Throughout US history, women have been historically underrepresented in all aspects of politics. While we look to close the gender gap in politics, it is important to remember the accomplishments of the women who came before us and did their part in working towards gender equality. Here are five important “firsts” for women in US politics.

1916 – Jeannette Rankin becomes the first woman to be elected to the US House of Representatives

When you think of states within the US that have done the most for gender equality, Montana might not be the first state that comes to mind. However, they did elect the first woman in the House of Representatives (and the first in either chamber of Congress) and was the seventh state to give women unrestricted voting rights in 1914, five years before the 19th amendment was ratified. Jeannette Rankin served one term after her first election but was elected again for another term years later in 1940. Before she was elected to Congress, Rankin played a large role in the women’s suffrage movement. Rankin was known to be a pacifist, and was one of 50 House members to vote against the declaration of war on Germany in 1917 and the only member to vote against the declaration of war on Japan in 1941. 

1932 – Hattie Caraway becomes the first woman to be elected to the US Senate

Although multiple women had been appointed to serve in the US Senate, Hattie Caraway of Arkansas was the first woman to actually be elected by a constituency. Caraway was first appointed to the US Senate after her husband, who at the time was serving as US Senator from Arkansas, passed away. During this time, there was a precedent (an admittedly strange one) that stated a senator’s widow would fill their seat until a special election was held. Accordingly, the governor of Arkansas appointed Hattie Caraway to fill the remainder of her husband’s term, which was to end just a few weeks later. She then won a special election, making her the first woman elected to the US Senate. 

1981 – Sandra Day O’Connor becomes the first woman to serve as a US Supreme Court justice

In July 1981, following the retirement of Justice Potter Stewert, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor to the US Supreme Court. She was confirmed by a unanimous vote in the US Senate and joined the Supreme Court in September 1981. During her time on the court, Justice O’Connor took part in many landmark decisions, most notably Planned Parenthood v. Casey, where she joined a coalition of justices to uphold the precedent set in Roe v. Wade. O’Connor was known for her case-by-case approach to the cases brought before the Supreme Court, where she served until her retirement in 2005. (Just a few weeks ago, Justice O’Connor passed away at age 93. I echo the words of current Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who wrote of O’Connor: “I am grateful not only for the doors she opened, but for the style with which she walked through them.”)

2007 – Nancy Pelosi becomes the first woman to be elected Speaker of the House

Nancy Pelosi has been, without a doubt, a trailblazer throughout her career. Prior to being the first woman to hold the position of Speaker of the House, she rose through the ranks of House Democratic leadership, becoming the first woman to serve as House Minority Whip and later House Minority Leader. Pelosi, in addition to serving as Speaker of the House from 2007-2011, also served as Speaker from 2019-2023 when Democrats regained control of the House. From 2007-2011 and 2019-2021, Pelosi was the highest ranking woman in office in the United States. 

2020 – Kamala Harris becomes the first woman to be elected Vice President of the US

The 2020 election was consequential in many ways, but it also served as multiple firsts. Kamala Harris became the first woman to hold the vice presidency, as well as the first person of color to hold the vice presidency. Before joining Joe Biden as his running mate, Harris served as a US senator from California, and prior to that, served as Attorney General of California. Currently, Kamala Harris is the highest ranking woman in office in the United States as the first in line of presidential succession. Harris is also seen as a frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nominee for the 2028 election cycle. 


Hi! My name is Annabella and I am currently a sophomore at Marymount University where I am studying political science. During the Spring 2023 term, I had the privilege of interning with Representative Derek Kilmer and upon graduation intend to stay in DC to pursue a career in politics. When I am not in DC, you can find me in the “other Washington,” Washington state, where I am from.

By Erin Wheeler
Erin Wheeler Career Consultant