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Milestones In Politics For American Women

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Updated February 13, 2008


Since 1789, only 2 percent of members of Congress have been women. In the Senate, from 1922-2006, only 33 women have served in the Senate: 20 Democrats and 13 Republicans.

The global average percentage of women in parliments is 17 percent; in the 110th Congress, it is 16 percent. (cite)

As Nancy Pelosi assumes leadership of the US House of Representatives today, the first woman to do so, let's look at other milestones for women in politics in the United States.

Of course, the first milestone is the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. Ratification, 1920.

National Politics

Delaware, Iowa, Mississippi, New Hampshire & Vermont are the only states never to have a woman represent the state in either House of Congress.

  • 1872. Victoria Woodhull ran for president of the United States on the Equal Rights Party ticket.

  • 1917. The first woman elected to the U.S. House of representatives was Jeannette Rankin (R-MT). She served from 1917-1919 and from 1941-42.

  • 1922. The first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate was Rebecca Latimer Felton (D-GA). She served for one day; she was appointed, not elected.

  • 1933. Frances Perkins was the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet; she was Secretary of Labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

  • 1964. Margaret Chase Smith (ME) became the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for president at a major party convention; Sen. George Aiken nominated her at the Republican national convention.

  • 1968. Shirley Chisholm (NY) became the first black women to be elected to Congress.

  • 1976. Barbara Jordan (TX) became the first black women to deliver a keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention.

  • 1981. Sandra Day O'Connor became the first woman on the Supreme Court.

  • 1984. Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro (D-NY) is the first woman on a major party's national ticket; she was selected by Walter F. Mondale as his Vice Presidential running mate.

  • 2007. The first women to lead the House of Representatives is Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).



State Politics

  • 1894. The first women state legislators were three Republicans elected to the Colorado House of Representatives: Clara Cressingham, Carrie C. Holly, and Frances Klock.

  • 1896. Martha Hughes Cannon, a Utah Democrat, was the the first woman state senator.

  • 1924. Bertha K. Landes (R) became acting mayor of Seattle, the first woman to lead a major American city. Two years later, she was elected mayor.

  • 1925. Nellie Tayloe Ross (D-WY) became the nation’s first woman governor. Her two-year term began 15 days before Miriam (Ma) Ferguson (D-TX) became the second woman governor.

  • 2004. Washington is the first state to have a female governor and two female US Senators serving concurrently.



Although America has not had a woman as an elected national leader, other countries have: the Presidents of Finland, Indonesia, Ireland, Latvia ,Panama, the Philippines, Sri Lanka; the Prime Ministers of Bangladesh, Britain, Finland, New Zealand, Peru, Sâo Tom and Príncipe; the Vice Presidents of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Gambia , Palau, Taiwan; and the Governor-Generals of he Bahamas, Canada , Saint Lucia, New Zealand.

In 1995, Sweden became the first country to have an equal number of women and men in ministerial posts. By the end of 2002, Argentina, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Mozambique, the Netherlands Norway, South Africa and Sweden had reached a goal of 30 percent of parliamentary seats being held by women.

New Zealand was the first nation to give women the right to vote (1893).


These factoids are courtesy of the Center for American Women in Politics and Online Women In Politics

Women In 2007

Senate: 16 out of 100
House: 70 out of 435
Governors: 9 out of 50

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