Researching the Topic of Women in Congress 

The literature on women’s history, which has grown into one of the most dynamic fields in the historical profession, has largely been created since the 1970s.29 The editors consulted several useful general texts on women’s history, including Rosalind Rosenberg, Divided Lives: American Women in the Twentieth Century (New York: Hill and Wang, 1992); William Chafe, The Paradox of Change: American Women in the Twentieth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); Sarah Evans, Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America (New York: Free Press, 1989); Nancy Cott, The Grounding of Modern Feminism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987); and Nancy Woloch, Women and the American Experience, fifth edition (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011).

Eleanor Roosevelt and Clare Boothe Luce/tiles/non-collection/W/WIC_intro_22_Luce_Roosevelt_NARA.xml Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (left), a Democrat, and Representative Clare Boothe Luce of Connecticut, a Republican, were leading women within their respective political parties. Roosevelt promoted the political careers of women in government, including Congress, during her husband Franklin’s four terms as U.S. President. Luce, a national celebrity before she won election to the House in 1942, was a prominent critic of the Roosevelt administration’s wartime policies.
Though the field has flourished in recent years, it still is marked by significant historiographical gaps, including the underrepresentation of congressional women in the secondary literature. Biographies have focused on the lives of some of the most famous women in Congress, such as Jeannette Rankin, Margaret Chase Smith, Clare Boothe Luce, Coya Knutson, and Ruth Hanna McCormick.30 New biographies have focused on the most recent generation of women in Congress, including influential figures such as Shirley Chisholm, Pat Schroeder, and Nancy Pelosi.31 However, many prominent legislative figures have not been the subject of thorough biographical treatments, including Edith Nourse Rogers, Florence Kahn, Katharine St. George, Martha Griffiths, Julia Butler Hansen, Edith Green, Leonor Sullivan, Patsy Mink, and Nancy Kassebaum. One aim of these profiles is to generate interest in future studies of these Congresswomen and in studies of other lesser-known, but significant, individuals, including Representatives Alice Robertson, Ruth Pratt, Kathryn O’Loughlin McCarthy, Marguerite Stitt Church, Vera Buchanan, and Florence Dwyer.

Bella Abzug Campaign Poster/tiles/non-collection/W/WIC_intro_23_Abzug_LC.xml Image courtesy of the Library of Congress A campaign poster for Bella Abzug of New York. Abzug, who served three terms from 1971 to 1977, was one of the institution’s more outspoken women legislators.
Recent scholarship in political science has placed women at the center of several analyses of the political process, examining the ways women in Congress have accumulated political power, influenced policy debates, and negotiated a measure of equality and respect in each chamber.32 Political scientists have also demonstrated the ways institutions, policy decisions, and political participation have been shaped by ideas about gender in American society.33 Finally, several studies have attempted to assess the role of gender in the outcome of elections.34

Several sources were indispensable in researching and writing Women in Congress. Any inquiry into a Member’s congressional career should begin with the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress at Maintained by the Office of the House Historian and the Senate Historical Office, this publication is easily searchable and contains basic biographical information about Members, pertinent bibliographic references, and information about manuscript collections. It is updated daily with the latest available information.

Virginia Jenckes Holding Commemorative Plaque/tiles/non-collection/W/WIC_intro_24_JenckesPlaque_HC.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Virginia Jenckes of Indiana’s personal relationship with President Franklin Roosevelt could be frosty, but in 1933 she led an effort, complete with commemorative plaque, to organize support for the administration’s early New Deal programs.
In the early phase of research, the editors also consulted standard reference sources such as the American National Biography, the Dictionary of American Biography, and Current Biography. Various editions of The Almanac of American Politics (Washington, D.C.: National Journal, Inc.) and Politics in America (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press) also were starting points in the research on many former and current women Members in the post-1977 period. For biographical sketches of women in Congress from 1917 to 1973, the editors used Hope Chamberlin’s A Minority of Members: Women in the U.S. Congress (New York: Praeger, 1973). However, this book lacks footnotes. Karen Foerstel’s Biographical Dictionary of Congressional Women (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999), features brief profiles but includes endnotes and contains information through the 1998 elections. Marcy Kaptur’s Women of Congress: A Twentieth-Century Odyssey (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1996) is a useful study with extended profiles of roughly a dozen prominent House and Senate women. An invaluable study of changing patterns among Congresswomen is Irwin Gertzog’s Congressional Women: Their Recruitment, Integration, and Behavior (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995).

