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Her Impact Ignites: How this former Iowa senator is empowering women to get involved in politics

Former state Sen. Maggie Tinsman served Iowans in the statehouse for 18 years. Now, she's making sure more women are elected into office.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Editor's note: In honor of Women's History Month, "Her Impact Ignites" is a series celebrating women for their continued work in the community. 

Maggie Tinsman, a true pioneer in women's history, is a former Iowa state senator and the first woman to ever sit on the Scott County Board of Supervisors. 

The 84-year-old continues to use her knowledge in the private sector to improve her community by finding women to serve in the Iowa Legislature.

However, the former state senator was not always driven by politics. 

"I was a stay-at-home mom, I didn't even work outside the home," Tinsman said. "I was supposed to take care of the house. My husband was supposed to do the work and support us. And then, we had three children."

Tinsman said her interest in politics grew after she worked as a social worker for UnitedWay and became frustrated with the county.

"I sent people to Scott County, and they all came back," she said. "Nobody helped them."

She took her frustrations to the board, which was made up of all men. That's when she decided to turn it up a notch. 

"So that's when I thought, 'Well, maybe I should run,'" Tinsman said. 

And run she did— she went back to school to get her master's degree while her kids were also in school. Together with her children, she worked on her homework. 

All of that hard work earned her a spot on the board. After serving for 11 years and two terms as chairwoman, Tinsman ran for the Iowa Legislature in 1989 as a Republican. After winning her seat, she served in the Iowa Senate until 2007

"(A) woman's place is to be creative about making a life for their families. Part of that creativity is what politics does," said Tinsman. "And so they should have something to say about that."

Before leaving the Senate, Tinsman began working on bills against sex traffickers. She continued her work as an advocate for victims with her organization Braking Traffik.

"Braking Traffik was made up of law enforcement, social workers, even a mother of someone who was a victim of human trafficking. The whole idea was to try and bring awareness to people," Tinsman said.

Although she took on more projects to protect and serve women, she didn't leave her passion for politics. In 2010, Tinsman partnered with former Iowa state Sen. Jean Lloyd Jones to create 50/50 in 2020

The goal of this movement? Elect more women into public office.

"53% of the voters in Iowa are female, and they vote at a higher percentage than males," said Tinsman. "And so I've said to my male colleagues, 'Do remember what democracy is about? It's about being the majority, we are the majority.'"

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"I remember when she started the organization, no one was really talking about women running for office or having a training, especially for women. And you fast forward to today and now it's a normal thing," said Mellissa Gensing, Tinsman's partner and mentee.

Although the organization didn't reach its goal, Tinsman said there were some wins to take away.

"What did work is that at the federal level or the state level, the first time we got a female governor," Tinsman said. "The first time we had one of our us senators being female. And then Iowa has four representatives in the house, and three are females."

Gensing said 50/50 in 2020 did more than put women in the legislature.

"We brought women of all political persuasions together. And they first and foremost built relationships," Gensing said. "That's a lasting legacy, and I think it's really just about that pipeline of women that knowing the work is never done."

Moving forward, Tinsman wants to transform her campaign from "50/50 in 2020" to "50/50 in Iowa." It would be a college program training and encouraging women to enter politics.

When asked if she would ever stop working, Tinsman responded with a simple "no."

"I'm not through with politics," she said. "I, again, think it's part of our living, it's, it's part of making us have a wonderful quality of life."

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