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Nine and Counting: The Women of the Senate

Barbara Mikulski, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Mary Landrieu, and Blanche L. Lincoln, written with Catherine Whitney (2001) 

The nine women senators of the 106th Congress took quite different paths to arrive, together, at the pinnacle of American government. In Nine and Counting, they tell their personal and professional stories, hoping they can inspire women of all ages to get involved and make a difference.

Some began their journey simply as activist mothers who wanted a better deal for their families—but who encountered disrespect instead. Patty Murray tells the now well-known tale about how she got started in politics after lobbying for funding for a school project and a state legislator told her she couldn’t make a difference because she was “just a mom in tennis shoes.”

Others were led into unforeseen directions by circumstance. Kay Bailey Hutchison recounts that armed with a law degree and turned down for jobs in her field since she would probably “get married and get pregnant,” she wound up as a news reporter assigned to the Houston legislature, which eventually led her to a career in politics. Her advice to today’s young women: “I can see that those rejections from law firms were the beginning of my future, even though at the time I thought they were the end. . . . Never give up. If a door closes, open a window.”

Some knew from an early start that they were bound for public service. Barbara Mikulski had already begun a career in social service and grass roots organizing when she was called upon to fight a plan for a 16-lane highway that would run through an old Baltimore neighborhood. She was launched into the public eye when she stood up on a table with the rallying call: “The British couldn’t take Fells Point, the termites couldn’t take Fells Point, and damn if we’ll let the State Roads Commission take Fells Point!”

Nine and Counting was written when there were only nine women Senators serving.  Today there are 22, the most to serve simultaneously. To date, 51 women have served as U.S. senators, the first being Rebecca Latimer Felton of Georgia, who served for a very brief time in 1922. The “counting” will certainly continue, until the numbers of women no longer present an issue and become a matter of course.