Women in the United States Senate

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There have been 44[1] women in the United States Senate since the establishment of that body in 1789. The first woman served in 1922 (for a single day), but the first woman elected to the Senate was Hattie Caraway in 1932. Fourteen of the women who have served were appointed; seven of those were appointed to succeed their deceased husbands. Currently, the 114th Congress has 20 female senators, the same number as in the 113th Congress.[2]


By the 111th Congress (2009-2011), the number of women senators had increased to 17, including four Republicans and 13 Democrats.

Throughout most of the Senate's history, that legislative chamber has been almost entirely male. Until 1920, few women ran for the Senate. Until the 1990s, very few were elected. This paucity of women was due to many factors, including the lack of women's suffrage in many states until ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, women's limited access to higher education until the mid-1900s, public perceptions of gender roles, and barriers to women's advancement such as sex discrimination, which still plays a factor in their limited numbers today.

The first woman in the Senate was Rebecca Latimer Felton who served for only one day in 1922. Hattie Caraway of Arkansas became the first woman to win election to the Senate, in 1932. No women served from 1922 to 1931, 1945 to 1947, and 1973 to 1978. Since 1978, there has always been at least one woman in the Senate.

There were still few women in the Senate near the end of the 20th century, long after women began to make up a significant portion of the membership of the House. In fact, the first time there were three women in the Senate simultaneously was in 1992, when Jocelyn Burdick of North Dakota, joined Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. The number increased to four in November, when Dianne Feinstein won a special election in California.

This trend began to change in the wake of the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings, and the subsequent election of the 103rd Congress in 1992, which was dubbed the "Year of the Woman."[3] In addition to Mikulski, who was reelected that year, four women were elected to the Senate, all Democrats. They were Patty Murray of Washington, Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, and Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both of California. In June 1993, Kay Bailey Hutchison won a special election in Texas, and joined Kassebaum as a fellow female Republican senator. These additions significantly diminished the popular perception of the Senate as an exclusive "boys' club."

Since then, many more women in both the Democratic and Republican parties have campaigned for the Senate, and several have been elected. Of the 31 women who have ever been elected 20 are currently serving in the 114th Congress (2015-2016).

Cumulatively, 29 female senators have been Democrats, while 17 have been Republicans. Of the 20 female senators now serving, 14 are Democrats and 6 are Republicans.

Women senators for the 114th Congress[edit]

As of January 2011, there were 17 women serving in the 100-person body. As of January 2015, the number of serving women senators increased to 20–14 Democrats and 6 Republicans. Republican Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) did not seek re-election, while five new women senators were elected: Republican Deb Fischer (Nebraska) and Democrats Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin), Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) and Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts).[4] In 2014, Democratic Senators Kay Hagan (North Carolina) and Mary Landrieu (Louisiana) were defeated for re-election, while two new women senators were elected: Republicans Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia) and Joni Ernst (Iowa).

For three states, California, Washington, and New Hampshire, both senators are women. California's two senators (Boxer and Feinstein) were the first two women to be elected to the U.S. Senate in the same election (in 1992) from the same state. Ten female senators had previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives - a distinction long held by only Margaret Chase Smith - Sens. Mikulski, Boxer, Snowe, Lincoln, Stabenow, Cantwell, Gillibrand, Baldwin, Hirono and Moore Capito.

