The fight for women's representation began long before the 19th Amendment passed in 1920 or the first Congresswoman took office in 1916; and, the historic moments for women's representation are far from over. Take a look through some of the milestones for women's representation in the U.S. in our annotated timeline below; beginning with former First Lady Abigail Adams and continuing on to today.
Want to help more women run, win, serve, and lead? Take Action
Abigail Adams was an outspoken women's advocate and the country's second First Lady. Adams played a double role as John Adams' wife and political adviser; Adams supported her husband in his career but never failed to express her convictions that women should have the same rights as men.
Many of her ideas were ahead of her time: she opposed slavery, stressed the importance of education regardless of gender, and believed it the responsibility of the rich to support the poor. Her appeals for gender equality are recognized as some of the first demands for women’s equal rights.
The Seneca Falls Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (pictured above) and Lucretia Mott organized the meeting, which was the first women's convention to discuss the oppression of women in sociopolitical, economic, and religious life.
Convinced that women had to help themselves and take responsibility for improving their situation, they prepared the Declaration of Sentiments, which included twelve resolutions. The participants passed eleven resolutions, failing to pass a resolution for women’s suffrage. Decades later, the Declaration of Sentiments was used as a foundational document for the women’s suffrage movement.
In 1872, Victoria Woodhull, a women’s rights and suffrage activist, became the first woman to run for president. She was the nominee of the Equal Rights Party.
Woodhull, a resident of New York, was unable to vote for herself on Election Day, as at that time the state restricted voting to men. However, as she had been jailed a few days prior to Election Day for a story she had published in her newspaper Woodhull & Chaflin’s Weekly, her inability to vote was of little consequence.
The State of Colorado pioneered women’s participation in politics. Though the first attempts to establish women’s suffrage failed in 1877, Colorado became the second state to give women the right to vote in 1893.
Clara Cressingham, Frances Klock, and Carrie C. Holly (pictured above) of Colorado were the first women elected to a state legislature, the Colorado House of Representatives. These women focused on social welfare, championing reforms for child labor laws, relief subsidies, and the eight-hour workday.
In 1916, Jeannette Rankin was the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. She was a Republican from Montana, who served from 1917-1919, and again from 1941-1943. Rankin was a supporter of women's suffrage who lobbied Congress for the National American Woman Suffrage Association. As a progressive congresswoman, Rankin advocated a constitutional women's suffrage amendment and focused on social welfare issues.
On August 26, 1920, the women's suffrage movement came to a head with the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in all 50 states.
Some of the movement's major drivers included: the National Women's Party, which sought a constitutional amendment for women's suffrage; the National Woman Suffrage Association, and the American Woman Suffrage Association, which advocated women's suffrage at the national and state levels, respectively, and eventually merged. Women's participation in the First World War gave further impetus to the cause.
On November 21, 1922, Rebecca Latimer Felton was sworn in as a Senator from Georgia. The 87-year-old Felton was appointed in a symbolic gesture to fill a vacancy, after the death of Senator Thomas E. Watson. She only served one day in the Senate.
In July 1924, Soledad C. Chacón was appointed acting Governor of New Mexico for two weeks when Governor James F. Hinkle left the state to attend the Democratic National Convention. Chacón also served as the New Mexico Secretary of State for two terms from 1922-1926. She would go on to be elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives in 1934.
In 1924, women’s involvement in American politics took a leap forward when Wyoming and Texas elected female governors. Nellie Tayloe Ross (pictured above) and Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson, both Democrats, succeeded their husbands in office.
Ross became the governor of Wyoming in a special election after her husband died. She had not been involved in politics before but wanted to continue her husband’s work. Miriam Ferguson succeeded her husband James Ferguson after he was impeached. Much of her work as governor was influenced by her husband.
In 1931, Hattie Wyatt Caraway was the first woman to serve as a U.S. Senator for more than a day. She was appointed after the death of her husband Thaddeus H. Caraway, an Arkansas Senator. Though she made few public appearances during her husband’s term, Caraway stayed involved in politics behind the scenes.
After finishing her husband's term, Caraway was re-elected and served in the Senate until 1945. Her major policy focuses were farm relief and flood control. She was also wary of America's involvement in World War II and the influence of lobbyists.
Frances Perkins was a well-educated and engaging woman, who graduated from Columbia University and Wharton College with a focus on economics and sociology. She worked as a factory inspector and on the Factory Investigation Commission in New York City. Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her as Commissioner of Labor when he was Governor of New York.
