Milestones: Women Making History in Congress


In 1916, four years before the 19th Amendment was even passed, Jeanette Rankin (R-MT) became the first woman ever to be elected to the U.S. Congress. This was one of the first major milestones for women in Congress, and it kicked off a long tradition of women making history in the Capitol Building. Take a look at some of these highlights here:

In 1973, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke (D-CA) became the first member of Congress to give birth while serving in office. To date, only ten women can say the same. When reflecting on her experience, Brathwaite said, ““It was unusual for a woman who was in business or an elective office to talk about having family and being able to carry out their duties.” But she did add that her fellow members of Congress were very supportive, and even threw her a shower. More recently, Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) made headlines in 2018 when she had her second child, becoming the first senator ever to give birth while serving.

In 1977, the Congresswomen’s Caucus was formed. The caucus created a more formal bipartisan effort to support legislation that impacted women. It was also a channel to support women elected officials and candidates, expand women’s voices in Congress, and advance women in Congressional leadership positions. The caucus still exists today, and is now referred to as the Congressional Caucus for Women’s issues.

1992 brought the first “Year of the Women” when more women ran for office in the US than ever before. This surge of candidates saw 24 women elected to the House of Representatives, and four women to the Senate. While 1992 broke election records, it also opened the door for legislation that positively impacted women.

In 2007, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) made history when she became the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House, effectively making her the third most powerful person in the country. Notably, before she became Speaker, Nancy Pelosi had already made history in 2001 as the first women House Democratic Whip, and again in 2002 as the first woman House Democratic Leader. On the day she was sworn in as Speaker of the House, Pelosi said:

It is an historic moment for the Congress, and a historic moment for the women of this country. It is a moment for which we have waited over 200 years. For our daughters and granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling. For our daughters and our granddaughters, the sky is the limit, anything is possible for them.

In 2011, the House of Representative made headlines when women members received their first restroom near the Speaker’s Lobby. To some this may not sound like big news, but before 2011 the women in Congress had to travel through the building to use the bathroom – sometimes at the risk of missing a vote, a trek the men never had to make. At the time, Delegate Donna M. Christensen (D-Virgin Islands) took to Twitter to share her thoughts, “The first woman came to Congress in 1917. We are finally getting a ladies rest room near the floor of the House.”

2018 was dubbed the next “Year of the Woman,” or even better, “the year women turned the tide.” During the 2018 elections, 117 women won Congressional races, including 42 women of color and three out LGBTQ women. It also brought many firsts, including the first two Native American women, the first two Muslim women, and the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

All of these historic moments have helped build women’s legacy on Capitol Hill. And if the 2020 elections are any indicator – with more women running for the House than ever before – these milestones and landmarks will only continue in the years to come.

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