Martha McSally – First in Combat

AP Photo

AP Photo

After the election earlier this fall, Republican Martha McSally was ahead of her competitor Democrat Ron Barber, the current representative, by less than 200 votes. A recount was conducted and, six weeks later, McSally was still ahead—by 167 votes. Her opponent conceded, and she will represent Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District in the next Congress.

McSally is a retired Air Force with two impressive military firsts:

–the first woman to fly in combat

–the first woman to command a fighter squadron

Although these are impressive, even more impressive is her battle against the military hierarchy. She filed a lawsuit that forced the Pentagon to end the requirement that U.S. servicewomen cover themselves in traditional Islamic clothing while off-base in Saudi Arabia.

Election History for First Woman To. . .2014

JONI ERNSTIt’s hard to believe it took until 2014, but Iowa just elected its first woman to serve in Congress. Joni Ernest won her seat by casting herself as a “farm girl” who was comfortable castrating pigs.


In Utah, Mia Love was the first black female Republican elected to the House—ever, in the history of the Republican Party. She will be part of the 10% of Republicans in the Congress who are women.


ELISE STEFANIKWhen Elise Stefanik was elected to Congress this week, she became the youngest woman ever elected, making her the first female thirty-year old to serve. The record for the youngest female member of the House was held previously by Democrat Elizabeth Holtzman, who was 31 when she was sworn in. Her record has stood since 1979.

Also this week, the President nominated Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General of the United States. If she obtains the post she will be the first African-American woman to hold the post, following the first African-American man to serve as Attorney General.

A man also made The First Woman To. . .history book this week.

In 2012 Scott Brown ran for the US Senate in Massachusetts and lost to Elizabeth Warren.ELIZABETH WARREN


This year he ran for the US Senate in New Hampshire and lost to Jeanne Shaheen.JEANNE SHAHEEN


As Emily’s List celebrated in an email. “Scott Brown made feminist history. He lost two Senate races in two states to Democratic women. That’s pretty awesome.”


Please note: The photos for the new representatives were taken from their official campaign websites; photos for the senators are from their official senate websites.


Barbara Jordan – People’s Representative

“There was simply something about her that made you proud to be a part of the country that produced her.” [Former Texas governor Ann Richards]

BARBARA JORDAN         Barbara Jordan was the first African American woman to address the Democratic National Convention, but she started on the path to this accomplishment early. In high school she was an award-winning debater and continued excelling as an orator in college, graduating magna cum laude.

After three tries (and some re-districting in Texas), Barbara Jordan was elected to the Texas state legislature, the first African American woman to serve since Reconstruction. She was not warmly received but, only six years later, her colleagues voted her president pro tempore of the state senate.

She ran for Congress and, in 1972 became the first woman to represent Texas in the House of Representatives in her own right. Along with Andrew Young, she was one of the first two African Americans elected to the U.S. Congress since Reconstruction.

At both the state and the national level Jordan supported legislative measures to assist the poor and disadvantaged. She also worked to promote women’s rights, supporting the Equal Rights Amendment and co-sponsoring a bill to allow Social Security benefits to housewives based on their labors in the home. She achieved national attention during the Watergate hearings when she eloquently defended her decision to support the impeachment of President Nixon as a means to preserve the Constitution.

Many said that she was destined for greater things but she retired from congress after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and the second time she addressed the Democratic National Convention, twenty years after her first appearance, it was from a wheelchair.

In the intervening years she held a number of positions including special counsel on ethics for Texas Governor Ann Richards and she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton.

Barbara Jordan had wanted to attend the University of Texas but the school was segregated at the time. In order to avoid integration, Texas established the all-black Texas Southern University, which Jordan attended. When she retired from Congress she was awarded a professorship to teach political ethics at the University of Texas at Austin in the Lyndon Johnson School of Public Affairs. She had also wanted to attend law school at Harvard but was advised that a black woman would not be admitted, so applied to Boston University. Harvard later established the Barbara Jordan Award for Women’s Leadership.

Her last First Woman To. .occurred after her death in 1996. Barbara Jordan was the first African American buried in the Texas State Cemetery among governors, senators and congressmen.


Read her autobiography: Barbara Jordan: A Self-Portrait (1979)

She also appears in Black Americans in Congress (1870-2007)

Read a shorter biography:

Hear the beginning of her keynote address to the Democratic Convention in 1972:


If Barbara Jordan had attended a segregated University of Texas and Harvard University Law School, would her path have been different?

