Abstract Sustained changes in mood or action require persistent changes in neural activity, but it has been difficult to identify and characterize the neural circuit mechanisms that underlie persistent activity and contribute to long-lasting changes in behavior. Here, we focus on changes in the behavioral state of Drosophila females that persist for minutes following optogenetic activation of a single class of central brain neurons termed pC1. We find that female pC1 neurons drive a variety of persistent behaviors in the presence of males, including increased receptivity, shoving, and chasing. By reconstructing cells in a volume electron microscopic image of the female brain, we classify 7 different pC1 cell types and, using cell type specific driver lines, determine that one of these, pC1-Alpha, is responsible for driving persistent female shoving and chasing. Using calcium imaging, we locate sites of minutes-long persistent neural activity in the brain, which include pC1 neurons themselves. Finally, we exhaustively reconstruct all synaptic partners of a single pC1-Alpha neuron, and find recurrent connectivity that could support the persistent neural activity. Our work thus links minutes-long persistent changes in behavior with persistent neural activity and recurrent circuit architecture in the female brain.