A quick look at a few of our newly inducted Congresswomen
It’s been more than a century since Jeanette Rankin became the first woman to be elected as a Representative to the U.S. House in 1917. It wasn’t until 1968 that Shirley Anita Chrisholm of New York became the first African-American woman in Congress, and it’s been less than 30 years since we had our first woman of color in the Senate, Carol Moseley Braun.
Only 365 women—over the course of all American history—have ever served as representatives, senators or congressional delegates, a number not large enough to even fill all the seats in the House chamber.
The important thing is that we are moving forward. The 2018 midterm elections prove we are moving forward. As of January 2019, there are 131 women serving in Congress: a record number. Half of all newly elected U.S. Senators elected were women, and a number of landmark elections were won by women of marginalized groups.
Let’s get to know a just few of our new lady champions on Capitol Hill:
Senator Marsha Blackburn became the first woman elected to the Senate by the state of Tennessee when she defeated former governor Phil Bredesen (in spite of the public endorsement of her opponent by the normally apolitical pop sensation Taylor Swift). Her political career prior to joining the 116th Congress has a wide range of accolades starting in her youth; from 1995 to 1998, she acted as executive director of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commision, and her leadership in the Tennessee Senate helped to pass an amendment on the state’s constitution that prohibits a state income tax. Based on her experience as a businesswoman, she expresses a commitment to expanding opportunities for women. A Tea Party Republican, Senator Blackburn is staunch in her beliefs and is admired by many for never swaying.
A former Minnesota lieutenant governor, Senator Tina Smith enters the U.S. Senate with purpose. With an agriculture-based economy in her home state, she focuses much on farming and rural issues, championing solutions such as tax fairness, expansion of broadband internet to rural areas and reducing the cost of education. With only about two weeks in the congressional throes, Senator Smith is already proving to be a vocal and passionate legislator. With her fellow Americans and Minnesotans in mind, she is currently advocating for back pay to be awarded to federal workers who have not received payment during the government shutdown.
Representative, D-New York
Representative Ocasio-Cortez needs no introduction—her sizeable social media following and a slew of near-daily headlines precede her. At only 29, Representative Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest woman to ever be elected to the House of Representatives—and the entire country appears to be fascinated with her, whether they are on her side or on the opposite. Her victory in the Democratic primary is considered the biggest upset of this election cycle. Her feisty attitude and steadfast wild streak has struck some apprehension into the hearts of her colleagues—will her large following and close media attention grant her more leverage than the average freshman legislator? Using her almost magnetic charm, she espouses strong goals: tuition-free higher education, the end of privatized prisons and strong solidarity with Puerto Rico.
When Representative Ilhan Omar was elected to the Minnesota State House, she became the very first Somali American legislator in the country. Now, she is the first Somali American in the United States House of Representatives (and one of the first Muslim women, along with fellow representative Rashida Tlaib). But that’s not all—she won the largest percentage of any vote for a female candidate (at a whopping 78 percent) in the state’s history. Representative Omar’s election also spurred a change in the traditional ban on head covering in the House, which now makes exceptions for religious reasons. With her habit of breaking barriers and her history as an advocate for East African women’s leadership, we’re ready to see what she will accomplish.
Representative, D-New Mexico
Representative Deb Haaland took her oath while garbed in a traditional Pueblo dress, necklace and boots. A member of the Laguna Pueblo people, Haaland (along with Sharice Davis) is one of the first two Native American women to serve in the United States Congress. She previously served as Chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, making her the first Native American woman in the country to chair a state party. Brought up by a mother and father both in the military, Representative Haaland calls for greater veteran benefits, income equality and greater economic mobility for working class families.
Representative, R-West Virginia
Representative Miller is the sole freshman Republican woman in the House of Representatives, where she follows in the footsteps of her father, a 20-year veteran of the same legislative body. A small business owner and bison farmer, Miller focuses on job creation, support for farmers and defense of the second amendment. Publicly endorsed by President Trump, she pledges loyalty to his policies and plans, promising to place immigration and the opioid epidemic as a couple of her top priorities.
Senator McSally served active duty in the Air Force for 22 years, working her way up to the rank of colonel before she retired and went into politics, serving as an Arizona representative to the U.S. House from 2015 to 2019. She is a force to be reckoned with—in 2001, she brought (and won) a lawsuit against the military, challenging a dress code policy for women soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia (McSally v. Rumsfeld). With thousands of flight hours under her belt (including a few hundred combat hours), Senator McSally is sure to bring some intensity to her new position. A moderate Republican, McSally is a member of several groups that focus on centrist policy development and bipartisan cooperation. She and her Democratic colleague Kyrsten Sinema (also newly elected) make up one of the few senatorial teams in the country that consists of two women.
Whatever your manta, whatever your politics, we can all agree that increased representation for women is a step in the right direction. The more we see women in leadership, the more walls come down and doors open—and the more we inspire the next generation of women to step up and have their voices heard.