The Senate Chamber

First Women Senators

Spectators fortunate enough to obtain seats in the Senate chamber's galleries on November 21, 1922 knew they were witnessing history. To the hearty cheers of the women who packed that favored vantage point, eighty-seven-year-old Rebecca Latimer Felton took her oath as the nation's first female United States senator. A month earlier, the governor of Georgia had given the temporary appointment to Felton in a futile attempt to improve his own prospects for election to the Senate after he unsuccessfully opposed the constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote. The newly enfranchised women of Georgia instead helped elect Walter George to the full term. Because the Senate had been out of session since Felton's appointment, Walter George, in a wise political gesture, agreed to defer his oath-taking for a day so that Rebecca Felton could claim her unique honor.

On November 22, as George waited to present his credentials, the "happiest woman in the United States" delivered her first and only Senate floor speech. She acknowledged that "there may be but very few [women senators] in the next few years, [but] when the women of this 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."

Within ten years, the Senate would welcome its first elected woman member. Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas had initially come to the Senate in 1931 as an appointee to fill a vacancy caused by the death of her husband, Thaddeus. In the 1932 election, however, she won the seat in her own right. Reelected in 1938, Hattie Caraway served until 1945. She went on to become the first woman to chair a standing committee, and the first woman to preside over the Senate. Many others would follow in the steps of Felton and Caraway.

Related Links:

Complete list of Women Senators

Breaking New Ground: A Photo Exhibit of Women Senators