Politics

100 Years of Women: Here's How Many Have Served in Congress

A look at the century since Montana's Jeannette Rankin joined the House

Reps. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., right, and Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, with the portrait of Jeannette Rankin of Montana, who was the first woman elected to Congress in 1916, taking office in 1917. An unveiling ceremony for her portrait is shown in this file photo in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress on Sept. 29, 2005. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

When women’s rights advocate Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Republican, was elected to the House of Representatives a century ago, she noted, “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.”

Rankin took office in 1917 — a member of the 65th Congress. Since that time, 281 women have been elected full voting members of the House and 50 have become senators. 

Most women in Congress over the years have been Democrats.

For much of the century, the gains made by women in the House were slow, but steady. In the Senate, representation came in fits and starts. In the 1992 election, the combined membership of women in both chambers jumped from 32 to 54 members. The election came to be known as the Year of the Woman.

 

 

In 2003, California’s Nancy Pelosi took Richard A. Gephardt’s spot as the Democratic leader in the House. In 2007, Pelosi became the first female speaker of the House.

Every state but Mississippi and Vermont has been represented by a woman.

Five states have not sent a woman to represent them in the House. Since becoming a state in 1959, Hawaii has had the largest share of female House members with women accounting for nearly 40 percent of its historical representation in the chamber.

 

In the Senate, women currently make up a slightly higher percentage of the membership, at 21 percent to the House’s 19 percent. But there has yet to be a woman at the helm of either party in the world’s greatest deliberative body, and 21 states have never been represented by a female senator. Since the first woman was elected to the Senate in 1932, Maine has led, with 37 percent of its representation by women. Sixty-two combined years of Senate service came from Maine’s prolific trio of Republicans Margaret Chase Smith (1949-1973), Olympia Snowe (1995-2013) and Susan Collins (1997-present).

 

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