Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

A Century of Women in Congress

Congresswomen of both parties meet and pose for a picture in 1979./tiles/non-collection/3/3-21-oralhistory-launch2-announcement.xml Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office Congresswomen of both parties meet and pose for a picture in 1979.
On November 7, 1916, Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman elected to the United States Congress. As with many pathbreakers, Rankin’s accomplishment served as more than a personal triumph or symbolic victory. During her eventful first term in office, she voted against American involvement in World War I, opened debate on a constitutional amendment granting women’s suffrage, sought to protect the rights of workers in her district, and promoted public health initiatives. As the only woman in Congress, Rankin faced close scrutiny, including doubts about her ability to handle the rigors of the job. Nevertheless, she predicted that future elections would usher in concrete gains for women. “I may be the first woman member of Congress,” she observed upon her election. “But I won’t be the last.”

To commemorate the centennial of Rankin’s November 1916 election and April 1917 swearing-in as a U.S. Representative, the Office of the House Historian conducted oral histories with former women Members and staff. The cumulative project, A Century of Women in Congress, provides firsthand accounts of women’s evolving role in the institution. Listen as women describe their diverse pathways to Congress, recall behind-the-scenes details of the legislative process, and chronicle their efforts to achieve power and parity in the House of Representatives. Drawn from decades of congressional experience, the interviews in this ongoing project affirm Rankin’s bold prediction and convey a larger narrative about the transformative role of women in American politics and their contributions to Congress during the past century.

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the election and swearing-in of the first woman in Congress, we will publish a series of blog posts about the early women Members and the changing role of women in the institution. Check back each month through 2017 to see the latest posts.