The 116th Congress is historically significant. More women than ever joined Congress. In fact, women make up nearly one-quarter of the newest Congress. Our latest poster presents a visual history of women in Congress.
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First, let’s take a look at some basics. Congress is the branch of the government that makes laws. Members of Congress work in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. The Senate meets in one side of the building and the House of Representatives meets in the other. The Senate has 100 members, two from each state. The House has 435 voting members, assigned to each state based on population.
The sessions of Congress are numbered. The First Congress served from 1789 to 1791. More recently, the 115th Congress served from 2017 to 2019. For over one hundred years, all members of Congress were men.
This changed with the 65th Congress. In 1917, Jeanette Rankin became the first woman to serve in Congress as a representative from Montana. As of 2019, women make up twenty-four percent of Congress.
A Few Key Events Along the Way
1848: The women’s suffrage movement officially begins with the Seneca Falls Convention in New York. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott led the event, and over 300 people were in attendance.
1890: Wyoming becomes the first state in which women can vote. Women had been voting in the territory of Wyoming since 1869. Many western states granted women the right to vote before the nationwide vote, including Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Washington, California, Oregon, Kansas, Arizona, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota, and Oklahoma.
1894: The first women are elected to Colorado’s House of Representatives.
1920: The 19th Amendment is ratified, giving women the right to vote nationwide. The 19th Amendment states:
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
Women in Congress
Jeannette Rankin paved the way for women in Congress when she was elected to the House of Representatives in 1916. Throughout the years, women have represented various regions and have supported an array of viewpoints. Let’s take a look at some of the most memorable women of Congress.
In 1917, Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman to serve in Congress. She was a pacifist who voted against going to war.
Margaret Chase Smith of Maine was a true star in Congress. She served for 32 years.
Patsy Takemoto Mink of Hawaii joined the House in 1965. She was the first Asian American woman and first woman of color to serve in Congress.
In 1968, Shirley Chisholm of New York was elected to the House. She was the first African American woman elected to Congress.
Barbara Jordan of Texas was famous for her public-speaking skills.
Geraldine Ferraro was elected to the House in 1978. She ran for VP in 1984.
Eleanor Holmes Norton represents D.C. as a non-voting delegate. She supports D.C. statehood.
Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois was elected as the first female African American senator in 1992.
Hillary Clinton of New York was elected to the Senate in 2000. She ran for president in 2016.
Nancy Pelosi of California became the first female Speaker of the House in 2007.
Susan Collins of Maine is the most senior Republican woman in the Senate.
Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has become a leading voice in the Democratic Party.
In 2019, Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico became the first Native American women to join Congress.