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Historic First in Senate Proceedings

Women Open Senate Proceedings

On November 10, 1999, an all-female team of senators and staff, from the presiding officer to the party floor assistant, opened the Senate’s floor proceedings for the first time in the history of the institution. “Madam President,” began Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, “a significant milestone in the 210-year course of the Senate’s history is taking place.” Although women had been employed in the Senate since the 19th century, it wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that a small, but growing minority of women worked as professional staff. By the 1980s women more frequently filled top staff positions on committees and in members’ personal offices. In 1985 the Senate elected Jo-Ann Coe to serve as the first female secretary of the Senate, the institution’s chief administrative officer, and in 1991 Martha Pope became the first female sergeant at arms, the Senate’s chief law enforcement officer. To recognize the growing contributions and importance of women, Senator Lott and Republican Party Secretary Elizabeth Letchworth organized this historic event in 1999. “Since the end of World War II, there has been a steady increase in the number of women serving this institution,” Lott explained. “This is a historic day and a long time in coming—too long. I am proud it happened under my watch.”

Sixteen years later, an all-female team of senators and staff again opened the Senate's floor proceedings, but this time, it occurred spontaneously. On January 26, 2016, Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski served as the acting majority leader, Maine senator Susan Collins presided, and the entire floor staff, from the parliamentarian to the Senate pages, were women. Senator Murkowski noted this historic event: "I might also note for a little historical perspective that as we convene this morning, and you look around the Chamber, the Acting President pro tempore is female, our Parliamentarian and all of our clerks are female, our floor managers are female, and all of our pages are female. This was not orchestrated in any way, shape or form. We came in this morning, looked around and thought: something is different this morning—different in a good way, I might add. But something is genuinely different, and I think it is genuinely fabulous."