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.


Donna Shalala – Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison

In every community, whether large of small, there are people who lead in their community in easy and difficult times. [Donna Shalala]

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 4.56.43 PM        Donna Shalala was the first woman to head a Big Ten school, but she may be better known for holding a cabinet position. Shalala was the longest serving U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).

After earning a bachelor’s degree in history, Donna Shalala spent two years in the Peace Corps. She says she wanted to “save the world,” a sentiment many in her generation can recognize. She also wanted to “see the world.” The portion of the world she saw was a mud village in Iran where she helped build an agricultural college.

She returned to the United States to earn her Master’s and doctorate degrees from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She remained in academics, teaching and later serving as President of Hunter College. She then served as Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, all while engaging in public service.

In 1993 Bill Clinton tapped her to serve as Secretary of HHS. She was the first Arab-American to serve in a Cabinet position. During her tenure she managed reform of welfare programs, improved the FDA’s approval process, and improved food safety systems. For children, she provided health insurance to millions, expanded Head Start and improved child immunization rates. For women, she established shelters and created mortgage credits. For all, she expanded AIDS research and supported anti-discrimination legislation. The Washington Post described her as “one of the most successful government managers of modern times.”

President George W. Bush also recognized her expertise and selected Shalala for the Commission on Care for Returning Wounded Warriors, asking her to co-chair the panel with Senator Bob Dole. President Bush awarded her the Medal of Freedom.

Now President of the University of Miami, she draws on her experience as HHS Secretary and teaches a course on the American healthcare system each spring semester. She has numerous awards and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2011.

Many of us wish we were taller, so that we might engage men eye-to-eye. Donna Shalala, at only five feet tall, shows that a women’s stature need not be an encumbrance.


On-Line Biographies: and

An Interview:


        Is managing well a form of leadership?

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?