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A Woman's Place is in the House... and Senate

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I was thinking as General Motors CEO Mary Barra faced a Congressional Committee to answer questions about the ignition switch issue, that there aren't many women in the U.S. Congress. In fact we are nowhere near parity; less than 20 percent of our Representatives and Senators are women. It has been less than 100 years since women have been able to vote in the entire U.S. (the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on August 26, 1920) and less than 100 years since the first woman was elected to Congress. Let's learn about some women who changed the face of politics in the U.S.

Jeannette Rankin was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1916 from Montana (many western states enfranchised women before the 19th Amendment was passed and ratified). A committed pacifist, Rankin was one of the few Congressional members to vote against U.S. entry into World War I. After an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate, Rankin was re-elected to the House in 1940 on an isolationist platform. She became the only member of Congress to vote against the U.S. entry into World War II. Remaining true to her principles throughout her life, in her 80s, Rankin marched in Washington, DC protesting the Vietnam War. She is well known for saying "We're half the people. We should be half the Congress." Rankin has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

The first woman of color and the first Asian-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (1964), Patsy Mink was an attorney who pursued a degree in law after being rejected by all of the medical schools to which she applied. The first woman of Japanese American ancestry to practice law in Hawaii, Mink worked hard to eliminate the types of discrimination (gender and racial) she had personally experienced. She was elected to the Hawaii House of Representatives before her election to the U.S. Congress. In her over two decades as a member of Congress, Mink was known as the major champion of Title IX. She also focused on environmental, immigration, and energy issues. Mink has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

After federal courts forced Texas to draw new legislative districts to end the gerrymandering that denied black people the opportunity to hold public office, brilliant attorney and charismatic speaker Barbara Jordan was elected to the Texas Senate. She became the first black person since 1883 and the first black woman to hold the position. In 1972, when she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Jordan became the first African-American woman elected, and then re-elected, from the deep South. Jordan became known nationally during the 1974 Nixon impeachment hearings for her questions and her defense of the U.S. Constitution. In 1976, she became the first woman and the first African-American to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. After her retirement from Congress, Jordan served as a full professor at the University of Texas and a counselor to Governor Ann Richards. Jordan has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

In 1987, Democratic politician Nancy Pelosi was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from California. Later, she became the first woman to lead a major political party in either house of Congress. With the election of 2006, she became the first female speaker of the House. Among her many significant accomplishments were passage of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Affordable Care Act. About her selection as the first female speaker of the House, Pelosi said: "It's an historic moment for the Congress, it's an historic moment for the women of America. It is a moment for which we have waited over 200 years. Never losing faith, we waited through the many years of struggle to achieve our rights. But women weren't just waiting, women were working, never losing faith we worked to redeem the promise of America, that all men and women are created equal. For our daughters and our granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling. For our daughters and our granddaughters, the sky is the limit. Anything is possible for them." Pelosi has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Many political women are among the more than 850 amazing women who changed the U.S. and are profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. We are proud to stand on their shoulders. We need to remember and appreciate their years of efforts.