Women make strides in Congress, modest gains in state

    A record 102 women were sworn into the House of Representatives. (Photo: NBC News)

    It's the first big wave of women in Congress. A record 102 women were sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday. It brings the total women serving in Congress to 127, with 25 in the Senate, according to the Center for Women in Politics.

    In Montana, the gains for women were more modest.

    The number of women serving in this year's legislative session is now 45, up from 42 last session, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    Erin Vilardi, the founder of Vote Run Lead, has been working to help more women run for office across the country.

    "Since the 2016 election we've trained about 4,000 women," said Vilardi.

    The nonprofit trains women online and in person, demystifying the campaign process.

    Vilardi says they tell the women to run as they are.

    "It has been really resonant with women, especially diverse women who are nontraditional candidates, who feel like there's a little bit of a rigid script in terms of who you can be as a politician," she said.

    Vilardi says Montana is an ideal place for women to run for office.

    "Rural communities actually tend to see less women running, when it's actually a great place for women to be considering a run, especially at a county commission level," she said.

    State Sen. Carlie Boland of Great Falls says people were receptive to her when she campaigned.

    "I really think women are becoming more interested. This is the first election I can tell you since I started running in 2008 that I've seen so many interested," said Boland.

    "Women are still concerned. In some sorts they're still concerned about family issues and how do you leave your family for four months -- sometimes that's a tough thing to do," she added.

    Yet, whatever challenges women may face, both Vilardi and Boland will tell you this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    "I think locally you're really going to see it in the next two years, where locally you'll see this big surge of women," said Vilardi.

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