Alumna Makes History in Virginia

By Tom Kertscher, May 5, 2020
Eileen Filler-Corn ’86 became the first woman Speaker of the House in January.

Eileen Filler-Corn ’86 insists that while she was at Ithaca College, she had no aspirations of running for office — even though the politics major founded the school’s College Democrats and arranged to bring the late Geraldine Ferraro to campus.

Ferraro, a New York City congresswoman, made history as the first woman nominated for national office by a major party when she ran as Walter Mondale’s vice-presidential running mate in 1984.

“I picked her up in my Delta 88 Oldsmobile, which was my first car,” Filler-Corn recalled.

three women in front of a plaque

 Speaker Filler-Corn with House Clerk Suzette Denslow (left) and House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (right) in March.

The sedan had been passed down from her grandmother.

Filler-Corn went on to make electoral history of her own this winter, becoming the first woman in the 401-year history of the Virginia House of Delegates to become speaker of the House. Her fellow Democrats in the House, newly in the majority after two decades, elected her to the post in November 2019. She was sworn in in January 2020, a little more than 10 years after being elected to a seat that represents part of the Fairfax area. At that time, she was the only delegate who was a mother with school-aged kids.

Filler-Corn’s ascension is noteworthy beyond Virginia.

Women comprise only 29% of the nearly 7,400 state legislators nationwide, and only 75 women serve as speaker of the House, president of the Senate, speaker pro tem, Senate president pro tem, majority leader or minority leader, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“As historic as it is, and all of that’s important, look at what we really were able to do,” says Filler-Corn, who is also the first Jewish person to hold the Virginia speaker’s post.

“This is just the beginning of our work. Serving as Speaker is the honor of a lifetime and we will keep fighting to improve the lives of all Virginians.”

Eileen Filler-Corn '86

By early March 2020, before the full force of the coronavirus shut down much of the country, the Virginia legislature passed laws to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment; raise the gas tax to provide $1 billion over four years for roads and highways; raise the state minimum wage; enacted criminal justice reforms including decriminalizing marijuana; pass gun violence prevention legislation; expand reproductive rights; and provide protections for LGBTQ individuals.

family photo

Filler-Corn with her husband, Bob, daughter Alana and son Jeremy.

Filler-Corn, who is married with two children, credits some of her success to the many extracurricular activities she engaged at Ithaca, including the Ithaca College Democrats, the New York State Mock Legislative Assembly, the Jewish organization Hillel and the Delta Phi Zeta service sorority, where she was the service chair. “I have many happy memories from my years at Ithaca College,” said Filler-Corn, who received her law degree from American University. “I got a great college education and felt really prepared for law school.”

Filler-Corn said she looks forward to continuing to move the Commonwealth of Virginia forward.

“This is just the beginning of our work,” she adds. ”Serving as Speaker is the honor of a lifetime and we will keep fighting to improve the lives of all Virginians.”