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Women in Congress

  Jeannette RankinSharon Sprung, 2004, Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives

In the early days of the United States women rarely had jobs outside the home, much less in government. In fact, until 1917 no women served in Congress—more than 100 years after the United States became a country. In fact, when Jeannette Rankin of Montana was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1916, women were not allowed to vote yet—that didn’t happen until 1920.

1922 saw the first female Senator, the “grand old woman of Georgia,” Rebecca Latimer Felton. Senator Felton was only the second woman to serve in Congress. Thirty-six women entered Congress between 1935 and 1954. Women played an important role in America during this time, working to provide financial help to citizens during the Great Depression and arguing about America’s role in world affairs during World War II and the Cold War. It was during this time that women began to be viewed more as equals and were, in some cases, appointed to influential committees—such as those in charge of military affairs.

Women were not fully viewed as equals, however, until well after the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. This new generation of women worked to pass the Civil Rights act of 1964, which emphasized equality between men and women. This also led to legislation that created opportunities for women to continue their education and work outside the home.

Today, there are over 90 women in Congress. And while they were finally viewed as equals, no woman had been named to a prominent House Leadership position until Nancy Pelosi of California was named House Minority Whip in 2001. Nancy Pelosi continued to make history when she was named House Democratic leader a little over a year later. However, the history-making did not stop there—she was elected Speaker of the House in 2007.

Women have come a long way since the days of early America. Women have the right to choose whether to get an education, work outside the home or to be a homemaker—or to run for Congress. Since the first woman was elected to Congress in 1916, nearly 250 women have served.

Women have represented 46 of the 50 states in Congress—is your state one?

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