Historical Highlights

The First Woman to Address a House Committee

January 11, 1871
The First Woman to Address a House Committee Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
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On this date, Victoria Woodhull became the first woman to address a House committee. Woodhull was one of the more colorful suffrage figures of the era: an advocate of free love, the first woman stockbroker on Wall Street, a self-proclaimed “medical clairvoyant,” and the first woman presidential candidate, nominated by the Equal Rights Party in 1872. Wealthy, forthright, and persuasive, she spent several months in the capital city agitating for woman suffrage, and convinced the Judiciary Committee's Benjamin Butler—a high-ranking, Massachusetts Republican who would later chair the panel—to allow her to deliver her “Woodhull memorial” in person. Flanked by suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Isabella Beecher Hooker, Woodhull declared before the committee that the 14th and 15th Amendments implicitly granted women the right to vote. She believed that “whereas, the continuance of the enforcement of . . . local election laws, denying and abridging the Right of Citizens to Vote on account of sex, is a grievance to your memorialist and to various other persons” that the committee should draft legislation granting women the vote. Only Butler and Representative William Loughridge, an Iowa judge, supported the proposal. Their minority report recommended the House confirm and uphold the right of women to vote. The committee, however, overwhelmingly voted to table the request. For several weeks after Woodhull's testimony suffragists descended on Capitol Hill, according to the New York Times, setting up headquarters in a room belonging to the House Committee on Education. In early February, the House rejected an appeal by Woodhull to use the chamber to deliver a suffrage address. Women nationally were not granted suffrage until the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

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Since 1917, when Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman to serve in Congress, more than 300 women have followed. Women in Congress documents their service.

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