The Honorable Denise Lynn Nappier is a woman of firsts: the first woman elected State Treasurer in Connecticut history, the first African American woman elected State Treasurer in the United States, and the first African American woman elected to any statewide office in Connecticut. As the state’s 82nd Treasurer, Nappier oversees more than $50 billion in state assets, and her innovative and effective leadership has saved Connecticut taxpayers and businesses billions of dollars in the management of the state’s finances. She has also advocated for better corporate governance, work that has resonated throughout the state and the nation. Treasurer Nappier is also known for her commitment to financial literacy education and to making college more affordable for Connecticut students.
Denise Lynn Nappier was born June 16, 1951 in Hartford, Conn., the middle member of the first set of triplets born in the city’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Though varsity sports were not offered for girls in the Hartford Public Schools of the 1960s, the Nappier sisters insisted on competing and found an ally in their physical education teacher, Joella Marshall, whom Denise credits with exposing them to different sports and encouraging them to pursue their talents. All three sisters excelled in gymnastics, track, golf, and cheerleading. Denise Nappier was a natural leader and her drive to make a difference in her community was evident even in her school years. She organized and led a protest for “Culottes Day,” against the school’s dress code and also became a “Dempsey Girl,” joining John Dempsey’s gubernatorial campaign and helping him be re-elected governor in the late 1960s.
After graduating from high school, Nappier went on to earn a B.A. from Virginia State University and a Masters degree in City Planning from the University of Cincinnati. She then returned to Hartford where she took a job as an analyst in the City Manager’s office and consultant with the State Office of Policy and Management. She later served as Executive Director of Riverfront Recapture, a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring Hartford and East Hartford’s access to the Connecticut River and ensuring the public could take advantage of the river’s recreational opportunities.
Nappier was never far from politics, however, remaining a staunch Democrat and even serving as state party co-chair. She first ran for elected office in 1989 for the post of City Treasurer of Hartford. As City Treasurer, Nappier oversaw the Municipal Employees Retirement Fund with assets in access of $950 million. During her 10 years as City Treasurer, she was known as a prudent, conservative investor who grew the fund through innovative and scrupulous management. In 1998, Nappier turned her attention to statewide office and ran for State Treasurer. Her campaign began with little money and no organization, and many believed she would fail. The primary race was tight, with Nappier running against a former mayor and one of her own former supporters. Her campaign pulled out all the stops and her competitive spirit kicked in. This, along with an endorsement from Barbara Kennelly, a gubernatorial candidate in the 1998 election and former Congressional representative, made the difference and Denise Nappier made history.
Winning the election was only the beginning, however, as Treasurer Nappier took over an office that had been racked by a stream of turnovers and corruption. Her predecessor, Paul J. Silvester, had pled guilty to kickbacks and bribes while in office, and it was an uphill battle to improve public confidence in the Office of the State Treasurer. Nappier began by making a policy against investments that included a finder’s fee and continued to institute policies and procedures that ensured integrity, accountability, and transparency. She proposed and helped enact the Treasury Reform Act and changed the way Connecticut does business. Under her guidance, the state’s pension fund reached record levels as did the Short-Term Investment Fund. Her Connecticut Board Diversity Initiative and corporate governance projects have encouraged Connecticut companies and companies all over the nation to improve their diversity and Board accountability. In 2005, she co-chaired a UN summit of U.S. and European institutional investors to find ways to encourage corporations to strategically explore the financial risks and opportunities associated with global climate change.
Nappier has also made improving access to higher education a priority by expanding the Connecticut Higher Education Trust (CHET) program and lowering its fees, helping thousands of families save more money for their children’s college educations. She is also passionate about financial literacy and ensuring that children learn the benefits of saving and the basics of credit from an early age. Treasurer Nappier often visits schools to bring this message and has initiated several statewide programs to help foster what she sees as critical life skills.
Treasurer Nappier has received numerous honorary degrees and innumerable awards. Treasury and Risk Management magazine named her one of the nation’s “100 Most Influential People in Financ” in both 2006 and 2010. She has also received the Pacesetter Award from the National Association of Investment Companies and the Good Housekeeping Award for Women in Government in recognition of her high standards of integrity and ethics. In addition, Nappier has been honored by the Girl Scouts of Connecticut, the National Association of Minority & Women Law Firms, the Hartford College for Women, the National Federation of Democratic Women, the National Political Congress of Black Women, and the Government Finance Officers Association.
Now in her fourth term of office, The Honorable Denise Lynn Nappier continues to use her skills, talents, and drive for excellence to improve the state’s financial position, educate the public about financial literacy, and improve the corporate investment climate in Connecticut and around the nation.
During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice
Feminism in the late 1960s was aided by President Kennedy, who formed the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, and his successor, President Johnson, who backed passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Difficulties in implementing the law through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) led a group of women in 1966 to create the National Organization for Women (NOW), demanding “action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now.”
A younger group called for a more radical approach to social change than simply considering what was possible to achieve politically. “Women’s liberation” demanded freedom without limitation. Some took part in consciousness-raising groups, others demonstrated against the Miss America pageant, and many discussed their expectations of mutual enjoyment of sex. They established rape crisis centers, domestic shelters, and women’s studies programs. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act also increased pressure on universities to hire more women faculty and expand the number of female college athletes. Activist protest among gays and lesbians, such as the Stonewall Riot, symbolized this group’s potential to resist oppression.
Under pressure, many states repealed legislation prohibiting abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized its availability to women in Roe v. Wade. Also in 1973, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the ERA, and states began its ratification.
Yet, dissension arose in the ranks of the movement, as it had earlier after passage of the 19th amendment. Feminists disagreed as to whether pornography should be banned or protected as a form of free speech, and whether lesbian identities should be kept secret or disclosed. Black women were more concerned with poverty and welfare in their communities than with personal career advancement; for them, sterilization abuse was more important than abortion, and they were deeply insulted by attacks on the African American family as matriarchal and dysfunctional.
A backlash was growing in the 1970s, along with a New Right in politics. The ERA was defeated and opposition to abortion increased. Conflicts between pro-life and pro-choice candidates have impacted every presidential campaign since then.
Still, gains have been made in many areas. From 1960 to 2000, increasing numbers of women sought entry to higher education, and bachelor’s degrees awarded to them increased from forty to sixty percent. Definitions of marriage have changed, as when courts gave full rights and responsibilities and the name of marriage to same-sex civil unions in Connecticut in 2008. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 highlighted concern about sexual harassment on the job, and the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the EEOC have increased, as have judgments in favor of the women. Finally, in 2009, women crossed the fifty percent threshold and became the majority of the American workforce. Once largely confined to repetitive manual jobs, now they are running organizations that once treated them as second-class citizens.
The Women’s Movement has changed women’s lives, influenced the economy, and made debate about their roles, family life, and sexual conventions central to national politics and American history.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.