Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Women in the United States Senate
There have been 33 women in the United States Senate since the establishment of that body in 1789, meaning that out of the 1,884 Americans who have served in the United States Senate since that time, 1.75 percent of all Senators have been female.
Throughout most of the Senate's history, the body was almost entirely male. Perhaps in keeping with the notion of the Senate as a more "elite" body than the House of Representatives, few women ran for the Senate and even fewer were elected until late in the 20th century, long after women began to make up a significant percentage of the membership of the House. As late as 1992, in fact, only two women (Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland) were serving in the Senate.
This began to change with the election of the 103rd Congress in 1992, which commentators dubbed the "Year of the Woman." Five women were elected to the Senate to join the two already there, significantly diminishing the popular perception of the Senate as an exclusive "boys' club." The taboo having been broken, many more women in both the Democratic and Republican parties began to run for the Senate in subsequent years, and several have been elected since then.
Election, selection and family
Prior to 2001, numerically speaking, the most common way for a woman to ascend to the U.S. Senate was to have been appointed there following the death or resignation of a husband or father who previously held the seat. However, with the election of three women in 2001, the balance shifted: More women have now entered service as a U.S. Senator by winning their seats outright than by being appointed to the body.
Recent examples of the selection side of things include Jean Carnahan and Lisa Murkowski. In 2000, Jean Carnahan (D-MO) was appointed to fill the Senate seat won by her dead husband, Mel Carnahan. Carnahan—even though dead—defeated the incumbent Sen. John Ashcroft, and his widow, in the tradition of the Senate, was named to fill his seat by the Missouri Governor. However, in 2002, she did not win re-election. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), however, was appointed by Alaska's governor (her father) to serve out the remainder of his term in the Senate. Murkowski narrowly defeated her opponent in her re-election bid in 2004.
Two current members of the Senate (Senators Elizabeth Dole and Hillary Clinton) bring with them a combination of name recognition resulting from the political careers of their famous husbands and their own substantial experience in public affairs. The first, Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), is wife to former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, and served as Secretary of Transportation under President Reagan and as Secretary of Labor under President George H. W. Bush. The other, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) is the former First Lady, as well as an accomplished lawyer and writer.
Former female Senators with very famous political family names include Muriel Humphrey (D-MN), the widow of former Senator and U.S. Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. She was appointed to fill out the last year of her deceased husband's Senate term and did not seek reelection when the term ended.
Another famous name, or names, is Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker. Better known by her married name from her first marriage (Kassebaum) Baker is wife now to former Senator Howard Baker (R-TN), whom she married after retiring from the Senate. She is the daughter of former Kansas governor (and presidential candidate) Alf Landon. Kassebaum Baker served the Senate with the distinction of being the first female Senator to be elected to the Senate with no previous Congressional experience (and having not succeeded a dead husband in his seat). Her three terms in the Senate mark her time there as the second-longest tenure (after Margaret Chase Smith) for a woman in the Senate.
Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) arrived in the Senate in 1995, having previously served in the House of Representatives and both houses of the Maine legislature, making her one of the few women (and few men, for that matter) to serve at every legislative level in the United States: both houses of a state legislature, and both houses of the Federal Legislature.
Senator Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) holds several distinctions for women in the US Congress; she served the Senate (to date) longer than any woman has (24 years); she was the first woman ever elected to both the U.S. House and Senate (she was first elected to the House in 1940 after the unexpected death of her husband, who himself was a member of the House of Representatives) and served there for eight years before winning the Senate seat by a landslide; she was the first women to hold a Senate Leadership position; and she also won her 1954 race for Senate in the nation's first ever race pitting two women against each other for a Senate seat.
There are currently 14 women serving in the 100-person body. The Senatorial representation of three states (California, Washington and Maine) is entirely female. California's current two senators (Boxer and Feinstein) are the first two women to be elected to the U.S. Senate in the same election (in 1993) from the same state. Seven of the women (or half of the current female Senators) currently serving as Senators have also been elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives—a distinction once held by only Margaret Chase Smith—Mikulski, Snowe, Boxer, Lincoln, Stabenow, Cantwell and Murkowski.
There were no women serving in the United States Senate from 1789 until 1922 when Rebecca Latimer Felton briefly served, then again from 1922 until 1931, from 1945 until 1948, and finally from 1973 until 1978. Since that time, there has been one or more female Senator in the body.
First concurrent service
The first female U.S. Senators to serve concurrently were Hattie Wyatt Caraway and Rose McConnell Long , in 1936.
The first female U.S. Senators from a single state to serve concurrently were Eva Kelley Bowring and Hazel Hempel Abel of Nebraska, in 1954.
Statistics by state
Women in the United States Senate have represented twenty-two (22) states.
- Maine - 3
- Louisiana - 3
- California - 2
- Washington - 2
- Alabama - 2
- South Dakota - 2
- Nebraska - 2
- Kansas - 2
- Arkansas - 2
- Georgia - 1
- Oregon - 1
- Minnesota - 1
- Florida - 1
- Maryland - 1
- North Dakota - 1
- Illinois - 1
- Texas - 1
- New York - 1
- Michigan - 1
- Missouri - 1
- Alaska - 1
- North Carolina - 1
List of female U.S. Senators
- Rebecca Latimer Felton (Georgia), 1922
- Hattie Wyatt Caraway (Arkansas), 1931–1945
- Rose McConnell Long (Louisiana), 1936–1937
- Dixie Bibb Graves (Alabama), 1937–1938
- Gladys Pyle (South Dakota), 1938–1939
- Vera Cahalan Bushfield (South Dakota), 1948
- Margaret Chase Smith (Maine), 1949–1973
- Eva Kelley Bowring (Nebraska), 1954
- Hazel Hempel Abel (Nebraska), 1954
- Maurine Brown Neuberger (Oregon), 1960–1967
- Elaine S. Edwards (Louisiana), 1972
- Muriel Humphrey (Minnesota), 1978
- Maryon Pittman Allen (Alabama), 1978
- Nancy Landon Kassebaum (Kansas), 1978–1997
- Paula Hawkins (Florida), 1981–1987
- Barbara Mikulski (Maryland), 1987—
- Jocelyn Burdick (North Dakota), 1992
- Dianne Feinstein (California), 1992—;
- Barbara Boxer (California), 1993—;
- Carol Moseley-Braun (Illinois), 1993–1999
- Patty Murray (Washington), 1993—;
- Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), 1993—;
- Olympia Jean Snowe (Maine), 1995—
- Sheila Frahm (Kansas), 1996
- Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), 1997— ;
- Susan Collins (Maine), 1997— ;
- Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas), 1999—;
- Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York), 2001—;
- Deborah Stabenow (Michigan), 2001—;
- Maria E. Cantwell (Washington), 2001—
- Jean Carnahan (Missouri), 2001– 2002
- Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), 2002—;
- Elizabeth Dole (North Carolina), 2003—
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