Updated April 10, 2021
Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for President, adopted the campaign slogan “Unbought and Unbossed” for her 1972 run at the White House. She was a pioneer, having become the second Black woman elected to the New York State Assembly and the first in the US Congress in 1968. In the House, Chisholm spoke out against the Vietnam War, helped institute the national food stamp program, and employed an all-women staff. Chisholm opened the Democratic Party’s eyes to the leadership potential of people of all races and genders. “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” she liked to say. Source: Wikipedia – Shirley Chisholm
Before the 19th amendment became law, Jeannette Rankin (R-MT) became the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1916.
During Rankin’s first term, Montana’s state legislature voted to replace the state’s two at-large Congressional seats with two single-member districts. With little chance of re-election in the overwhelmingly Democratic western district, Rankin chose instead to run for the Senate in 1918. After losing the Republican primary, she accepted the nomination of the National Party and finished third in the general election. However, she was elected again to the House of Representatives in 1940. Source: Wikipedia – Jeannette Rankin.
In 1922, Rebecca Latimer Felton (D-GA) became the first woman appointed to the Senate, but only served one day. At 87 years, nine months, and 22 days old, she was the oldest freshman senator to enter the Senate. She was the only woman to have served as a Senator from Georgia until the appointment of Kelly Loeffler in 2020, nearly a hundred years later. You will want to read why she was appointed with the expectation of a short one-day term. Source: Wikipedia – Rebecca Latimer Felton.
In 1964, Patsy Takemoto Mink (D-HI) became the first woman of color elected to the House. Source: Wikipedia – Patsy Mink.
In 1978, Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-KS) became the first woman elected to the Senate without having previously filled an unexpired Congressional term. She served until 1997. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) was the first Democratic woman to do so in 1987. She served until 2017. Sources: Wikipedia – Nancy Kassebaum and Barbara Mikulski
Barbara Jordan broke ground for Black women in U.S. politics with her unprecedented rise to Congress. She was not a radical so much as a political master who learned the system inside and out, charming and outmaneuvering political adversaries. At the end of her first Texas state senate session in 1967, the thirty other members—all of them white men—gave her a standing ovation. She was thirty-six years old when, in 1973, she became the first southern Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. Jordan did important work expanding the Voting Rights Act, and her reasoned denouncement of President Richard Nixon’s crimes in the Watergate scandal remains one of her most famous speeches. Source: Wikipedia – Barbara Jordan.
In 1992, Carol Moseley Braun (D-IL) became the first woman of color elected to the Senate. She represented Illinois in the Senate from 1993 to 1999. Prior to her Senate tenure, Moseley Braun was a member of the Illinois House of Representatives from 1979 to 1988. She has also served as a U.S. Ambassador to Samoa. Source: Wikipedia – Carol Moseley Braun.
In 1998, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) became the first openly gay or lesbian person elected to an initial Congressional term. She then became the first openly gay member of the Senate when she was elected in 2012. Source: Wikipedia – Tammy Baldwin.
Sharice Davids is the first openly gay person to represent Kansas in the House of Representatives and the first openly gay Native American woman in Congress. In 2018, she was one of the two first Native American women elected to Congress, along with Deb Haaland of New Mexico. Source: Wikipedia – Sharice Davids.
If you’ve ever been in the position where you’ve had to explain your sexuality, you understand what it has been like for Chicana Texas state representative Mary González. When she ran for her seat in 2012, it was widely reported that she was a lesbian. Post election, González clarified that she loves people regardless of their gender, making her the first openly pansexual person to serve in a U.S. legislature. She’s won her reelections ever since, focusing her work on education, economic development, and agricultural issues. Source: Wikipedia – Mary Gonzalez.
Mazie Hirono from Hawaii was elected to the Senate in 2012. Hirono is the first elected female senator from Hawaii, the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate, the first U.S. senator born in Japan, and the nation’s first Buddhist senator. Hirono served as a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives from 1981 to 1995 and as Hawaii’s ninth lieutenant governor from 1994 to 2002. The Democratic nominee for governor of Hawaii in 2002, Hirono was defeated by a Republican woman. From 2007 to 2013, she served as a member of the United States House of Representatives for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district. She was elected to the Senate in 2012. Source: Wikipedia Mazie Hirono.
The first openly transgender woman of color elected was Kim Coco Iwamoto, who had successfully run for Hawai‘i’s Board of Education in 2006. She was recognized as a Champion of Change by President Barack Obama in 2013, and in 2018 Newsweek listed her as one of fifty need-to-know pioneers for LGBTQ rights. Source: Wikipedia – Kim Coco Iwamoto.
Mia Love is an American political commentator and politician who served as the U.S. Representative for Utah’s 4th congressional district from 2015 to 2019. Love was the first Black mayor in Utah. She is the first Black Republican woman, Haitian American woman, and Mormon woman to be elected to Congress. Though once critical of the influential Congressional Black Caucus, Love became a respected member of the group after her election to the House due to her bipartisan take on some policy issues. She ran for re-election in 2018 but was defeated. Source: Wikipedia – Mia Love.
Eleanor Holmes Norton has been serving as a Delegate to the United States House of Representatives, representing the District of Columbia since 1990. Previously, she chaired the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1977–1981. Norton cofounded the National Black Feminist Organization in 1973. She was the first woman to lead the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—no wonder she was responsible for groundbreaking work against gender-based harassment. Norton was one of only three Black women in Congress when she first took office. Source: Wikipedia – Eleanor Holmes Norton.
In the 2017 Virginia elections, Danica Roem was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. She is the first out transgender person to be elected to the Virginia General Assembly, and in January 2018 became the first to both be elected and serve while openly transgender in any U.S. state legislature. Source: Wikipedia – Danica Roem.
Jeanne Shaheen was the first woman elected governor of New Hampshire. Since 2009, she has been the senior senator of New Hampshire. She is the first female U.S. senator in New Hampshire’s history and the first woman elected as both a governor and a U.S. senator, with the junior senator from New Hampshire and former governor of the state Maggie Hassan being the second woman to have occupied both of those roles. One of Obama’s first acts as president was to sign into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which Shaheen cosponsored. It gave women more tools in the fight against bosses who pay them less than men. She can trace her lineage back to Pocahontas, the Powhatan woman best known for her work as a go-between for the colonists and her tribe. Source: Wikipedia – Jeanne Shaheen.
Rashida Tlaib is the first Arab American woman to serve in either house of the U.S. Congress. She and fellow member of Congress Ilhan Omar from MN share the title of first Muslim women to serve in the House of Representatives. Tlaib is a member of The Squad, an informal group of six (four until the 2020 elections) U.S. Representatives on the left wing of the Democratic Party. Tlaib is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). She and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) are the first female DSA members to serve in Congress. Source: Wikipedia – Rashida Tlaib.
Maxine Waters, elected to the House of Representatives in 1991 from California, is the first Black person and woman to head the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees Wall Street, the Federal Reserve, the World Bank, and the US Treasury. She is the most senior of the twelve black women currently serving in Congress, and she chaired the Congressional Black Caucus from 1997 to 1999. In 2018 Time magazine honored Waters as one of the world’s one hundred most influential people. Source: Wikipedia – Maxine Waters.
Nikki Haley, of South Carolina, was the first Indian American woman to become a governor. To celebrate, Time magazine put her on its cover with the subhead, “Women Who Are Changing the World.” She is listed on Presidential Cabinet Picks page as Trump’s UN Ambassador, making her the first woman of Indian-American descent in a cabinet-ranking position. She also is included on our US Diplomatic Women page. Source: Wikipedia – Nikki Haley.