Impressed by her work, Roosevelt appointed Perkins as Secretary of Labor in 1932. She was the first female cabinet member, serving 12 years during the Great Depression. Serving in what was a particularly difficult position during that time period, Perkins labored to create back-to-work programs for the struggling workforce.
Margaret Chase Smith’s political career started in 1940 when she succeeded her husband as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Maine. She served four terms in the House before being elected to the Senate in 1948, where she stayed for another 24 years.
Smith engaged in foreign policy and military affairs while serving as a member of the Armed Services Committee. She was the first woman to serve in both the House and Senate.
Senator Margaret Chase Smith ran for president in 1964. Though Smith was not the first woman to run for president, she was the first to have her name placed in nomination for president at a major political party's convention. Smith was on the ballot in several states across the country, including Illinois, where she received 25% of the vote. She eventually lost the nomination to Senator Barry Goldwater.
In 1964, Patsy Mink became the first woman of color and the first Asian American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She went on to serve for a total of twelve terms, representing Hawaii’s initial at-large district and then Hawaii’s second district until her death in 2002.
Mink is most well known for being one of the principal authors of Title IX, as well as the first comprehensive Early Childhood Education Act and the Women's Educational Equity Act. Mink also served as Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs after her first three terms in Congress.
In 1965, The Voting Rights Act was passed, expanding and protecting the suffrage of women of color, especially black women. While the 19th Amendment legally allowed black women to vote, local legislation such as Jim Crow laws and social repercussions often deterred and prevented black women from voting.
Shirley Chisholm's career began in education. After graduating from Brooklyn College and Columbia University, Chisholm worked as a teacher. Soon she was the director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center and later an educational consultant to the Bureau of Child Welfare in New York. She successfully ran for Congress in 1969, becoming the first black congresswoman, and served as a Democratic representative for New York for seven terms. Her career in Congress was dedicated to education, and she served in the Education and Labor Committee. Chisholm was also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
"Unbought and Unbossed" was Shirley Chisholm’s slogan when she campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. She was the first woman seeking the Democratic nomination and also the first African American who tried to become the presidential candidate for a major party. She participated in 12 primaries and went all the way to the Democratic National Convention where she won 152 votes, but lost to George McGovern. Chisholm died in 2005, and the New York Times remembered her as an “outspoken politician who shattered racial and gender barriers as she became a national symbol of liberal politics.”
In 1973, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, the first African-American woman to represent the West Coast in Congress, also became the first U.S. Congresswoman to give birth while serving in congress. Since then, only eight other representatives - and one senator - have given birth while in office. Only two women, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jaime Herrera Beutler (both from Washington State) have had more than one child during their time in the House of Representatives.
Patricia Roberts Harris was the first African American woman appointed to serve in a presidential cabinet position. She was also the first African American woman to serve as Ambassador. She was appointed by President Carter as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and served in this role for two years before being appointed as Secretary of Health and Human Services.
In 1981, President Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to replace Potter Stewart as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Although her nomination was originally opposed by pro-life and religious groups, who worried she should not rule in favor of overturning Roe vs. Wade (1973), she was eventually confirmed by a 99-0 vote in the Senate. While she was a conservative jurist, siding with the conservative justices in the majority of cases before her, many of her decisions were praised for being both narrow and moderate. She retired in 2006.
In 1984, Rep. Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman vice presidential nominee of a major party. Her running mate was Walter F. Mondale, who ran against incumbent Ronald Reagan. Geraldine Ferraro was born in Newburgh, NY in 1935. She graduated with a degree in English from Marymount College and received a law degree from Fordham Law School in 1960. Before being elected to Congress, Ferraro worked for the Queens County Women’s Bar Association and was a Queen’s criminal prosecutor. She served three terms in Congress.
In 1988, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen became the first Latina and first Cuban-American to be elected to Congress. She is currently the most senior Republican woman in the U.S. House of Representatives. Before becoming involved in politics, Ros-Lehtinen was a teacher, having graduated with a B.A. in education and M.A. in educational leadership from Florida International University, followed by a Ph.D. in Higher Education from Miami University. In Congress, Ros-Lehtinen served a term as the chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The 1992 election was significant for women's representation in America. Several factors came together to help women's representation, including the Anita Hill scandal and the subsequent congressional hearing, which illustrated the under-representation of women in Congress. The election bolstered the percentage of women in the national legislature; for the first time, women held more than 10 percent of congressional seats. A record 24 women were elected to the House of Representatives and the number of female senators tripled. The 1992 election sent more women to Congress than the previous five national elections combined.
