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The Senator Who Took on Alabama's Male-Dominated Culture Back in the '90s

State Senator, Alabama

Vivian Figures WIG
Vivian Figures
(David Kidd)
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. 

Read about the Women in Government program and the rest of the honorees.

Natalie Delgadillo is an editor and writer living in Washington, D.C. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Bloomberg's CityLab, and The Atlantic. She was previously the managing editor of DCist.
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