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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

Democrats

Republicans

Share of Congress

Number of women in Senate

Democrats

Republicans

1848
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (left) and Susan B. Anthony (right) in 1870. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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.

1851
Sojourner Truth in 1870. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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.

1869
Prominent suffragists in 1896. Center: Susan B. Anthony. Seated around her include Alice Stone Blackwell and Carrie Chapman Catt. Credit: Courtesy Heritage Auctions / Wikimedia Commons.

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.

1890
Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1890. Credit: CD Kirkland / Wikimedia Commons.

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.

1896
Five officers of the Women's League in Newport, Rhode Island, c. 1899. Credit: Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons.

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.

1912
Suffrage parade, New York City, May 4, 1912. Credit: American Press Association / Library of Congress.

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.

1916
Jeannette Rankin, U.S. Congresswoman from Montana, in 1917. Credit: Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons.

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.

1920
Mary Winsor, suffragist, was arrested multiple times fighting for suffrage. Credit: Harris & Ewing / Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons.

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.

1924
President Calvin Coolidge with four Osage men after signing the Indian Citizenship Act. Credit: National Photo Company Collection / Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons.

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.

1932
Senator Hattie W. Caraway in her office, March 11, 1940. Credit: Harris & Ewing / Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons.

Democrat Hattie Wyatt Caraway becomes the first woman elected to the United States Senate representing Arkansas.

1933
Frances Perkins, U.S. Secretary of Labor. Credit: Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons.

Frances Perkins is appointed Secretary of Labor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, making her the first female Cabinet member in U.S. history.

1955
Rosa Parks in 1955. Credit: USIA / Wikimedia Commons.

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.

1963
American Association of University Women members watch as President John F. Kennedy signs the Equal Pay Act into law on June 10, 1963. Credit: Abbie Rowe / Wikimedia Commons.

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.

1964
Patsy Takemoto Mink, member of the United States House of Representatives. Credit: Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons.

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.

1971

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.

1972
Shirley Chisholm announcing her candidacy on January 25, 1972. Credit: Thomas J. O'Halloran, U.S. News & World Reports / Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons.

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.

1973
Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe), left, and her lawyer Gloria Allred on the steps of the Supreme Court, 1989. Credit: Lorie Shaull / Wikimedia Commons.

In another win for reproductive rights, Roe v. Wade establishes the right to abortion.

1974

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.

1975
Ella T. Grasso. Photo courtesy of the CTPost.

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.

1977
Barbara Mikulski. Photo By Dave Buresh/The Denver Post via Getty Images.

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.

Secretary of H.U.D. Patricia Harris, Jimmy Carter and New York Mayor Abraham Beame tour the South Bronx on October 5, 1977. Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration / Wikimedia Commons.

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.

1978
Nancy Kassebaum. Credit: Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics Archive and Special Collections, University of Kansas.

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.

1981
Sandra Day O'Connor, 1st Female Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Credit: Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons.

Sandra Day O’Connor, nominated by President Ronald Reagan, becomes the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court.

1984
Geraldine Ferraro. Credit: City of Boston Archives.

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.

1985
Ellen R. Malcolm. Photo courtesy of Emily's List.

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.

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1989
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 1989. Credit: State Library and Archives of Florida / Wikimedia Commons.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida, becomes the first Latina elected to Congress.

1992
Credit: Laura Patterson / Library of 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 in 1993. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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.

1993
Janet Reno. Credit: State Library and Archives of Florida.

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.

1997
President Bill Clinton and Secretary Madeleine Albright meet with Russian President Boris Yeltsin on June 20, 1999. Photo by Ralph Alswang.

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.

1960
Tammy Baldwin. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, becomes the first openly gay woman elected to Congress.

2001
Elaine Chao. Credit: United States Department of Labor.

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.

2005
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice answers press questions on August 7, 2006. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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.

2007
Nancy Pelosi in the White House. Photo by Eric Draper.

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.

2008

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.

2014
Janet Yellen. Photo by Paul Morigi.

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.

2016
Hillary Clinton in July 2016. Photo by Ali Shaker/VOA via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

2017
Danica Roem protesting trans military ban in 2017. Credit: Ted Eytan / Flickr.

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.

2018
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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.

2020
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris in 2019. Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr.

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.