Carol Moseley-Braun was the first African-American woman elected to the Senate, the first female Senator from Illinois, and the first African-American Democratic senator. In 1991, Moseley-Braun challenged incumbent Alan Dixon in the state's Democratic primary, winning the nomination with the help of donations from Democrats and women from all over the country. Though she lost her re-election bid in 1998, Moseley-Braun continued a career in politics as President Clinton's ambassador to New Zealand, Samoa, the Cook Islands, and Antarctica.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton nominated Madeleine Albright to become the first female Secretary of State. She was confirmed in January 1997 by a unanimous 99-0 vote. Before becoming Secretary of State, Albright served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 1993-1997. In 2012, Albright received the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. Currently, Albright serves as chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, as a professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, and as a director on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Aida Alvarez was the first Latina appointed to serve on a U.S. presidential cabinet. President Clinton appointed Aida as Administrator of the Small Business Administration in 1997 and she served in this role for four years. She oversaw $61.5 billion in guaranteed loans and venture capital financing. Additionally, lending to women and minorities doubled during her time at the Small Business Administration.
Elaine Chao is the first Asian Pacific Islander to be appointed to serve on a U.S. presidential cabinet. She was appointed as the Secretary of Labor by President George W. Bush and served in this role for eight years. She is currently the Secretary of Transportation, appointed by President Trump. She immigrated to the United States at eight years old and has had an extensive public career.
In 2007, Nancy Pelosi was elected America's first female speaker of the House of Representatives. Though Pelosi came from a political family, she did not run for office until 1987, winning a special election in California's 8th District. Pelosi is a strong supporter of health research, health care, and housing programs; she also advocates human rights and environment protection. In 2002, Pelosi was chosen as the Democratic Leader of the House. She became the Speaker of the House in 2008 when the Democrats took control of Congress.
In 2008, Hillary Clinton narrowly lost the Democratic nomination for president to Barack Obama, winning more state primaries and delegates than any other female candidate before her. The former First Lady of Arkansas and the United States served in the U.S. Senate for New York from 2000 to 2009. After President Obama was elected, Clinton served as Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013.
Sarah Palin became the first Republican woman vice presidential nominee in 2008. At the time of her nomination, she was serving as Alaska’s first female governor and had previously served as Mayor of Wasilla. Since her vice presidential bid, she has endorsed other Republican women candidates for various levels of office. Although she was considered a potential candidate in the 2012 presidential elections, she declined to run.
The U.S. Senate confirmed Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court justice in 2009 to replace retired justice David Souter. Previously, Sotomayor served as a district court judge in New York and on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. She was born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents. She was the third woman and first Latinx justice to serve on the Supreme Court.
Susana Martinez was elected Governor of New Mexico in 2010. She is the first Latina woman to serve as governor of an American state (Sila Calerdón had already served as Governor of Puerto Rico from 2001 to 2005).
Nikki Haley was elected as the first woman Governor of South Carolina in 2010. She is the first Asian American and Indian American woman to serve as governor, and is also, at the age of 41, the youngest current governor in the nation. Prior to her governorship, Haley was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 2004 after defeating Larry Koon in the Republican primary, who was then the longest-serving member of the South Carolina House.
In 2012, Tammy Baldwin became the first women to be elected to the U.S. Senate from Wisconsin. She is also the first and only openly gay U.S. Senator. Prior to her election to the Senate, Baldwin had served in the U.S. House since 1999. She has been a staunch advocate for progressive policies during her 14 year tenure in Congress.
In 2012, Mazie Keiko Hirono became the first woman elected U.S. Senator from Hawaii, defeating Republican Linda Lingle. Hirono is the first Asian-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate, the first U.S. Senator born in Japan, and the nation’s first Buddhist Senator. Until 2016, Hirono was the only person of Asian descent in the U.S. Senate. Before becoming Senator, Hirono was a U.S. Congresswoman, Democratic nominee for Governor of Hawaii, Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii, and a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives.
In 2012, Kyrsten Sinema became the first openly bisexual person elected to Congress. A former social worker, grassroots organizer, and state representative, Sinema has represented Arizona's 9th Congressional district in the House since 2012.
In 2014, Mia Love became the first African American Republican woman (and the first Haitian-American) to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives when she defeated Doug Owens by 4,000 votes. Love represents Utah’s 4 congressional district and was elected mayor of Saratoga Springs, UT and served on the city council prior to her election to Congress.
