When Senator Nancy Kassebaum delivered Washington’s Farewell Address on February 16, 1981, the Kansas Republican was one of only two women serving in the United States Senate, and only the fourteenth female senator in the institution’s history. The daughter of Alfred M. Landon, the Republican governor of Kansas who challenged Franklin Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election, Kassebaum served three terms in the Senate, beginning on December 3, 1978. Known for her moderate but independent stand on issues, Kassebaum worked tirelessly on policies such as reducing the budget deficit and international arms control. In her last term she chaired the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources—only the second woman to chair a Senate standing committee. Kassebaum retired in 1997, but she remained a powerful and influential role model for women seeking elective office.
A Senate First
Daniel Webster appointed the first Senate page in the early 19th century. Nearly 150 years later, on May 14, 1971, visitors in the Senate galleries witnessed history when Paulette Desell and Ellen McConnell became the first females appointed to serve as Senate pages. Three more female pages, Julie Price, Mari Iwashita, and Barbara Wheeler, served the Senate later that year. “It is simply a question of fundamental human fairness,” one sponsor, Senator Jacob Javits, explained. “A question of whether half the population shall be deprived of an opportunity without a substantial reason.” Female pages quickly earned reputations as competent and hard working. One later recalled, “[I was] very aware of the privilege of the position. I felt very responsible for doing it well [to] mitigate the risk of women being set aside as incapable.” Since 1971, hundreds of female high school students have served as Senate pages.
Smith vs. Cormier, 1960
It may sound like a prize fight, but this contest was a historic election between two contenders for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Democratic candidate Lucia Cormier, Maine state representative, challenged the popular Republican incumbent, Margaret Chase Smith. For the first time in Senate history, both major party candidates were women. In an era when female candidates were still unusual, the high-profile contest gained a good deal of chauvinistic press attention. Reporters predicted scenes of “hair-pulling” and “eye-scratching.” Ignored by such pundits was the fact that the two women were experienced legislators and longtime colleagues. Smith and Cormier ran strong campaigns that culminated in one of the first televised debates on November 6, 1960. Two days later, Smith won the so-called “Petticoat Race,” taking 62 percent of the vote.
The Directory provides information about former and current senators.