Introduction for EducatorsTable of ContentsUpdates & Latest AdditionsLearning Pathway: Black Lives MatterLearning Pathway: Influential WomenLearning Pathway: Student RightsLearning Pathway: Election 2020Learning Pathway: Current Events Learning Pathway: Critical Media Literacy and Civic LearningTeacher-Designed Learning PlansTopic 1. The Philosophical Foundations of the United States Political System1.1. The Government of Ancient Athens1.2. The Government of the Roman Republic1.3. Enlightenment Thinkers and Democratic Government1.4. British Influences on American Government1.5. Native American Influences on U.S. GovernmentTopic 2. The Development of the United States Government2.1. The Revolutionary Era and the Declaration of Independence2.2. The Articles of Confederation2.3. The Constitutional Convention2.4. Debates between Federalists and Anti-Federalists2.5. Articles of the Constitution and the Bill of RightsTopic 3. Institutions of United States Government3.1. Branches of the Government and the Separation of Powers3.2. Examine the Relationship of the Three Branches3.3. The Roles of the Congress, the President, and the Courts3.4. Elections and Nominations3.5. The Role of Political PartiesTopic 4. The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens4.1. Becoming a Citizen4.2. Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens and Non-Citizens4.3. Civic, Political, and Private Life4.4. Fundamental Principles and Values of American Political and Civic Life4.5. Voting and Citizen Participation in the Political Process4.6. Election Information4.7. Leadership and the Qualities of Political Leaders4.8. Cooperation Between Individuals and Elected Leaders4.9. Public Service as a Career4.10. Liberty in Conflict with Equality or Authority4.11. Political Courage and Those Who Affirmed or Denied Democratic Ideals4.12. The Role of Political Protest4.13. Public and Private Interest Groups, PACs, and Labor UnionsTopic 5. The Constitution, Amendments, and Supreme Court Decisions5.1. The Necessary and Proper Clause5.2. Amendments to the Constitution5.3. Constitutional Issues Related to the Civil War, Federal Power, and Individual Civil Rights5.4. Civil Rights and Equal Protection for Race, Gender, and Disability5.5. Marbury v. Madison and the Principle of Judicial Review5.6. Significant Supreme Court DecisionsTopic 6. The Structure of Massachusetts State and Local Government6.1. Functions of State and National Government6.2. United States and Massachusetts Constitutions6.3. Enumerated and Implied Powers6.4. Core Documents: The Protection of Individual Rights6.5. 10th Amendment to the Constitution6.6. Additional Provisions of the Massachusetts Constitution6.7. Responsibilities of Federal, State and Local Government6.8. Leadership Structure of the Massachusetts Government6.9. Tax-Supported Facilities and Services6.10. Components of Local GovernmentTopic 7. Freedom of the Press and News/Media Literacy7.1. Freedom of the Press7.2. Competing Information in a Free Press7.3. Writing the News: Different Formats and Their Functions7.4. Digital News and Social Media7.5. Evaluating Print and Online Media7.6. Analyzing Editorials, Editorial Cartoons, or Op-Ed Commentaries

Leadership Structure of the Massachusetts Government

Standard 6.8: Leadership Structure of the Massachusetts Government

Explain the leadership structure of the government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the function of each branch. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T6.8]

Great Blue Hill
Photo of the Great Blue Hill in Milton, Massachusetts (2009), by Swampyank, Public Domain

Massachusetts is an Algonquin Indian word which roughly translates to large hill place or at the great hill.” This refers to the Great Blue Hill in Milton, Massachusetts - an ancient volcano last active over 400 million years ago (History of Massachusetts Blog, December 2, 2015). The names of the state’s 14 counties were borrowed from places in England (Where Did Massachusetts Counties Get Their Names? from MassLive).

The state’s population in July 2019 was estimated at 6.8 million people, 16.5% over age 65 (slightly more than the national average) and 19.8% younger than 18 (somewhat less than the national average). About 16.5% of the state’s residents are foreign-born (higher than the national average). Median household income was $77,378 compared with $60,293 nationwide; 10% of the population were living in poverty, less than the national average of 11.8%. 90.1% of Massachusetts households have a computer; 84.7% have broadband subscriptions (Anderson, 2020).

The state government's legislative, executive, and judicial structure is similar to the three branches of the nation's federal government. Importantly, Massachusetts has had many history-making political milestones which have made its government more representative of all genders and races. Going forward, with millions of people living in a geographically small area, that state's government faces enormous challenges.  One of those challenges - how can state government promote greater equity in jobs and careers for women and men - is at the center of how democracy in the 21st century.

    1. INVESTIGATE: The Structure of Massachusetts Government

    Massachusetts is one of four states that are legally called a “commonwealth” - Kentucky, Virginia, and Pennsylvania are the others. There is no real difference between a commonwealth and a state. All have a structure similar to the federal government with three co-equal branches - executive, legislative and judicial - that check and balance each other.

    Executive Branch

    The executive branch is made up of the Governor, the governor's cabinet, the state treasurer, the state auditor, the attorney general, the state comptroller, and the state secretary. 


    The Governor's Cabinet

    The Attorney General

    Treasurer and Receiver General


    Legislative Branch

    The legislative branch is made up of the State Senate and House of Representatives: 

    Judicial Branch

    The judicial branch is made up of the Supreme Judicial Court, the Appeals Court, and the Trial Court. The Appeals Court and the Trial Court are appointed by the Governor.

    In some states, judges are elected by the voters, but in Massachusetts they are appointed by the Governor with advice and consent of the Governor's Council. Judges have a lifetime appointment with a mandatory retirement age of 70. You can learn more at How a Judge is Selected in Massachusetts.

