Political Firsts

American Women, At a Glimpse

Countless American women have struggled to achieve equality with men and gain access to the boardrooms of power. Below is a timeline of women who have changed the face of American politics by being first to run for office, be it the Presidency, the Supreme Court or the Congress.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton View Larger >


Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Jeannette Rankin


Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
Rebecca Latimer Felton


Leonard McCombe
Margaret Chase Smith


Permission from Wendy Mink
Patsy Takemoto Mink


Thomas J. O'Halloran
Shirley Chisholm View Larger >


Diana Walker
Sandra Day O'Connor View Larger >


Chip Somodevilla
Condoleeza Rice View Larger >


United States Federal Government
Nancy Pelosi View Larger >
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the first woman to run for the U.S. House of Representatives, even though she was not eligible to vote. She ran as an Independent from New York, receiving 24 of 12,000 votes cast.

Victoria Woodhull, a stockbroker, publisher, and protégé of Cornelius Vanderbilt, ran for president of the United States on the Equal Rights Party ticket.

Belva Lockwood, the first woman admitted to practice law before the U.S Supreme Court, ran for president on the Equal Rights Party Ticket; she did so again in 1888.

Susanna Salter was elected mayor of Argonia, Kansas -- the first woman mayor in the country.

Frances Warren of Wyoming became the first woman delegate to a Republican National Convention. In the same year, Elizabeth Cohen of Utah was chosen as an alternate to the Democratic National Convention. When another delegate became ill, Cohen became the first woman delegate to a Democratic National Convention.

Jeannette Rankin, a Republican from Montana, entered the U.S. House of Representatives, the first woman ever elected to Congress. She served from 1917 to 1919 and again from 1941 to 1942; a pacifist, she was the only lawmaker to vote against U.S. entry into both world wars.

After 72 years of struggle, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote.

The League of Women Voters was founded by members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association as a means of encouraging informed participation by the new female electorate.

Rebecca Latimer Felton, a Georgia Democrat, became the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. She was appointed to fill a vacant seat temporarily; she served for only two days before giving up her seat to the man who had been elected to it.

Bertha K. Landes, Republican city council president at the time, became acting mayor of Seattle, the first woman to lead a major American city. Two years later she was elected mayor in her own right in a campaign run by women. She lost in her bid for a second full term.

Nellie Tayloe Ross, a Wyoming Democrat, became the nation's first woman governor, elected to replace her deceased husband.

With her appointment by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins became the first woman ever to serve in a presidential cabinet. She served until 1945.

Ruth Bryan Owen, a former congresswoman, became the first woman to hold a major diplomatic post when she was appointed by President Roosevelt as minister to Denmark. She held that post until 1936, when her marriage to a Dane and resulting dual citizenship made her ineligible to serve.

Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a Maine Republican, was nominated for the presidency by Vermont Senator George Aiken at the Republican national convention. Elected to the House of Representatives in 1940 (to replace her dying husband) and the Senate in 1948, Smith had already made history by becoming the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress.

Patsy Takemoto Mink, a Democrat from Hawaii, became the first woman of color and the first woman of Asian-Pacific Islander descent in the House of Representatives. She served until 1977 and was re-elected in 1990.

The National Organization for Women was established to combat discrimination against women in every sphere. Its aim was to "bring women into full participation in the main-stream of American Society now."

Shirley Chisholm, a New York Democrat, became the first Black woman to serve in Congress. She remained in the House of Representatives until 1982.

The National Women's Political Caucus was formed. Its aims were to increase women's access to political power in the major parties and to encourage and support women committed to women's rights who seek elective and appointive office.

Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm ran for president in the Democratic primaries. At the party's national convention, she garnered 151.25 delegate votes before Senator George McGovern clinched the nomination.

The Women's Campaign Fund was formed for the purpose of "electing qualified progressive women of both parties to public office at every level." It was the first national political action committee with the specific goal of funding women's campaigns.

Patricia Roberts Harris was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development during 1977-1979. From 1979-1981, she served as Secretary of Health and Human Services. She was the first Black woman to serve in a presidential cabinet and the first woman to hold two different cabinet positions.

Nancy Landon Kassebaum, a Kansas Republican, was elected to the United States Senate. Prior to her election, all of the women who served in the Senate had succeeded their husbands in Congress or had first been appointed to fill out unexpired terms.

For the first time, a national party's nominating convention delegates included equal numbers of men and women. At its convention in New York, the Democratic Party also added to its charter a requirement that future conventions have equal numbers of female and male delegates.

Sandra Day O'Connor, a former Republican state legislator from Arizona who had served on a state appeals court, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the first woman ever to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Third-term Congresswoman Geraldine A. Ferraro (D-NY), secretary of the House Democratic Caucus, became the first woman ever to run on a major party's national ticket when she was selected by Walter F. Mondale as his Vice Presidential running mate. The ticket was decisively defeated, capturing only 13 electoral votes, and few analysts felt that Ferraro's presence had a strong impact -- positive or negative -- on the outcome.

Barbara Ann Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, became the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate without previously filling an unexpired Congressional term. She was re-elected in 1992 and 1998.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, became the first Hispanic woman and first Cuban American to be elected to Congress. She was elected in August 1989 in a special election and continues to serve.

Nydia Velasquez, a New York Democrat, was elected in 1992, becoming the first Puerto Rican woman to serve in Congress. She continues to serve.

Carol Moseley Braun, an Illinois Democrat, became the first African- American woman and the first women of color to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Her term ended in 1999 when she lost her re-election bid.

Janet Reno became the first woman to serve as U.S. Attorney General. She served in President Bill Clinton's cabinet from 1993-2001.

Madeleine K. Albright, became the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State, serving from 1997-2001. She became the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. government but, as a naturalized citizen, she would not have been eligible to become President.

Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, became the first openly gay or lesbian person elected to Congress as a non-incumbent. She was also Wisconsin's first woman in Congress.

Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from New York, the only First Lady ever elected to public office. She won an open seat in a general election.

Condoleezza Rice became the first woman to hold the post of National Security Advisor when she was appointed by President George W. Bush.

Elaine Chao became the first Asian-American woman to serve in a presidential cabinet when she was appointed Secretary of Labor by President George W.Bush.

Ann Veneman was appointed by President George W. Bush to be the first female Secretary of Agriculture. She had previously been the first woman to serve as Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) became the first woman to hold the position of vice-chair of the Senate Republican Conference during the 107th Congress (2001-2003).

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) became the first woman to serve as chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Sila Calderon (Popular Democratic Party), former mayor of San Juan, became the first woman governor of Puerto Rico.

Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) became the first woman to head her party in Congress when she was elected by her colleagues as House Democratic Leader.

The election to Congress of Linda Sanchez (D-CA) meant that for the first time, two sisters served together in the House. Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) was first elected to the House in 1996.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice became the first Republican woman and the first African-American woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State.

Washington state became the first state to have both a woman governor (Christine Gregoire, D) and two women serving in the U.S. Senate (Patty Murray, D and Maria Cantwell, D).

Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) became the first woman Speaker of the U.S. House.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first woman to win a major party's presidential primary for the purposes of delegate selection when she won the primary in New Hampshire on January 8.

Facts and Findings courtesy of the Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University.

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