To commemorate the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, ratified on August 18, 1920, and to recognize the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, Rebecca Felton, who took the oath of office on November 21, 1922, the Senate Historical Office is conducting oral histories with former senators, officers, and staff. The interviews included in this ongoing project document women’s impact on the institution and its legislative business. By recording and preserving their stories, we hope to develop a fuller, richer understanding of women’s role in the Senate and in governing the nation.
Just 59 women have served in the Senate since the first woman took the oath of office in 1922. This collection of interviews captures some of their varied experiences, the challenges they faced, their unique perspectives on social and political issues of the day, and their impact on the institution and the country. From their decision to run for office to their committee assignments to their bonds with other senators, their stories are central to understanding Senate history.
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Nancy Kassebaum was the only woman serving in the Senate when she took office in 1978. Senator Kassebaum worked tirelessly on policies such as reducing the budget deficit, international arms control, and ending apartheid in South Africa. During her last term she chaired the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. She was the first woman to chair a full Senate committee in the modern era.
Kay Bailey Hutchison was elected to the U.S. Senate in a special election in 1993 and served until 2013. The first Republican woman since 1973 to hold a leadership position, Hutchison served as vice-chair of the Republican Conference (2000-2007) and chaired the Republican Policy Committee (2007-2009). In this interview, Hutchison discusses the strong bonds she forged with her female colleagues as they broke down institutional barriers, as well as collaboration with colleagues on legislative priorities including creation of the national “Amber Alert” and the Spousal IRA.
Mary L. Landrieu grew up in a politically active family and began her political career in the Louisiana House of Representatives. When she took her oath of office in January 1980, Landrieu was one of only three women serving in the state legislature. In 1996 she won a seat in the U.S. Senate and later chaired the Committees on Small Business and Entrepreneurship and Energy and Natural Resources.
When Blanche Lambert Lincoln took the oath of office in the U.S. Senate on January 6, 1999, she was the youngest member of that body at age 39. Lincoln focused on supporting working families, particularly mothers and children, and those living in rural communities. A 12-year member of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Lincoln served as its chair from 2009 to 2011, the first Arkansan and first woman to serve in that position. In 2010 Senator Lincoln lost her bid for reelection.
Carol Moseley Braun defeated both the Democratic incumbent and the Republican challenger for a Senate seat in 1992, becoming the first female senator from Illinois and the first African American woman to serve in the Senate. Senator Moseley Braun sponsored progressive education reform bills, campaigned for gun control, and fought against the enduring racism in American society.