Tammy Baldwin – Senator from Wisconsin

“The times, they are a-changing.” [Bob Dylan]

 Screen Shot 2014-02-09 at 4.08.17 PMTammy Baldwin was the first woman elected to the US House of Representatives from Wisconsin. She later became the first woman elected to the US Senate from Wisconsin. For these achievements alone, she enters the annals of First Women To. . .but she also holds a distinction that reflects changes in American culture. Tammy Baldwin was the first openly gay person elected to Congress. There are other gay representatives and senators in our nation’s capitol, some even openly so, but none had come out until after being elected to Congress.

Tammy Baldwin was quoted in Time magazine as saying, “I didn’t run to make history,” but her success is our history. She has never hidden her sexuality and yet held public office at all levels. In 1986 she was elected to the Dane County Board of Supervisors and served in that position for eight years. She also filled a vacancy on the Madison City Council for one year.

She was elected to represent Wisconsin’s Second Congressional District, a liberal section of Madison, in 1999 and won seven terms. By the time she ran for the Senate, she won in spite of the fact that the rest of the state is less liberal than her own district. She ran against Tommy Thompson, a four-time former Governor of the state, and Secretary of Health and Human Services under George W. Bush. She ran as a progressive, concerned about economic issues such as unemployment, protecting American goods and supporting technology. As a sign of the changing times, the issue of Baldwin’s sexuality was a nonissue, in a state that had approved an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage and civil unions only six years earlier.

Baldwin may be one of the most liberal members of Congress. She voted against the invasion of Iraq, and authored the amendment to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly called Obamacare) that permitted young people to remain on their parents’ insurance plans until the age of 26. She is a proponent of universal health care and urges stronger enforcement of laws against sexual violence and all violence against women.

Now that this “rainbow ceiling” has been broken, perhaps we can focus on why women make up only 17percent of the Senate and House. A recent Institute for Women’s Policy Research study showed that at the current rate, it would take more than a century for women to reach parity in Congress.


See her Wisconsin Senator page:

Check out her committee assignments and the bills she has sponsored:


What concrete actions can we take to change the Women’s Policy Research projection that it will take a century for women to reach parity in Congress? 

Eleanor Holmes Norton – Congresswoman, First Chair of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

          This week we commemorate the March on Washington and the Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” speech that enthralled a nation. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Congresswoman from Washington, D.C. helped to organize that march.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON          Every day Eleanor Holmes Norton serves in Congress she fights a battle to represent her constituents. Although she represents more than 600,000 people in Congress, she does not have a vote because her constituents reside in Washington, D.C. She can vote on the committees where she sits, but that agreement, a hard-fought concession, relies on congressional rules that do not have the force of law and can be re-written at any time.

Congresswoman Norton was born in Washington, D.C. and raised by her father, who was a civil servant, and her schoolteacher mother. After earning her undergraduate degree from Antioch College and a master’s in American studies from Yale, she went to Mississippi. In the summer of 1963, she worked with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. It was in August of that year that she helped organize the March on Washington.

She completed her law degree at Yale and the following year worked as a law clerk for a Federal District Court judge. She then worked as an assistant legal director for the ACLU in New York. In 1968 she was admitted to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court.

She served as Mayor John Lindsay’s executive assistant and as chairwoman for the New York City Commission on Human Rights. She left New York when President Jimmy Carter appointed her to chair the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Selected by Jesse Jackson, she helped shape the platform at the Democratic National Convention in 1988, and Ebony magazine called her a “national Democratic Party power broker.”

Eleanor Holmes Norton is in her twelfth term as Congresswoman for Washington, D.C. and serves as the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Economic Development. Since 1982 she has been a tenured professor of law at Georgetown University and she serves on a number of public service boards, including boards of civil rights organizations, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Board of Governors of the D.C. Bar Association.

Her voice is strong, as it must be, for her constituents, although they pay taxes, have no vote in Congress. Even decisions of their local government can be overturned by Congress. Eleanor Holmes Norton is their only voice.


READ HER AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY: Fire in My Soul by Joan Steinau Lester, Coretta Scott King and Eleanor Holmes Norton

SEE ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON on “Colbert Nation:”—eleanor-holmes-norton

FOR MORE on “District of Columbia Voting Rights:”


Has your voice ever been raised for others?