    Media Literacy Connections: Campaigning for State Office on Social Media

    In Massachusetts, like most states, voters elect people to multiple positions in state government, including: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of the Commonwealth (or Secretary of State), Attorney General, Treasurer, Auditor, Governor's Council Member, State Senator, and State Representative. They do not elect judges who are appointed. You can learn more at Who Are My Elected Officials? In some states, people can also elect State Supreme Court Justices.

    Social media has become a powerful tool for candidates running for political offices. One recent study demonstrated that new political candidates (those running for office for the first time) can receive substantial boosts in financial donations and public recognition using Twitter as a campagin marketing tool (Petrova, Sen, & Yildirim, 2020). The advantages of social media for political candidates are clear: Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites are: 1) free to use and 2) can reach large numbers of potential voters - both essential for successful election campaigns.

    Imagine that you have decided to run for a political office in your state's government. Since considerable amounts of time and money are involved in traveling the state and meeting voters face-to-face, you have decided to do most of your campaigning online. How will you do this?

    In this activity, you will develop a digital or paper and pencil prototype of an online political campaign for a state political office.

    Suggested Learning Activity

    Online Resources for the Structure of Massachusetts Government

    2. UNCOVER: Milestones or "Firsts" in Massachusetts History and Politics

    Massachusetts has had many historical firsts, including:

    Boston Common
    The Boston Common by Winslow Homer, 1858, Boston Public Library, Public Domain

    Massachusetts state government also has had many important historical firsts and key achievements for women and people of color (see Table 6.8 below).

    Why are "firsts" important? When asked in an interview what gave him the energy, inspiration and power to keep pushing back in a hostile political and racial climate, James A. Banks, the first Black professor in the College of Education at the University of Washington said, "what really kept me going was a belief in the possibilities" (University of Washington Magazine, December 2018, para 6). Banks was a pathfinder who, in his words, believed in the importance of "decisive action to move us toward justice" (para. 10).

    Importantly, those firsts are still happening in 2021. Rachael Rollins was the first woman of color to serve as a District Attorney in Massachusetts and in July 2021 was nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as the United States Attorney for Massachusetts. According to Neidig (2021), even though "Rollins has served as a federal prosecutor in the past, her appointment is notable given her advocacy on criminal justice reform and, if confirmed, she will become the first Black woman to fill the Massachusetts U.S. attorney role" (para. 3). 

    Table 6.8 Diversity Milestones in Massachusetts History and Politics

    First African American Men Elected to the Massachusetts Legislature

    Edward Garrison Walker and Charles Lewis Mitchell (1866)

    First African American Woman Elected to the Massachusetts House

    Doris Bunte (1973)

    First African American Man Elected to the Massachusetts Senate

    Bill Owens (1975)

    First Hispanic Man Elected the Massachusetts Legislature

    Nelson Merced (1988)

    First Hispanic Woman Elected the Massachusetts Legislature

    Cheryl Coakley-Rivera (1999)

    First LGBT Candidate Elected  the Massachusetts Legislature

    Elaine Noble (1975)

    Suggested Learning Activities

    • Research
      • Expand upon Table 6.8 by adding a list of other firsts for Massachusetts government and politics. Here are three more examples to get your started:
        • First African American Elected to the United States Senate: Edward Brooke (1966)
        • First African American Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court:  Roderick L. Ireland (2010)
        • First African American Woman Elected to the United States House of Representatives: Ayanna Pressley (2018)

    • Design a Firsts eBook for Your State
      • Create a class eBook (on Book Creator or Google Docs) about milestones in your state's history and politics.
      • Each student can select a milestone and create a multimodal, interactive (e.g., hyperlinks, embedded media) page or chapter to add to the collaborative class book.
    • Analyze Media Coverage of “Firsts”
      • How did the media cover the “firsts”?
      • How did the media influence what happened?

    3. ENGAGE: How Can Society Eliminate Gender Gaps in Wages and Jobs?

    In 1945, Massachusetts became the first state to pass an Equal Pay Law mandating that women be paid the same as men when doing the same job. That law was updated in 2018 with the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act. Today, most states have laws against wage discrimination based on gender—only Alabama and Mississippi do not have equal pay laws.

    Equal Work Flyer
    It’s time for equal pay for equal work (Gillibrand, 2020), by Kristen Gillibrand for President, Public Domain

    Still a gender pay gap exists across most occupations and industries in this country.  Women make less money than men, often much less—on average 82 cents for every dollar made by men (The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap). In 2019, 26 of the 30 highest paying jobs were male-dominated; 23 of the 30 lowest paying jobs were female-dominated (Women in Male-Dominated Industries and Occupations: Quick Take, Catalyst, February 5, 2020).

    Equal Pay Day is the day in a year that women must work until they earn what men earned the previous year. Equal Pay Day for all women in 2019 was June 10; for Black women it was August 22.

    Suggested Learning Activity

    • Design a Public Policy Initiative
      • What else must be done besides equal pay laws to eliminate gender gaps in wages and jobs?
      • Develop a short video or podcast explaining your proposal for action

    Online Resources for Equal Pay Laws

    Standard 6.8 Conclusion

    Massachusetts has a system of government like the other states in the United States. INVESTIGATE outlined the structure of the state’s legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. UNCOVER presented milestones in Massachusetts government, many of which opened the way for wider transformations in politics throughout the nation. ENGAGE asked what steps state government can and should take to eliminate gender gaps in wages and jobs.