House and Senate combined will be women, surpassing the record of 107 set by the current Congress. Among them will be Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim women to win House races, and Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, the first Native American women in either chamber.
Their successes come at a time of widespread change and activism, partly prompted by Donald Trump, whose presidential inauguration in 2017 was met with the massive Women's March.
"I think the trend is only going to go up from here," Trahan said Wednesday. "The fact we've got four women today means we're going to have more tomorrow. I'm going to do my part to make sure I encourage more women to run, that I set the conditions for more women to run. It's important that we have more women, not only in the U.S. House of Representatives."
Massachusetts reflected the national trend Tuesday with victories by Trahan, Clark, Warren and Pressley. Successes came for women down-ballot, too, such as attorney Tram Nguyen, who unseated conservative state. Rep. Jim Lyons in the 18th Essex District.
"It's not only a testament to the campaigns that we ran and our platforms and our messages that were resonant and transcendent, but also a reminder of the value added by diversity and leadership diversity," Pressley said Wednesday. "I do believe, ultimately, our constituencies will be better represented because of it."
Despite the state's general progressiveness, congressional races had long been dominated by men. When Tsongas was first elected in 2007, no woman had represented Massachusetts in the House or Senate in 25 years. Trahan's victory Tuesday guarantees that, for the first time in the state's history, a federal seat will be passed from one woman to another.
Three of the nine Massachusetts congressional districts will now be held by women as well as one of its two Senate seats, and the effects will be significant. Clark, Pressley and Trahan all said Wednesday that better representation for women in Congress would have an observable effect on policy and would serve as an inspiration for future candidates.
"I've really seen firsthand the importance of having women at the table," Clark said. "It makes a difference in how issues are prioritized, whether it's childcare, equal pay for equal work or reproductive rights."
Tsongas certainly remembers what had to be overcome to get to this point. Before she launched her first campaign, she "could not tolerate" how long it had been since a woman participated in the state's congressional delegation. For six years after her win, she was the only one alongside 11 men -- nine congressmen and two senators.
If the incoming Massachusetts delegation is any indication, Tsongas can leave office knowing that her effort helped open up a path for other women. Pressley described her as "a role model for all of us." Clark said she owed Tsongas "an incredible debt of gratitude." And Trahan, who took the stage in victory Tuesday after being introduced by her predecessor, sees Tsongas as an instrumental figure in the success of women.
"When I say her legacy extends well beyond the lines of this district and everything she did for the people who live and work here, what I'm saying is what she's done for women in Massachusetts," Trahan said. "What she's done is create the foundation we're going to build upon for the future."
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