In 2014, Joni Ernst became the first woman from Iowa elected to the U.S. Congress. She is also the first female veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate. This was a title she held alone until the election of Tammy Duckworth in 2016. Prior to becoming a senator, Ernst served as a member of the Iowa Senate for three years and as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard.
In 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first woman to win the nomination of a major party for President of the United States. Prior to her nomination Clinton served as the 67th U.S. Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, a U.S. Senator from New York from 2001 to 2009, First Lady of the U.S. from 1993 to 2001, First Lady of Arkansas, and practiced law after her graduation from Yale Law School in 1973.
In 2016, Tammy Duckworth challenged incumbent Mark Kirk for the Illinois U.S. Senate seat. Duckworth was injured by a rocket rocket propelled grenade while fighting in the Iraq War, losing both of her legs and damaging her right arm. She is the first paraplegic to serve in the U.S. Senate, and was the first disabled woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Duckworth is also the first Asian-American senator from Illinois and the first Member of Congress born in Thailand.
In 2015, Kate Brown succeeded John Kitzhaber to become Governor of Oregon. Brown is the first openly bisexual governor in US history, and her election win in 2016 made her the first openly LGBTQ+ person elected as a US Governor. Before becoming governor, Brown served as Oregon’s Secretary of State for six years and in the Oregon Legislative Assembly for 18 years.
In 2016, Catherine Cortez Masto won the seat of retiring Harry Reid to become a U.S. Senator for the state of Nevada. Cortez Mastro’s victory over Republican Congressman Joe Heck made her the first female Senator from Nevada and the first ever Latina in the U.S. Senate. Before becoming a Senator, Cortez Masto served as Nevada’s Attorney General for eight years.
In 2017, Danica Roem defeated 26-year incumbent Bob Marshall to represent the 13th District of the Virginia House of Delegates. Roem’s victory made her the first openly transgender person to be elected and serve in a U.S. state legislature. Prior to serving in office, Roem worked as a reporter and news editor.
In 2018, Ilhan Omar defeated Republican Jennifer Zielinski to represent the 5th District of Minnesota in the United States House of Representatives. Omar's victory made her the first Somali-American in Congress and along with Rashida Tlaib she is also one of the first Muslim woman in Congress. Prior to serving in Congress, Omar had served in the Minnesota House of Representatives since 2016.
In 2018, Sharice Davids became one of the first Indigenous woman elected to Congress after defeating Republican incumbent Kevin Yoder to represent the 3rd District of Kansas in the United States House of Representatives. Openly gay, Davids is also the first LGBTQ person to represent Kansas in Congress.
In 2018, Deb Haaland became one of the first Indigenous woman elected to Congress after defeating former New Mexico State Representative Janice Arnold-Jones. Haaland, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, became the first Native American woman to preside over the United States House of Representatives on March 7th, 2019 during a debate on voting rights and campaign finance.
In 2018, Janet Mills was elected Governor of Maine, the first woman to hold that position. She previously served as the state's first female Attorney General, having been elected in 2009.
In 2018, Kristi Noem became the first female Governor of South Dakota after defeating Democrat Billie Sutton. Noem previously served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from South Dakota's at-large district.
In 2018, Ayanna Pressley became the first black Congresswoman to represent Massachusetts after defeating the 10-term Democratic congressman Michael Capuano. Pressley represents Massachusetts 7th District, and previously served as the first black woman on Boston's City Council.
In 2018, Marsha Blackburn became Tennessee's first female Senator after winning retiring Republican Senator Bob Corker's seat. Blackburn previously represented Tennessee's 7th District in the United States House of Representatives since 2003.
In 2018, Veronica Escobar became one of Texas's first Latina Congresswomen after defeating Republican Rick Seeberger. Escobar is the second Hispanic, and first woman ever to represent Texas's 16th District. Prior to serving in the House of Representatives, Escobar was elected as County Judge of El Paso County in 2010.
In 2018, Sylvia Garcia became one of Texas's first Latina Congresswomen after defeating Republican Phillip Aronoff. Garcia represents the 29th District of Texas, after winning the primary easily with 63% of the vote. Garcia previously served as a member of the Texas Senate from the 6th District having been elected in 2013.
In 2019, Eileen Filler-Corn beat out three other candidates to become Virginia's first female speaker of the House of Delegates. Filler-Corn is also the first woman to serve as the minority leader of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Michelle Wu was elected mayor of Boston, MA in 2021. She became the first person of color and first Asian-American woman to be elected to the seat.