Women in increasing numbers are taking their place on the cutting edge of governmental decisionmaking. When 1985 state legislatures convene, most of them next month, at least 1,087 women senators and representatives will be on hand. That's a gain of 96 over 1984.
Vermont's first woman governor, Democrat Madeleine Kunin, joins Kentucky Democrat Martha Layne Collins among the 50 state chief executives.
The ranks of women lieutenant governors will grow from three to five, with the November election of Democrats Harriett Woods in Missouri and Ruth Meiers in North Dakota. The three current lieutenant governors are Nancy Dick of Colorado, Martha Griffiths of Michigan, and Marlene Johnson of Minnesota. All three are Democrats.
All of the state legislatures, from Maine to Hawaii, will remain male-dominated. But women are expected to become a more powerful force in many of them.
In Oregon, State. Rep. Vera Katz, a Portland Democrat, has been chosen by her peers as speaker of the state's house of representatives, the first woman to hold that post.
The New Hampshire Senate will be led, as it has been for the past two years, by Republican Vesta Roy of Salem.
Besides being a powerful legislative post, the presidency of the Granite State Senate is significant because the state has no lieutenant governor, and the Senate leader automatically becomes governor if the executive chair becomes vacant.
Other women legislators in various states will hold key posts such as majority or minority floor leaders and heads of committees. Democratic State Rep. Mary Chambers, for example, will be her party's floor leader in the 400 -member New Hampshire House.
Women legislators across the United States do not have a common agenda, but they do have common interests, including the ''comparable worth'' pay issue, child abuse, family violence, improved health funding for day care, and better health care.
Speaker-elect Katz of the Oregon House, who won her seventh consecutive term Nov. 6 and was elected to the speakership on the 101st ballot at a caucus of Democratic state representatives, says one of her top priorities will be to work with colleagues to ''raise the legislature's image among Oregonians.''
Texas state Sen.-elect Cyndi Taylor Krier, a San Antonio Republican, will be the only member of her sex in the Lone Star State's upper legislative chamber. She says she wants to be ''known as an effective state senator, and not merely as the only woman in the Senate.''
The GOP conservative, who was an aide to former Texas US Sen. John Tower, suggests that ''women have a lot of talent to contribute and have a responsibility to run for and hold office alongside men.''
Similar views are voiced by second-term New Hampshire state Sen. Susan McLane , a board member of the national Women's Campaign Fund (WCF). The Concord Republican notes that since 1969, when she was first elected to her state's House of Representatives, the number of women state legislators in the nation has more than tripled.
''Even with such gains, there is a long way to go before there is parity between the two sexes in legislatures,'' she adds, noting that more than 85 percent of state lawmakers are men.
Rosalie Whalen, executive director of the National Women's Education Fund, noting that well over half the 1,756 women who ran for state lawmaking seats on this year's ballot were elected, emphasizes that such successes are especially significant. ''It means putting more women on the political ladder, where valuable experience can be gained.''
Most of those women who win higher offices, such as seats in Congress, have come out of state legislatures, she observes.
Stephanie Solien, executive director of the WCF, foresees the current trend continuing as more and more women ''come to recognize that political office is not something beyond them and they can have a very positive role in government.''
Similarly encouraged by the latest gains in legislative woman-power is Judy Goldsmith, president of the National Organization for Women, who views it as ensuring greater visibility and ''more attention to issues of particular importance to women.'' Failure of to gain ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, she contends, has contributed to the election of more women state lawmakers.
Efforts to elect more women to Congress, Ms. Goldsmith notes, have been considerably less successful than those involving seats in state legislatures.
This year 10 women candidates sought election to the US Senate, once referred to as the most exclusive men's club in America. Only one, incumbent Republican Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas, was successful. Since the 100 senators have the luxury of six-year terms, the opportunities for breaking into the ''club'' are much more narrow than in the 435-member House, where each representative has to go back to the hustings every two years.
Although the Democratic Party this year became the first major party to have a woman on its national ticket, with the nomination of US Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro of New York for vice-president, neither party seems to have a corner on attracting and electing women to public office.
Both the nation's two woman US senators - Paula Hawkins of Florida and Mrs. Kassebaum of Kansas - are Republicans. And of the 22 women who will be serving in the new US House of Representatives, including two newcomers, there are 11 from each party.
Women, who next year will make up 14.6 percent of the nation's 7,438 state legislators, include 690 Democrats, 489 Republicans, and 8 independents.
Two years ago women held 13.3 percent of the state lawmaking chairs, with 586 Democrats, 401 Republicans, and 6 independents.
At least 1,151 federal and state elective officials - holdovers as well as those newly elected - are women, according to Deborah Walsh of the Rutgers University-based Center for the American Woman and Politics.
A similar tally two years ago was 100 smaller.
Besides congressional and state legislative seats, women in key elective posts will include two governors, five lieutenant governors, 11 secretaries of state, 11 state treasurers, 1 state auditor, and 1 attorney general.
The latter, Arlene Violet, a Rhode Island Republican and former Roman Catholic nun, is the first woman ever elected a state attorney general anywhere in the nation.
Women office seekers also have increasingly made their mark at the municipal and county government levels. In excess of 17,000, more than three times the number a decade ago, now serve as mayors, on city councils and school boards, and in other posts.
Of the 44 states that held legislative elections last month, the number of women lawmakers increased in 25, remained the same in 6, and lost ground slightly in 13. The largest gain was 20 in New Hampshire, from 115 to 134 in the 40-seat House and from 6 to 7 in the 24-seat Senate. In the 180-member Vermont Legislature, there will be 49 women, 17 more than in the previous legislature.
Other notable increases: from 16 to 24 in Idaho, from 23 to 30 in Kansas, from 26 to 33 in Massachusetts, from 28 to 35 in Washington, and from 17 to 23 in Iowa.
The biggest loss of female representation was in Hawaii, where the number slipped from 17 to 13.
With the election of Mrs. Krier to the Texas Senate, all but three of the 99 state legislative chambers - the senates in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Virginia - will have at least one woman member. And none of these states elected state legislators this year.