100 Years of Power Timeline
A drive to get more women into the halls of political power has tackled social obstacles, survived injustices and achieved victories throughout the eras.
Number of women in the House
Share of Congress
Number of women in Senate
The first Women’s Rights Convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York. Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes The Declaration of Sentiments, one of the frameworks for the suffrage movement.
Black women fighting for their rights faced unique challenges compared to their white counterparts. Sojourner Truth, abolitionist and women’s rights activist, addresses some of these issues in her famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio.
Disagreement over the 15th Amendment, which will ultimately give black men the right to vote, leads to a split. Stanton and Susan B. Anthony found the National Woman Suffrage Association, which opposes the 15th Amendment unless it includes voting rights for women. Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe and others who support the 15th Amendment form the American Woman Suffrage Association.
Wyoming becomes a state, making it the first and only state allowing women the right to vote. In 1869, when it was still a U.S. territory, the Wyoming legislature passed a law recognizing women’s rights to vote and hold office.
Shunned by white suffragists, black suffragists worked within their own communities for social progress. Many prominent black women, including Harriet Tubman, Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells Barnett, meet to establish the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs in Washington, D.C. Their goals include not only suffrage, but also ending racist policies and attacks like lynching, segregation and Jim Crow laws.
The movement keeps gaining speed—15,000 protestors march up Fifth Avenue for women’s rights in New York City. The Progressive Party, or “Bull Moose Party,” led by Theodore Roosevelt, becomes the first major political party to support suffrage.
Republican Jeannette Rankin, a woman’s rights activist from Montana, is elected to the House of Representatives, making her the first woman to hold federal office. She helps create the Committee of Woman Suffrage; her work is instrumental in passing the 19th Amendment.
A year after it passes in the Senate, the 19th Amendment is ratified; 26 million American women are enfranchised in time for the 1920 election.
However, the Amendment has serious flaws—it doesn’t fully extend to women of color.
Congress passes the Indian Citizenship Act, which grants citizenship to Native Americans born in the U.S. after 1924. The Act is controversial among indigenous people, and some states continue to restrict Native voting rights until 1948.
Democrat Hattie Wyatt Caraway becomes the first woman elected to the United States Senate representing Arkansas.
Frances Perkins is appointed Secretary of Labor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, making her the first female Cabinet member in U.S. history.
Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to a white man on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She is arrested, fueling a new wave of civil rights activism.
The Equal Pay Act, which mandates equal pay for equal work, is signed into law by President John F. Kennedy. It is one of the first federal laws addressing sex discrimination.
Patsy Takemoto Mink, a Democrat from Hawaii, pictured here, is the first woman of color, and Asian-American woman, elected to Congress.
The 24th Amendment is ratified. It abolishes poll taxes and literacy tests as barriers to voting.
The Federal Civil Rights Act passes, including Title VII, which bans employment discrimination based on certain circumstances, including sex.
A group of 320 women, including Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm and Betty Friedan, form the National Women’s Political Caucus to expand the number of women in political life. Dr. Ruth B. Mandel founds the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University during the same year.
Shirley Chisholm in 1972 becomes the first woman and first African American candidate for a major party’s presidential nomination, the Democrats. In 1968, she had become the first African American woman elected to Congress. She represented New York in the House of Representatives for seven terms from 1969 to 1983.
In another win for reproductive rights, Roe v. Wade establishes the right to abortion.
Women’s Campaign Fund is founded in 1974 as the first national organization to financially support women candidates. A nonpartisan PAC, it is created to fund women candidates for office at all levels of government who are committed to finding “common ground” solutions to problems and support reproductive rights.
Ella T. Grasso of Connecticut in 1975 becomes the country’s first female governor not married to a previous governor. The capstone of a long and successful career in public service, she had previously served two terms in the House of Representatives, a dozen years as Connecticut’s secretary of the state, and 4 years in the Connecticut General Assembly, where she was its first woman to be elected floor leader.
Barbara Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress, is elected in 1977 to the House as a Democrat representing Maryland. In 1987, she is elected to the Senate and serves there until January 2017. She had previously been a member of the Baltimore City Council, a social worker and community organizer.
