Initially many of the women who served after Rankin were appointed to finish the remaining time left in a late-husband's term, or ran on their own to replace him. They rarely remained in office for more than a term or two. It was not until 1978 when Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kansas, became the first woman elected to the Senate without having previously filled out the remaining term of someone else.
There have been many debates regarding thereasons behind the limited number of women serving in Congress. Some speculate the demands of family play a role, as do the burdens of constantly raising money for the next campaign. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., served for 40 years in Congress, longer than any other woman, and once remarked the demands were never-ending: "You know what we find when you break the glass ceiling? You end up living in a glass office. Where everything you do is scrutinized."
Despite these theories, here are 15 notable women who broke the political glass ceiling and paved the way for other women as well:
100 years of women in Congress
100 years of women in Congress
Jeannette Rankin, R-Wyo., 1917-1919 and 1941-1943
It makes sense that the first state to give women the right to vote, would also send the first woman to Congress. While still a territory, Wyoming allowed women to vote as early as 1869. Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to Congress, on Nov. 7, 1916. She served two nonconsecutive congressional terms. In addition to being the first woman, she was also the only member of Congress to vote against both World War I and World War II. In addition to being the first woman to serve in the House, she was also the first woman to run for the U.S. Senate, running in 1918. She lost the GOP primary, but went on to run as a third-party candidate and stayed active in politics for the rest of her life.
Famous Quote: "As a woman, I can't go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else."
(Photo by Matzene/Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
Rebecca Felton, D-Ga., Nov. 21-22, 1922
Rebecca Latimer Felton was a lecturer, writer and the first woman to ever serve in the U.S. Senate. She was appointed by the governor to fill the vacancy of Thomas Watson. She was a campaigner for the Progressive Era, especially women's rights, and like many senators at the time was an advocate of racial segregation. She was one of the last U.S. Senators to own a slave. Her appointment, done to ensure the incumbent wouldn't be a challenge to Gov. Thomas Hardwick's own political future, backfired on him. He never expected Felton to be sworn in. He also hoped women would forgive him for opposing the recently ratified 19th Amendment giving women the vote, and support his candidacy for the Senate. He lost. Felton was sworn in on Nov. 21, 1922. She gave a speech the following day, and then stepped aside so Watson's elected successor could take over, making her term historic for another reason: shortest in history.
Famous Quote: "When the women of the country come in and sit with you ... you will get ability, you will get integrity of purpose, you will get exalted patriotism, and you will get unstinted usefulness."
(Photo by Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
Hattie Caraway, D-Ark., 1931-1945
Hattie Wyatt Caraway was the second woman to serve in the Senate but was the first woman elected to Senate. She was appointed in late 1931 to fill out the term of her husband who died in office, and in Jan. 1932 became the first woman elected to the Senate. She became a woman of many firsts. She was the first woman to preside over the Senate and the first to chair a Senate committee. She became known as "Silent Hattie," due to her brief speeches, because she didn't want to waste taxpayers money on printing congressional speeches. All total she spoke 15 times on the Senate floor during her career, and once noted, tongue-in-cheek, she didn't want to take the time away from the male senators because "the poor dears love it so."
Famous Quote: "Sometimes I'm really afraid that tourists are going to poke me with their umbrellas! And yet there's no sound reason why women, if they have the time and ability, shouldn't sit with men on city councils, in state legislatures, or in the House and Senate."
(Photo by Imagno/Getty Images)
Margaret Chase Smith, R-Maine, 1940-1973
Margaret Smith served for 32 years in Congress in both the House and the Senate. She was the first woman elected to the Senate in her own right, and not as a widow or appointed successor. She was an outspoken critic of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his crusade against communists. In 1964 she ran for president and became the first woman to have her name formally put into consideration at a convention by a major party. She was not a party-line vote for Republican interests and bucked her presidents when she saw fit, including voting against giving actor Jimmy Stewart, a World War II vet, a promotion at the request of President Dwight Eisenhower. President George H. W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 1989.
Famous Quote: "If we are to claim and win our rightful place in the sun on an equal basis with men then we must not insist upon those privileges and prerogatives identified in the past as exclusively feminine."
Photo Credit: Getty
Frances Bolton, R-Ohio, 1940-1969
Frances Bolton won the special election to fill the vacancy left by her husband's death, and never looked back. She said at the time local Republicans supported her out of an obligation to her late husband, and figured she would get bored with the job and leave. She didn't. Much of her early career was focused on war efforts. She was opposed to entering World War II initially, but changed her mind after the attack on Pearl Harbor. She authored the Bolton Act in 1943 which helped fund nursing training and stipulated the funds be distributed without regard to race. It also helped establish the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps, who became instrumental in World War II. She had a series of firsts as a result of her work on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, including being the first member of the committee to visit the Soviet Union and the first woman to lead a congressional delegation on an overseas trip.
Famous Quote: "In my personal opinion, no man in a responsible position in the government, whether elected or appointed, has any justification in making charges against individuals unless he knows beyond a doubt that his accusations will hold, even in the Supreme Court."
Photo Credit: Getty
Shirley Chisholm, D-N.Y., 1969-1983
Shirley Chisholm was the first African-American congresswoman. She served for seven terms and became the first African-American, male or female, to run for president in 1972. She angered many Democrats when she visited rival Democratic candidate George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, who was shot in an assassination attempt in Maryland during the campaign. She defended the visit saying she didn't want what happened to him to happen to anyone. Later, when she wanted legislation passed in Congress she was able to reach out to Wallace, who then encouraged southern lawmakers to support her efforts. She was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus. She wrote two books, "Unbought and Unbossed," and "The Good Fight."
