Women in Congress: An Introduction

Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a suffragist and peace activist, and the first woman to serve in Congress, delivers her first full speech on the House Floor on August 7, 1917. Rankin addressed the need for federal intervention in copper mining during a period of unrest between labor unions and mining companies./tiles/non-collection/w/wic_intro_1_Rankin_first_speech_NARA.xml Image Courtesy of the Center for Legislative Archives, National Archives and Records Administration Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a suffragist and peace activist, and the first woman to serve in Congress, delivers her first full speech on the House Floor on August 7, 1917. Rankin addressed the need for federal intervention in copper mining during a period of unrest between labor unions and mining companies.
Like all history, the story of women in Congress is defined by change over time: From a complete lack of representation in Congress before 1917, women have advanced to party leadership at the start of the 21st century. At times during the near century that women have served in Congress, change has been almost imperceptible, as exemplified by the subtle shift in women’s committee assignments after World War II. At other times, change has been bold and dramatic, as evidenced by the 1992 “Year of the Woman” elections. Several questions, important not only to women’s history in Congress but also to the development of Congress itself, have recurred throughout the process of researching and writing these profiles of U.S. Congresswomen. How have women Members of Congress reacted to the political culture and traditions of Capitol Hill? Have women changed the way Congress conducts its business, or have they modified their behavior to conform with the institution? Have the experiences of the women Senators differed from those of women Representatives and, if so, what might account for these differences? What kinds of experiences do Congresswomen have in common, despite the differences in their legislative styles and political ideologies?

Next Section