Also in 1977, Patricia Roberts Harris becomes the first black woman to hold a cabinet position, serving under President Jimmy Carter. She had previously made history in 1965 as the first African-American woman ambassador, serving in Luxembourg under President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Kansas Republican Nancy Kassebaum is elected to the Senate in 1978, becoming the first woman elected to a full term whose husband had not served in Congress. Hailing from a distinguished Kansas political family — her father was former Kansas governor and onetime presidential candidate Alf Landon — she had worked for Senator James B. Pearson and as vice president of the family-owned Kassebaum Communications.
Sandra Day O’Connor, nominated by President Ronald Reagan, becomes the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court.
Geraldine Ferraro becomes in 1984 the first woman vice-presidential candidate for a major political party, the Democrats. An attorney, she had been a congresswoman from New York known for focusing on legislation to bring equity for women in wages and retirement plans. Before that, she led a new Special Victims Bureau for the Queens county district attorney.
Emily’s List is founded in 1985 by Ellen R. Malcolm to fund Democratic women congressional and gubernatorial candidates in favor of abortion rights. It focuses on raising money early in women’s candidacies to make them look more viable to the Democratic Party establishment and more attractive to other donors and supporters. Indeed, its name is an acronym for “Early Money Is Like Yeast” — it makes the dough rise.Read More
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida, becomes the first Latina elected to Congress.
In 1992, a record-breaking number of women are elected to Congress. After four women win Senate seats, lifting the total to seven, headline writers declare it “The Year of the Woman.” Among the victors is Carol Moseley Braun, an Illinois Democrat, who becomes the first woman of color elected to the Senate. The 103rd Congress (1993-1995) will have 54 women, up from 32.
Althea Garrison, a Republican from Massachusetts, is elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. She is transgender, but outed against her will after her election.
Janet Reno becomes the first female Attorney General in 1993. Nominated by President Bill Clinton, she serves until 2001. Previously, she had been Florida state attorney, elected five times to the post. Also in 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is nominated to the Supreme Court by President Clinton.
Madeleine Albright is sworn in as the first female Secretary of State in 1997, and serves President Clinton until 2001. She had previously served as his ambassador to the United Nations and worked on President Carter’s National Security Council. The daughter of a Czech diplomat, she her family emigrated to the U.S. in 1948.
Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, becomes the first openly gay woman elected to Congress.
Elaine Chao in 2001 becomes the first Asian-American woman to serve in a presidential cabinet, assuming the position of secretary of labor for President George W. Bush.
Condoleezza Rice in 2005 becomes the first African-American woman secretary of state. She serves President George W. Bush, who had previously appointed her national security advisor, making her the first woman to hold that position. Born and raised in the racially segregated South, she has built a long career as a foreign policy strategist and academic.
Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, in 2007 becomes the first woman to serve as speaker of the House. Prior to entering the House 3 decades ago, she had a career in party politics, including as elected party chair of the California Democratic Party. Today, she serves as the House minority leader.
Sarah Palin becomes the first Republican woman vice presidential nominee. As running mate to presidential nominee Arizona Senator John McCain, she was the first Alaskan on the national ticket of a major political party. She had become Governor of Alaska in 2006 and served until resigning in 2009.
Janet Yellen in 2014 becomes the first woman chair of the Federal Reserve, the U.S.’s central bank, after being nominated by President Barack Obama. She had previously been vice chairwoman of the Fed and, prior to that, the president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton, and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016 becomes the first woman to receive the presidential nomination from a major political party, the Democrats. She had served as secretary of state and senator from New York. And as the wife of President Bill Clinton, she served as first lady of the United States and first lady of Arkansas. Previously, she was a practicing lawyer, law professor and activist. In 2017, she founds Onward Together to encourage progressives to engage in civil life and run for office.
Democrat Danica Roem is elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. This makes her the first openly transgender person to be elected and serve in a U.S. state legislature, 25 years after Althea Garrison’s non-consensual outing.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, becomes the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at 29.
Sharice Davids, a Democrat from Kansas and member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, and Deb Haaland, a Democrat from New Mexico and member of the Pueblo of Laguna, become the first Native American women elected to Congress.
Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, and Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, become the first Muslim women elected to Congress.
A record-breaking 6 women run for the Democratic presidential nomination, including senators Kamala Harris (pictured), Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren.
Joe Biden ultimately wins the nomination—but pledges to choose a woman as his running mate.