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.32 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 H. Chafe, The Paradox of Change: American Women in the 20th Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); Sara M. Evans, Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America (New York: Free Press, 1989); Nancy F. 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).

Although the field has flourished, it still is marked by significant historiographical gaps, including the underrepresentation of Congresswomen 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.33 New biographies have focused on the most recent generation of women in Congress, including influential figures such as Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug, Barbara Jordan, Pat Schroeder, and Nancy Pelosi.34 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 Starrett Green, Leonor Sullivan, Patsy Mink, and Nancy Landon Kassebaum. One aim of the profiles in this book is to generate interest in future studies of these Congresswomen and in studies of other lesser-known, but significant, individuals, including Representatives Alice Mary Robertson, Ruth Baker Pratt, Kathryn O’Loughlin McCarthy, Vera Daerr Buchanan, and Florence P. Dwyer.

Photograph of Representative Lindy Boggs/tiles/non-collection/I/Intro_10_boggs_pa2011_09_0074a-1.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives Corinne Claiborne (Lindy) Boggs of Louisiana championed economic opportunity for women and minorities. A dedicated space in the Capitol for women Members is now known as the Lindy Claiborne Boggs Congressional Women’s Reading Room.
Recent scholarship 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.35 Political scientists have also demonstrated how ideas about gender in American society have shaped civic institutions, policy decisions, and political participation.36 Finally, several studies have attempted to assess the role of gender in the outcome of elections.37

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 biographical information about Members, pertinent bibliographic references, and information about manuscript collections. It is regularly updated with the latest available information.

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 and Politics in America also were starting points in the research on many former and current women Members in the more recent 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, DC: 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 N. Gertzog’s Congressional Women: Their Recruitment, Integration, and Behavior, second edition (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995).

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

  • Congressional election results from 1920 forward are compiled by the Office of the Clerk and are available online. Michael J. Dubin, United States Congressional Elections, 1788–1997 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 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 three indispensable scholarly compilations: David T. Canon, Garrison Nelson, and Charles Stewart III, Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1789–1946, 4 volumes (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2002); Garrison Nelson, Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1947–1992, 2 volumes (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1993); and Garrison Nelson and Charles Stewart III, Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1993–2010 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2011). For additional committee information, especially subcommittee rosters, the editors consulted the Congressional Directory, a Government Publishing Office (GPO) publication that dates back to the nineteenth 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 1970s may be searched on the website A useful print resource that discusses major acts of Congress is Steven W. Stathis’s Landmark Legislation, 1774–2012: Major U.S. Acts and Treaties (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2014). Floor debates during the scope of this book can be found in the Congressional Record (1873–present), which is available at from 1995 to the present. Bound volumes of the Congressional Record from 1873 to 2015 are available at Citations of the Congressional Record that include an H, S, or E before the page number (H for House, S for Senate, and E for extension of remarks) were pulled from the daily edition of the Record on Congressional Record citations that include only the page number are from the bound volume for that particular session.
  • For print copies of the Congressional Directory, the Congressional Record, the House Journal, and the Senate Journal, consult a federal depository library. A GPO locator for federal depository libraries may be accessed at

Historical newspapers covering the century of women in Congress also informed this study. These include, but are not limited to, 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.

Senator Carol Moseley-Braun sits in front of a microphone/tiles/non-collection/I/Intro_11_moseley_braun_confirmation_hearing_SHO-1.xml Image courtesy of the U.S. Senate Historical Office Senator Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois testifies during her 1999 confirmation hearing to become United States Ambassador to New Zealand. Moseley-Braun, the first African-American woman Senator, also became the first woman to serve on the powerful Senate Finance Committee when a top-ranking Democrat, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, gave up his seat to create a spot for her.
Significant photo research was carried out for the 2007 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). The image repositories used for this project include the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Prints & Photographs Division of the Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 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, DC). 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 current Members were provided by their offices. Current Member offices should serve as the point of contact for persons seeking an official image.

The Historian’s Office thanks the Senate Historical Office for reviewing the profiles of former Senators. The Historian’s Office is greatly indebted to the Office of the Clerk for its support and assistance in producing this edition of Women in Congress. In particular, the Office of Art and Archives provided assistance with images, 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


32See, 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).

33Gretchen 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); James J. Lopach and Jean A. Luckowski, Jeannette Rankin: A Political Woman (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2005); 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 Sylvia Jukes Morris, Price of Fame: The Honorable Clare Boothe Luce (New York: Random House, 2014).

34Joan 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 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Barbara Winslow, Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2013); Leandra Ruth Zarnow, Battling Bella: The Protest Politics of Bella Abzug (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019).

35Jo 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 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Michele L. Swers, Women in the Club: Gender and Policy Making in the Senate (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).

36Sue Tolleson-Rinehart and Jyl J. Josephson, eds., Gender and American Politics: Women, Men, and the Political Process, 2nd ed. (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2005).

37Barbara 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, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2012). 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, meanwhile, attests to the persistent power of gender in electoral politics.