1st woman to win Tennessee statewide election dies at 83

August 4, 2016 GMT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jane Eskind, the first woman to win a statewide election in Tennessee and a longtime Democratic Party activist, died Thursday. She was 83.

Eskind died after a long illness, said Katy Varney, a family spokeswoman.

Eskind’s landmark victory came when she was elected to the Public Service Commission in 1980. Two years earlier, she was the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate and lost to Howard Baker Jr. in the general election. In 1986, she ran for governor, losing in the Democratic primary to Ned McWherter, and in 1987, she lost a special election for Congress. In 1994, Eskind became the first woman to chair the Tennessee Democratic Party.

Though she lost more elections than she won, Eskind left her mark on Democratic politics.

“Imagine how unbreakable the glass ceiling in Tennessee must have looked in 1964 when Jane Eskind began her work in Democratic politics,” Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini said in a statement. “But she was dedicated and persevered and broke through it with gusto, and we are thankful for her many ‘firsts.’”

Mancini said “all women in Tennessee politics today stand on Jane’s shoulders.”

Former Vice President Al Gore called Eskind “a trailblazing pioneer, a tenacious champion for justice and social progress, a role model — especially for women — and a great friend.”

Gore said he was grateful for Eskind’s support as well as her wit and advice.

“Jane made me and many others better public servants,” he said in a statement. “As the first woman to win statewide election in Tennessee and a stalwart of the Democratic Party, Jane made sure that women were not only included in our state’s political discussions, but were often leading them.”

In 2011, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Civil Liberties Union for nearly five decades of leadership in advancing the role of women in politics and changing the political landscape in Tennessee.

Eskind was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. She attended Brandeis University and settled in Nashville in 1956. She was a lobbyist for the Tennessee League of Women Voters from 1964 to 1969, then became a Democratic Party activist.

Eskind was a campaign worker and member of the Democratic Women’s Club. In 1972 and 1976, she represented Tennessee on the Democratic National Platform Committee. In 1974, she was elected to the Democratic State Executive Committee.

Additionally, Eskind was a member of the Democratic House and Senate Council, the Tennessee Democratic Finance Council, the National Finance Committee and the National Finance Council for President Clinton.

She was on the board of the Tennessee Federation of Democratic Women and was a trustee of the National Victory Fund. She raised money for numerous nonprofit groups, and was active in the Anti-Defamation League, the International Women’s Forum and the Women Executives in State Government. Eskind chaired the Tennessee Commission on the Status of Women from 1978 to 1980.

Eskind was married to Richard Eskind, a financial adviser.