For the last several decades, feminists have claimed there isn’t enough parity in business, politics, and other leadership positions. This has been especially true of conservative politicians. But upon closer inspection, it’s clear that women have been making significant gains, particularly in politics.
And in some notable cases, Republican women have been leading the way.
Recently, the Congressional Women’s Caucus, a bipartisan group of female elected officials, gathered on the House floor to celebrate how far women have come in politics since Jeanette Rankin — the first woman to serve in the U.S. Congress — shattered a glass ceiling by asking, “Why not me?”
Jeanette Rankin — the first woman to serve in the U.S. Congress — shattered a glass ceiling by asking, “Why not me?”
Rankin became the first woman to ever serve in the United States Congress on April 2, 1917. “The gentlewoman from Montana, who previously called my district in Eastern Washington home, was elected to Congress prior to women having the right to vote, and helped western states lead the nation down the road to universal women’s suffrage,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), House Republican Conference Chair. “She wants to be remembered, she said, as the only woman who ever voted to give women the right to vote.”
Since then, 300 women have served in Congress, breaking down barriers, making accomplishments, marking firsts, and standing up for their district’s interests. Their backgrounds are as diverse as their political views, but they have one thing in common: they are women who care about women’s issues.
Several Republican women currently serving in Congress can boast of many “firsts.” Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) was the first in her family to go to law school; Kay Granger (R-Texas) was the first woman to be elected mayor of Fort Worth; Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) was the youngest woman elected to the Wyoming legislature; Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) was the first female fighter pilot; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) is the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress. The list goes on. Many of these women juggled careers in law, finances, education and medicine — not to mention raising children — before entering politics.
Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), co-chair of the caucus-led the event, was among several who women spoke about how important this milestone was for women around the country.
“Because of Rankin’s groundbreaking achievement 100 years ago, hundreds of women across the country have made history in Congress, drawing attention to the pressing issues of their time and creating policies that have impacted generations of Americans,” she said.
McMorris Rodgers said this wasn’t just about gender or politics but rather a celebration of the American spirit. She painted a picture every Republican and Democrat who yearns for progress for future generations, beyond equality just for equality’s sake, could get behind.
“After 100 years, we stand on the shoulder of giants — but we stand there to lift the next generation higher than ourselves,” Rodgers said. “We stand there so that every woman has a voice, and has an opportunity to be legendary, and so that women can keep making history for years to come.”
Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), the first woman to chair the powerful House Budget Committee, pointed out the stories of 300 women coming to Capitol Hill from diverse backgrounds to represent their districts shouldn’t be unique. Her story, like many of the women who’ve been elected to the House, is particularly inspiring.
I spent the first years of my life in public housing…I was prepared to live a life of unfilled potential. I started to believe…that maybe the American Dream wasn’t for me. But in time, doors of opportunity were opened that helped me realize a plan for my life that was greater than I could ever imagine. …I have traveled far corners of the world and have seen the struggle that women endure for access to education, a paycheck, and for real independence. And I’m keenly aware that only here in this country is my story even possible. Only here could someone like me go from living in the halls of public housing to serving in the halls of the United States Capitol. …As we celebrate 100 years of women in Congress, we must resolve that stories like ours are not unique. The work we have done here in Congress must reach today’s young women with the truth that they have God-given talents waiting to be used, and that the American Dream is theirs to share as well.
As the first Republican woman to represent American Samoa, Delegate Amata Radewagen has pioneered a new path for women and also praised Rankin’s legacy for inspiring her — and all the women who represented in Congress before her.
While it’s tempting to give in to the feminist claim that women in America haven’t made nearly as much progress as in other countries, celebratory occasions like this are good reminders of just how far we have come.
Of course, there’s always room for improvement and there are millions of girls watching — hoping — for a future where they too can be active in politics, business, finance, education, medicine: All they need do is look to the women who went before them as a source of inspiration.
Speeches can be viewed here.
Nicole Russell is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter .