Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

Edition for Educators—Firsts for Women in Congress

Patsy Mink approached her congressional career with the the idea that, "You were not elected to Congress, in my interpretation of things, to represent your district, period. You are national legislators."/tiles/non-collection/3/3-30-Mink-pa2013_06_0001b.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Patsy Mink approached her congressional career with the the idea that, "You were not elected to Congress, in my interpretation of things, to represent your district, period. You are national legislators."
“Because there were only eight women at the time who were Members of Congress, [I realized] that I had a special burden to bear to speak for [all women], because they didn’t have people who could express their concerns for them adequately. So, I always felt that we were serving a dual role in Congress, representing our own districts and, at the same time, having to voice the concerns of the total population of women in the country.”
—Representative Patsy Mink of Hawaii

In 1965, Patsy Mink became the first woman of color elected to Congress. An advocate for equal rights as well as many other women’s issues, one of her greatest accomplishments was the passage of the Women’s Education Equality Act, as part of a comprehensive education bill, in 1974. Learn more about Mink and other firsts for women in Congress.

Featured People

Clare Booth Luce of Connecticut
Clare Boothe Luce conquered the political sphere in much the same way that she stormed the publishing industry and elite society—with quick intelligence, a biting wit, and a knack for publicity that, along with her celebrity and beauty, made her a media darling. The Republican leadership selected her as the keynote speaker at the 1944 Republican National Convention, making her the first woman to do so in either party.

Shirley Chisholm/tiles/non-collection/3/3-30-chisholm-2005_181_000.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American woman to run for President when she launched her campaign in 1972, stating, "I am the candidate of the people, and my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history."

Featured Historical Highlights

The First Woman to Speak in the House Chamber
On January 12, 1806, Dorothy Ripley became the first woman to speak in the House Chamber when she delivered a sermon. Ripley preached in the chamber at a time when it was used frequently by itinerant missionaries and clergy from local congregations.

The First Professional Woman Photographer for the U.S. House of Representatives
On April 1, 1972, Dolly Seelmeyer became the first professional woman photographer for the U.S. House of Representatives. Initially hired on a temporary basis, Seelmeyer obtained a permanent position as a House photographer when Congresswoman Lindy Boggs of Louisiana interceded on her behalf by telling Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O'Neill of Massachusetts, “It’s time to have a lady in the House.”

Featured Blog Post

A Committee Chair Huddle
Maybe it was a chance meeting . . . or maybe it wasn’t? On July 23, 1937, House Members Caroline O’Day of New York and Mary Norton of New Jersey met Senator Hattie Caraway of Arkansas in the halls of the U.S. Capitol. What made this spur-of-the-moment meeting unique was that three women chaired three committees simultaneously for the first time in congressional history.

An Impromptu Meeting Between Representatives Caroline O'Day and Mary Norton and Senator Hattie Caraway/tiles/non-collection/8/8-11-text-caraway-oday-norton_lc.xml Image courtesy of Library of Congress From left to right, Senator Hattie W. Caraway of Arkansas, Representative Caroline Goodwin O’Day of New York, and Representative Mary T. Norton of New Jersey meet in the Capitol hallways in July 1937. Each of the three women chaired a congressional committee, a first for Congress.

Feature Objects from the House Collection

Coya Knutson Campaign Button
Next to the familiar symbol of the Capitol, and in patriotic red, white, and blue, this campaign button touts Coya Knutson's position as the first woman to represent Minnesota in Congress. This reference was unusual for a Representative in the 1950s, when most congresswomen sought to minimize the importance of gender.

Gallery Pass
Jeannette Rankin signed this pass just two months after she became the first woman to serve in Congress. For many years, gallery passes were steel engravings like this one, featuring a personification of Liberty.

Featured Oral History

Arva Marie Johnson
Arva Marie Johnson joined the Capitol Police Force in 1974, becoming the first African-American female officer, the first uniformed female officer, and one of only four women on the force at the time. In her interview, Johnson recalled her strategies to combat daily gender inequity; documented the reforms to overturn racial discrimination in the force’s promotion process; and discussed her warm relationships with colleagues and Members of Congress.

This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.