Women’s History Month celebrates women who sacrificed and strived to ensure that all people have an equal shot at pursuing the American Dream. The theme for 2016 is honoring women who shaped America’s history and its future through public service and government leadership against great odds.

Ella Grasso, 1919-1981, governor of Connecticut and the first woman governor of any of the United States elected in her own right, is one of 16 women leaders selected for the honor.

Grasso served as Connecticut governor from 1974 through 1980. Her political career spanned more than 45 years, and she won all 10 elections she ever ran in. The daughter of Italian immigrants, Ella Tambussi gained a commitment to public service at her alma mater, Mount Holyoke College.

She first ran for elected office in 1952 and won a seat in the Connecticut General Assembly, where she served until 1959. She also served as Connecticut’s secretary of the state and two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Grasso then won election as Connecticut governor in 1974 and was re-elected to a second term. She resigned in 1980 after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

As governor she had to make many challenging and unpopular decisions, but her commitment to creating a more effective government, balancing the budget, and adhering to the democratic process proved fruitful, and she won the admiration of her constituents, according to her biography on the National Women’s History Project website, nwhp.org.

She led the state through tough economic times, making controversial cuts but also attracting new industries and companies to the state, and the state economy steadily improved under her leadership.

Grasso is remembered as a trailblazing woman and a champion of marginalized groups, including minorities, women, young people, the elderly, and the working class. Many believed she would go on to serve in a national leadership role. Sadly, her career and lifelong commitment to public service were cut short by her illness.

The National Women’s History Project was founded in 1980 and led a coalition that successfully lobbied Congress in 1987 to designate March as National Women’s History Month. Today, the organization is the only clearinghouse providing information and training in multicultural women’s history for anyone wanting to expand their understanding of women’s contributions to U.S. history.

A special presidential proclamation is issued every year honoring the extraordinary achievements of American women. This May, the White House will host a summit on “The United State of Women,” to highlight the advances made in the United States and across the globe and to expand efforts on helping women confront the challenges they face and reach for their highest aspirations.