Vivian Figures was propelled into legislative service by personal tragedy: In 1996, her husband Michael, a prominent leader who had served in the Alabama Senate for nearly two decades, died suddenly from an aneurysm. Friends and family convinced Vivian, who was a Mobile City Councilmember at the time, to run for her husband’s vacant seat. She won and has served in the Senate ever since.
Figures has become a trailblazer on her own. When she arrived in 1997, the Alabama Statehouse was very much locked in old ways: Smoking was allowed everywhere, and women were required to wear dresses. (Back then Figures was one of only two women in the 35-member Senate.) She got smoking banned in the capitol, and she defied and ultimately changed the discriminatory dress code. In 2011, she led a protest of five female senators to draw attention to the fact that seven of the Senate’s 20 committees had no women; that quickly changed as well.
In 2013, she made history again: As Senate minority leader, she was the first woman in memory to serve as minority or majority leader in either the Alabama House or Senate.