Teresa Hughes, a former Democratic state senator and assemblywoman from the Los Angeles area who was best known for her focus on education during her 25 years in the California Legislature, has died. She was 80.
Hughes, a resident of Castro Valley, Calif., died at a hospital after a sudden illness, said her husband, Dr. Frank Staggers Sr.
A former New York social worker, teacher and school administrator who had grown up in Harlem, Hughes was elected to the state Assembly in a special election in 1975.
She won handily over her Republican opponent in the heavily Democratic 47th District, which included a large part of South L.A. and the cities of Bell, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Downey and Compton.
"I recall the community rallying around her candidacy for the 47th Assembly District," U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who served in the Assembly with Hughes, said in a statement. "They were proud to elect a professional educator committed to expanding opportunities for our community."
When Hughes arrived in Sacramento, she was one of three women in the 120-member Legislature and one of seven blacks. And, according to an Associated Press report, she was the second black woman ever elected to the Legislature.
Among her accomplishments during her 17 years in the Assembly were writing a bill dedicating $800 million in bond money to construct school classrooms and creation of a state School of the Arts.
In 1983, she was chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee when she co-wrote an education bill that set state graduation standards, lengthened the school day and year, raised teacher salaries and standards, and required prospective teachers to pass a basic skills test.
Hughes also wrote a bill that established the California Museum of Afro-American History and Culture within the Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles.
There were 15 women state lawmakers in 1985 when the Joint Rules Committee formally recognized the new bipartisan Caucus of Women Legislators. Hughes, who was the senior woman in the Legislature at the time, was selected to chair the caucus.
Elected to the state Senate in 1992, Hughes represented the 25th District, which stretched from Marina del Rey to Paramount.
Before she was termed out in 2000, she became the first woman and first African American to serve on the Senate Rules Committee.
Her Senate highlights included establishing the Senate Select Committee on College Admission and Outreach and writing a school violence prevention bill that led to the creation of the Task Force on School Safety.
"She was very dedicated to policy-making, and she was a stickler for doing it the right way," said former U.S. Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), a longtime friend of Hughes and a former colleague in the state Senate.
Hughes said in a 2000 interview with the Associated Press that things had improved for women during her time in the Legislature. Not only were there more women, she said, but male legislators "are learning to respect women as equals."
"Most leaders of both houses realize they have to have women in significant leadership spots because their constituents demand it," she said.
Born in New York City on Oct. 3, 1931, Hughes earned a bachelor's degree in physiology and public health from Hunter College, a master's in education administration from New York University and a doctorate in education administration from Claremont Graduate School.
After moving to Los Angeles in 1969 to work on her doctorate, she became an assistant professor of education at Cal State L.A. She also worked briefly as administrative assistant to then-state Sen. Mervyn Dymally.
In 1988, the Los Angeles Unified School District renamed a Cudahy school the Teresa Hughes Elementary School.
In addition to her husband of 30 years, Hughes is survived by her children, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Deirdre Hill and Vincent Hughes, an attorney in New Jersey and New York; three stepchildren, Frank Staggers Jr., Barbara Staggers and Michael Staggers; four grandchildren, eight step-grandchildren; and two step-great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at noon Monday at Holman United Methodist Church, 3320 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles.