Susannah Wellford: She’s Bringing Young Women to Politics

May 24 - On The Dot
FIRST THOUGHT: Be Your Own Leader

When you were younger, was there a female in your life who gave you a good glimpse of what leadership really means? If you were coming of age in the 1990s, maybe it was a TV character like Angelica Pickles from Rugrats, the witty cartoon in which a group of toddlers adventurously navigated the world. It might’ve been easy to dismiss Angelica as the bossy older cousin. But there was value in her character too, particularly for young female viewers. She was firm in her beliefs, never compromised her self-esteem and was driven to become a fierce entrepreneurial woman in a man’s world. That’s a boss lady if there ever was one. Today, put on your leader hat, invoke your inner Angelica and take on the world!


When it comes to political leadership, I’m not too sure Angelica Pickles would make for a commendable political candidate, but there are plenty of women out there who would. Throughout history, more than 200 women have run for the office of president of the United States. Inspiring, right? In fact, before women even had the right to vote, Victoria Woodhull of Ohio, an activist for women’s rights and labor reforms, ran for president. There’s a reason history may have forgotten her: Every state in the union refused to list her name on the ballot. That was in 1872, and we still have a long way to go.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Susannah Wellford, Founder and President of Running Start

We recently saw a strong woman have a real shot at the Oval Office. And today’s Woman to Watch is persistently working to ensure that possibility soon becomes a reality. A decade ago, Susannah Wellford, long a devoted advocate for women in politics, created a nonprofit called Running Start, which provides young women and girls with the skills and confidence they need to become the political leaders of tomorrow.

In the past 10 years or so, Running Start has trained more than 10,000 young women to enter and lead in the often complicated world of politics. It’s all about planting the seed of interest in politics so women will run for office earlier, climb higher through leadership and share more in the decision-making power of their country. A nonpartisan movement, Running Start supports women by offering programs focused on leadership and political prowess. For instance, through the organization’s Young Women’s Political Leadership Program, 60 high-school girls will spend a week in Washington, D.C. this June learning about public speaking, networking and platform development. And they’ll even get to visit the White House and have one-on-one meetings with members of Congress.

One thing Running Start is not is lip service. Susannah’s nonprofit makes real, lasting impacts in the lives of young women. Sophia Houdaigui is the perfect example. She completed the Young Women’s Political Leadership Program at the age of 15, and became passionate about politics. She now serves as an ambassador for Running Start’s #ILookLikeAPolitician campaign and recently landed a job in Senator Tim Kaine’s Washington, D.C. office.

On an even more grassroots level, Susannah and Running Start launched a training program called Elect Her, which teaches college women how to run for student government, a great stepping-stone to getting involved in politics.

While Running Start is in the business of encouraging women to break through the ultimate glass ceiling in politics, it’s hardly Susannah’s first political endeavor. Before attending law school, she worked on Hillary Clinton’s Health Care Task Force, helping to implement grassroots health-care events.

Preparing women for office isn’t just about leadership; it’s also about building their confidence to go up against consistent commentary about their looks. Susannah notes that research has shown when a female politician’s looks are discussed—either positively or negatively—voters doubt her qualifications. But through the important work of Running Start, Susannah is proving that all young women look like leaders.


When Sophia Houdaigui wrote about her experience with Running Start, she eloquently declared:

“Men run for office to be something and women run for office to do something. I want to do something!”

This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.

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