Famous Quote: "We still have to engage in compromises, the highest of all arts. Blacks can't do things on their own, nor can whites. When you have black racists and white racists it is very difficult to build bridges between communities."
Yvonne Brathwaite Burke was the first woman to give birth and be granted maternity leave while in Congress; she called this a "dubious honor." Burke was also the first African-American woman to represent California in Congress and became the first woman chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). While attending the University of California-Berkeley she was a part of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She stood up for minority-owned businesses in the construction of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline and supported most women issues. She was a founding member of the Congressional Women's Caucus in 1977. Burke was nominated as a Director of the Amtrak Board in 2012 by President Barack Obama
Famous Quote: "There was a time I was a picketer across the street. Then I decided I didn't want to be there outside of policy-making. I wanted to be inside, fighting right there on their turf."
Photo Credit: Getty
Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., 1977-2017
Barbara Mikulski served 40 years in Congress, longer than any other woman. Before becoming involved in politics, Mikulski worked as a social worker in Baltimore's Department of Social Services. After receiving her master's degree from the University of Maryland, she worked with organizations that dealt with drug addiction and treatment of the elderly. She received national recognition after her speech on "Ethnic Americans," and worked on legislation to get breast and cervical cancer screenings, as well as treatment, for the uninsured. Mikulski co-authored three books; "Nine and Counting: The Women of the Senate," "Capitol Offense," and "Capitol Venture." She is proud former Girl Scout and often mentioned them on the Senate floor.
Famous Quote: "America is not a melting pot. It is a sizzling cauldron for the ethnic American who feels that he has been politically courted and legally extorted by both government and private enterprise."
(Photo credit should read ROBERT GIROUX/AFP/Getty Images)
Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kansas, 1978-1997
Nancy Landon Kassebaum made her mark in politics by being the first woman elected to the Senate without previously having filled a vacated term. She was the first to chair a major Senate Committee. Kassebaum came from a known political family in Kansas, her father ran an unsuccessful campaign for presidency against President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. When she decided to enter the race she was publicly discouraged by her father, however she persevered and won the election against eight Republican rivals. Kassebaum declined to run for reelection in 1996, saying she had other challenges to pursue. While in the Senate she did not like the feminist label, once saying she thought of herself foremost as a "U.S. Senator, not a woman Senator."
Famous Quote: "To be a good Senator, you need to be willing to work with people. You don't need to be a professional politician."
(Photo by Laura Patterson/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)
Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., 1987-present
Nancy Pelosi comes from a political family in Maryland, but went on to become the first female Speaker of the House while representing a district in California. She has been described as one of the most powerful speakers in American history. She was also the first woman to lead a major American political party. Pelosi got her start in politics by volunteering for other candidates; she eventually ran herself and was elected to Congress in 1987. She is vocal in her support of gay rights, feminist causes and progressive issues. She defines energy security as her flagship issue. Pelosi was ranked 35th in Forbes' 100 most powerful women in 2015.
Famous Quote: " Maybe it takes a woman to clean House."
REUTERS/Larry Downing LSD/SV
Tammy Baldwin is the first openly gay U.S. senator in Congress, but she is also the first female senator from Wisconsin. After graduating from Smith College in 1984, Baldwin worked in the Wisconsin governor's office on pay equity issues. She later went on to graduate from the University of Wisconsin with her law degree. She served for seven terms in the House of Representatives and built her legislative record on civil rights and universal health care. She was elected to the Senate in 2012. Baldwin is known for her role in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and for her strong support of LGBT rights.
Famous Quote: "This is a big day for gay women in America, and really, for all communities who aren't the typical straight, white, wealthy men elected to Congress."
Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., 2001-2009
Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first first lady elected to Congress when she won an open Senate seat in New York in 2000. She attended Wellesley College for a degree in political science and acquired her law degree from Yale University, where she met her husband, Bill Clinton. After law school, Clinton went to work for the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), chairing the CDF from 1986 to 1989. Working as a lawyer at Rose Law firm, she became their first female associate and later their first ever female partner. Clinton served as first lady for eight years and actively supported health care and children's rights. In 2008 she ran for president but lost the Democratic nomination to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. When Obama won the general election she went on to serve as his Secretary of State. This would be the first time a former first lady served in a cabinet. She ran again in 2016 and won the Democratic nomination, becoming the first woman to receive the nomination of a major party, but lost the general election to Donald Trump.
Famous quote: "Human rights are women's rights, and women's rights are human rights."
Famous Quote: "There are many outsiders that actively try to halt every natural resource development project in Alaska. Many of these same people have never even been to Alaska, yet they claim to know what's best for us."
(Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, 2015-present
Joni Ernst is the first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate, and the first woman to represent Iowa in either the House or Senate. Ernst grew up cultivating bean fields, feeding hogs and wearing clothes handmade by her mother. Her military career began when she joined Iowa State University's ROTC program. Ernst served as company commander in Kuwait as well as Iraq. After 23 years in the military she retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard. She has an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association and is strong gun advocate. When she was running for Senate, she taught Sunday School at the same church where she was baptized and married.
Famous Quote: "Washington's full of big spenders; let's make them squeal."