Much of the information for this publication was researched using primary sources particularly, published official congressional records, and scholarly compilations of congressional statistics. These include:

  • Congressional election results for the biennial elections from 1920 forward are available in the Clerk’s “Congressional Elections” published by the Government Publication Office (GPO) or available online at Michael J. Dubin et al., United States Congressional Elections, 1788–1997 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company Publishing, Inc., 1998) contains results for both general and special elections. For information on district boundaries and reapportionment, the editors relied on Kenneth C. Martis, The Historical Atlas of Political Parties in the United States Congress, 1789–1989 (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1989).
  • Committee assignments and information about jurisdiction may be found in two indispensable scholarly compilations: David T. Canon, Garrison Nelson, and Charles Stewart III, Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1789–1946, 4 volumes (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2002) and Garrison Nelson, Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1947–1992, 2 volumes (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1994). In addition, the editors consulted the Congressional Directory, a GPO publication that dates back into the 19th century. The directory is available from the 105th Congress forward at
  • Legislation, floor debates, roll call votes, bills, resolutions, and public laws back to the 1980s may be searched on the website at A useful print resource that discusses major acts of Congress is Steven V. Stathis’s Landmark Legislation, 1774–2012: Major U.S. Acts and Treaties (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2014). Floor debates about legislation can be found in the Congressional Record (1873–present), which is available at from 1995 to the present. An index of the Record from 1983 to the present is available at The editors also consulted the official proceedings in the House Journal and the Senate Journal. For House roll call votes back to the second session of the 101st Congress, visit the House Clerk’s website at
  • For print copies of the Congressional Directory, the Congressional Record, the House Journal, or the Senate Journal, consult a federal depository library. A GPO locator for federal depository libraries may be accessed at The editors were able to review key historical newspapers for the entire span of women’s participation in Congress. These include the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Wall Street Journal. News accounts and feature stories, particularly on the first generation of women in Congress, have done much to fill in the details about some of the more obscure women Members.

Bella Abzug Supersisters Card/tiles/non-collection/W/WIC_intro_25_AbzugSupersistersCard_HC.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Bella Abzug, feminist and civil rights advocate, gained fame as one of the more provocative House Members during the 1970s. She and other notable congresswomen were included in a series of trading cards that fit well with Abzug’s outsized personality.
Significant photo research was carried out for the 2006 edition of Women in Congress, and many of the images in that print publication are replicated here. The editors strove to provide accurate information for all images that are accessible from public, private, and commercial repositories (with the expectation that researchers and the general public might wish to acquire photo reproductions). Among the major photo collections that were used for this project were the Prints & Photographs Division of the Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.), the Still Pictures Branch of the National Archives and Records Administration (College Park, MD), and the Washington Star Collection of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library’s Washingtoniana Division (Washington, D.C.). The editors also referenced a half dozen Members’ manuscript collections to locate images for publication. Most of the profile images are provided by the Clerk’s Office of Art and Archives and are a part of the collection of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Senate Historical Office provided photographs of Senators. Images of the current Members were provided by their offices. Current Member offices should serve as the point of contact for persons seeking an official image.

The editors thank the Office of the Clerk for its support and assistance in producing the eBook edition. In particular, the Office of Art and Archives provided assistance with image credits and captions and the Office of Communications copyedited and designed the final publication.

Next Section: I'm No Lady; I'm a Member of Congress


29See, for example, Linda Gordon’s historiographical essay “U.S. Women’s History” in The New American History, ed. Eric Foner (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997).

30Gretchen Urnes Beito, Coya Come Home: A Congresswoman's Journey (Los Angeles: Pomegranate Press, 1990); Eric R. Crouse, An American Stand: Senator Margaret Chase Smith and the Communist Menace, 1948-1972 (Lanham, MD.: Lexington Books, 2010); Lopach and Luckowski, Jeannette Rankin; Kristie Miller, Ruth Hanna McCormick: A Life in Politics, 1880-1944 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992); Sylvia Jukes Morris, Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Boothe Luce (New York: Random House, 1997) and Price of Fame: The Honorable Clare Boothe Luce (New York: Random House, 2014).

31Joan A. Lowy, Pat Schroeder: A Woman of the House (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2003); Ronald M. Peters, Jr., and Cindy Simon Rosenthal, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the New American Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); Barbara Winslow, Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change (Boulder: Westview Press, 2014).

32Jo Freeman, We Will Be Heard: Women’s Struggles for Political Power in the United States (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008); Debra L. Dodson, The Impact of Women in Congress (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Michele L. Swers, Women in the Club: Gender and Policy Making in the Senate (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).

33Sue Tolleson-Rinehart and Jyl J. Josephson, eds., Gender and American Politics: Women, Men, and the Political Process, 2nd ed. (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2005).

34Barbara Burrell, Gender in Campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2014); Kathleen Dolan, When Does Gender Matter? Women Candidates and Gender Stereotypes in American Elections (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); Kelly Dittmar, Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2015); Barbara Palmer and Dennis Simon, Women in Congressional Elections: A Century of Change (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2012). Barbara Burrell and Dolan claim that gender bias no longer plays a significant role in shaping the outcomes of elections. Women candidates are more likely to be judged by partisan concerns rather than preconceived notions about gender in American society. Dittmar’s study attests to the persistent power of gender in electoral politics.