Women in Congress: Historical Essays

Read essays that provide historical context about four distinct generations of women in Congress. Among the topics discussed in each essay are institutional developments, legislative agendas, social changes, and national historical events that have shaped each generation of Congresswomen.

Women in Congress: An Introduction

Women in Congress: An Introduction

Early in the afternoon on May 21, 1919, Representative James Robert Mann of Illinois called up the first measure of the 66th Congress (1919–1921), House Joint Resolution 1. Widely known as the Susan B. Anthony amendment, H.J. Res. 1 was named for one of America’s foremost women’s rights champions.

"I'm No Lady; I'm a Member of Congress," 1917–1934

"I'm No Lady; I'm a Member of Congress," 1917–1934

The era of women in Congress began on April 2, 1917, when Montana’s Jeannette Rankin was sworn in as a Member of the House of Representatives. In August 1920, three months before the 1920 elections, the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote was added to the Constitution. Millions of women voted for the first time that fall.

Onto the National Stage, 1935–1954

Onto the National Stage, 1935–1954

Thirty-six women entered Congress for the first time between 1935 and 1954, a tumultuous two decades that encompassed the Great Depression, World War II, and the start of the Cold War. Women participated in America’s survival, recovery, and ascent to world power in important and unprecedented ways; they became shapers of the welfare state, workers during wartime, and members of the military.

A Changing of the Guard, 1955–1976

A Changing of the Guard, 1955–1976

The third generation of women in Congress—the 39 individuals who entered the House of Representatives and the Senate between 1955 and 1976—legislated during an era of upheaval in America. Overlapping social and political movements during this period encouraged more and more women to enter politics and provided valuable experience for a new group of feminist reformers.

Assembling, Amplifying, and Ascending, 1977–2020

Assembling, Amplifying, and Ascending, 1977–2020

Early in the afternoon on January 4, 2007, Nancy Pelosi of California walked down the center aisle of the U.S. House of Representatives and climbed the few steps to the top of the rostrum amid a roar of applause. Moments earlier, she had been elected the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House.