Women in the 116th Congress

protest sign: the future is female

The Story

More women are serving in Congress than ever before: 127. That includes more than 40 new hires. Many of them were first-time candidates running on Democratic platforms. It’s worth noting: women still only make up less than 30% of Congressional reps. So, progress – but there’s more work to do. Here’s what you need to know about some of the women who helped pave the way:

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
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1866: Elizabeth Cady Stanton is the first woman to run for Congress. She runs as an independent in New York and gets just 24 votes. Yes, she lost.

1916: Jeannette Rankin is first woman elected to Congress
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1916: Rep. Jeannette Rankin (R-MT) is the first woman elected to Congress. She does it on a progressive, suffragist, and anti-war platform – and pushes hard for legislation that would eventually establish the 19th Amendment.

1920: Women get the right to vote
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1920: States ratify the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. A little late, but sure.

1925: Florence Prag Kahn first Jewish woman in Congress
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1925: Rep. Florence Prag Kahn (R-CA) is the first Jewish woman in Congress. While there, she advocates for higher wages for female government employees.

1964: Patsy Mink is first woman of color in Congress
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1964: Rep. Patsy Mink (D-HI) is the first woman of color and Asian-American woman elected to Congress. She sponsors and co-authors Title IX, protecting students from gender-based discrimination.

1968: Shirley Chisholm is first black woman in Congress
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1968: Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) is the first black woman elected to Congress. She’s a founding member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Women’s Caucus.

1989: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is first Hispanic woman in Congress
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1989: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress. She becomes a lead sponsor of legislation protecting victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

1992: Year of the Woman
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1992: The so-called “Year of the Woman.” Outrage over the handling of Anita Hill’s testimony against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas contributes to a wave of women running for office. A record 47 women are elected to the House. The number of women in the Senate triples...from two to six. But hold on to your shoulder pads. Women still make up only around 11% of all Congressional lawmakers.

1998: Tammy Baldwin is first openly gay woman in Congress
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1998: Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is the first openly gay woman elected to Congress. She pushes legislation advocating for equal pay and reproductive health. And later becomes the first openly gay senator.

First woman to be Speaker of the House: Nancy Pelosi
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2007: Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) becomes the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House – the highest-ranking woman in US political history. Her biggest legacy is getting the Affordable Care Act passed in the House.

2018: Record number of women elected to Congress
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2018: Oh heyyy 125 women are elected to Congress, up from 107. That means men make up the other 300+. Let’s go 2020.

Who do I need to know?

Incoming female lawmakers to watch 2018
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The history-makers: last year, Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) became the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Debra Haaland (D-NM) and Sharice Davids (D-KS) are the first Native American women. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is the youngest congresswoman ever. There are also some statewide firsts, like Marsha Blackburn (R), the first female senator from Tennessee. And Ayanna Pressley (D), the first black woman to rep Massachusetts. Here are some other people who made history.

What’s next?

2018 was a big milestone for getting women into office. But clearly, there’s still a long way to go. If you’re thinking about running for office, do it. Orgs like EMILY’s List work on getting pro-choice, female Dems into office. Winning for Women is trying to elect female Republicans. She Should Run is non-partisan – and aims to get 250,000 women to run for office by 2030. If running’s not your thing, no worries – there are so many ways to get involved.


It’s been almost 100 years since women got the right to vote. Women make up a little more than half of the US population but are still extremely underrepresented in government. We’ve got work to do.


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