December 3, 2010 •
Highlighted Site of the Week – Women in Congress
I did an informal survey here at our office and asked: “Do you you know when the first woman was elected to U.S. Congress?” The answers ranged from “I have no idea” to “sometime in the 1960’s.” To be honest, I wasn’t sure either and that bothered me. Something that important is something I should know, so I found a great Web site called Women in Congress. Hosted by the U.S. Office of the Clerk, Women in Congress charts the progress of women from having no representation prior to 1917, to having a Speaker of the House of Representatives exactly 90 years later.
In 1917, Jeannette Rankin was the first woman to be elected to Congress. A Republican from Montana, Rankin was an activist for the woman suffrage movement and she was a pacifist – she was the only representative to vote against the United States’ entry into both World War I and World War II. “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last,” Rankin said when she was elected.
Rebecca Latimer Felton was the first U.S. Senator, serving in 1922 at age 87 years. She was described as “outspoken, determined, and irascible!”
Every one of the bios in Women in Congress has an important story to tell. “Battling Mary” Norton, who served from 1925 to 1951, fought for the rights of the working class. Norton personally campaigned to get the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 out onto the floor for a vote, and it passed. The law set a minimum wage of 25 cents an hour, established the 40 hour work week, and outlawed child labor (can you imagine). What a heroic woman. She said, “I’m prouder of getting that bill through the House than anything else I’ve done in my life.”
Barbara Jordan was a Democratic Representative from Texas from 1973 to 1979. A leader in the Civil Rights movement, Jordan suffered from multiple sclerosis. She championed the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 and the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Many will remember seeing her on television giving a powerful speech before the House Judiciary Committee supporting the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.
Women in Congress offers historical essays, fascinating artifacts, and lots of educational resources. Now everyone can become an expert on the role women in Congress. I know I have no excuse!
Photos Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
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