There are now 127 women serving in Congress, meaning almost one in four U.S. federal lawmakers is female. That’s far, far short of representative—women make up about 51 percent of the population—but it is the highest number in American history.
So it’s fitting that, during Women’s History Month, we take a look at how far American women have come and how far there is to go.
In the House, 102 women now serve, including 89 Democrats and 13 Republicans. They make up about 23 percent of the chamber. In the Senate, 25 women now serve, including 17 Democrats and 8 Republicans. They make up 25 percent of the chamber.
These lawmakers represent the latest in a long line of female legislators who have been working to increase gender equality in Congress for more than 100 years.
A 100-Year March
The gains women have made stretch over a century.
- 1916. Jeannette Rankin, a Republican from Montana, became the first woman elected to Congress.
- 1922. Rebecca Latimer Felton, a Georgia Democrat, became the first woman appointed to serve in the U.S. Senate. She served only one day.
- 1932. Hattie Caraway, an Arkansas Democrat, becomes the first woman elected to serve in the U.S. Senate.
- 1965. Patsy Mink, a Democrat from Hawaii, became the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress.
- 1968. Shirley Chisholm, a New York Democrat, became the first African-American woman elected to Congress.
- 1978. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, a Kansas Republican, becomes the first woman elected to a full senate term without her husband serving in Congress.
- 1992. Carol Moseley Braun, an Illinois Democrat, becomes the first African-American woman elected to serve in the Senate.
- 1999. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, becomes the first openly gay woman to serve in Congress.
- 2007. Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, becomes the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House, a role she held until 2011. This year, she was again handed the Speaker’s gavel after Democrats took control of the House.
However, much of that progress has taken place in the last three decades. In the House, 325 women have served since 1916, but 63 percent did so since 1992, according to the Pew Research Center. In the Senate, 56 women have served throughout American history, and more than half did so since 2000.
Still Making History
Of course, that march continues. The 2018 elections saw the first native American women in Congress, the first Muslim women in Congress, the first openly bisexual Senator and the youngest woman to serve in Congress.
Many incumbents are still breaking ground as well. Representative Marcy Kaptur, an Ohio Democrat, joined the House in 1983 and is still serving, making her tenure the longest of any woman in the chamber. She could one day surpass Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who served five terms each in the House and the Senate, making her the longest-serving woman in Congress at more than 40 years. She retired in 2017.
Of course, Congress is not the only place where women are making strides in Washington. While the lists of top lobbyists and largest donors are still largely dominated by men, the statistics don’t tell the whole story. Women play major roles in the advocacy world.
A woman chairs the Republican National Committee. Women run major trade groups like the American Beverage Association and the National Restaurant Association and play major roles in public policy and government affairs at powerhouses like Google, Facebook and Apple. A woman founded SevenTwenty Strategies.
Many have called 2018 the Year of the Woman, and expect to see major changes in Congress as the women sworn in this year find their stride. “We can’t knock on anybody’s doors,” said Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at 29. “We have to build our own house.”