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 had served in Congress—that is 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 could not vote nationally—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.

While women are 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.

Additional Resources