ClassStateNamePartyPrior ExperienceFirst took
3AlaskaLisa MurkowskiRepublicanAlaska House of Representatives20021957
1CaliforniaDianne FeinsteinDemocratPresident of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Mayor of San Francisco19921933
3CaliforniaBarbara BoxerDemocratMarin County Board of Supervisors, U.S. House of Representatives19931940
1HawaiiMazie HironoDemocratU.S. House of Representatives, Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii, Hawaii House of Representatives20131947
2IowaJoni ErnstRepublicanMontgomery County Auditor; Iowa Senate20151970
2MaineSusan CollinsRepublicanDeputy Maine Treasurer; gubernatorial nominee19971952
3MarylandBarbara MikulskiDemocratBaltimore City Council, U.S. House of Representatives19871936
1MassachusettsElizabeth WarrenDemocratHarvard University Law Professor, Special Adviser to the President for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau20131949
1MichiganDebbie StabenowDemocratMichigan House of Representatives, Michigan Senate, U.S. House of Representatives20011950
1MinnesotaAmy KlobucharDemocratic-Farmer-LaborHennepin County Attorney20071960
1MissouriClaire McCaskillDemocratMissouri House of Representatives, Jackson County Legislature, Jackson County, Missouri Prosecutor, State Auditor of Missouri20071953
1NebraskaDeb FischerRepublicanNebraska Legislature20131951
2New HampshireJeanne ShaheenDemocratNew Hampshire Senate, Governor of New Hampshire20091947
3New HampshireKelly AyotteRepublicanNew Hampshire Attorney General20111968
1New YorkKirsten GillibrandDemocratU.S. House of Representatives20091966
1North DakotaHeidi HeitkampDemocratNorth Dakota Attorney General, North Dakota Tax Commissioner20131955
3WashingtonPatty MurrayDemocratWashington Senate19931950
1WashingtonMaria CantwellDemocratWashington House of Representatives, U.S. House of Representatives20011958
2West VirginiaShelley Moore CapitoRepublicanWest Virginia House of Delegates, U.S. House of Representatives20151953
1WisconsinTammy BaldwinDemocratWisconsin State Assembly, U.S. House of Representatives20131962

Election, selection and family[edit]

Before 2001, numerically speaking, the most common way for a woman to ascend to the U.S. Senate was to have been appointed there following the death or resignation of a husband or father who previously held the seat. An example is Muriel Humphrey (D-MN), the widow of former senator and Vice President Hubert Humphrey; she was appointed to fill his seat until a special election was held (in which she did not run). However, with the election of three women in 2000, the balance shifted: More women have now entered service as a senator by winning their seats outright than by being appointed to the body.[citation needed]

Recent examples of selection include Jean Carnahan and Lisa Murkowski. In 2000, Jean Carnahan (D-MO) was appointed to fill the Senate seat won by her recently deceased husband, Mel Carnahan. Carnahan—even though dead—defeated the incumbent senator, John Ashcroft. Carnahan's widow was named to fill his seat by Missouri Governor Roger Wilson until a special election was held. However, she lost the subsequent 2002 election to fill out the rest of the six-year term. In 2002, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was appointed by her father Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski, who had resigned from the Senate to become governor, to serve the remaining two years of his term. Lisa Murkowski defeated former governor Tony Knowles in her reelection bid in 2004.

Two recent members of the Senate brought with them a combination of name recognition resulting from the political careers of their famous husbands and their own substantial experience in public affairs. The first, former Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), is married to former Senate Majority Leader and 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole and served as Secretary of Transportation under President Ronald Reagan and Secretary of Labor under President George H. W. Bush; she later ran a losing bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. The other, former Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), wife of former President Bill Clinton, was First Lady of the United States and First Lady of Arkansas before taking her seat in 2000. She too ran an unsuccessful campaign for her party's presidential nomination in 2008; she resigned in 2009 to become the secretary of state for the eventual victor of that election, Barack Obama.

Another famous name is Nancy Landon Kassebaum, the daughter of former Kansas governor and one-time presidential candidate Alf Landon. After retiring from the Senate, she married former Senator Howard Baker (R-TN). Kassebaum has the distinction of being the first female elected senator who did not succeed her husband in Congress (Margaret Chase Smith was only elected to the Senate after succeeding her husband to his House seat). At the time of her retirement in 1997, Kassebaum was the second longest serving female senator, after Smith (though now that five other women senators have since served longer tenures, she is now seventh).

Firsts and onlies[edit]

Senator Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) holds several distinctions for women in the U.S. Congress: She served in the Senate for 24 years, longer than any other female senator until Barbara Mikulski eclipsed her record in 2011; she was the first woman ever elected to both the U.S. House and Senate (she was first elected to the House in 1940 after the unexpected death of her husband, who himself was a member of the House of Representatives, and she served there for eight years before winning the Senate seat by a landslide); she was the first woman to hold a Senate Leadership position; and she also won her 1960 race for Senate in the nation's first ever race pitting two women against each other for a Senate seat.

Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire holds the distinction of being the first woman elected both governor and senator of a state.

Houses served[edit]

Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) arrived in the Senate in 1995, having previously served in the House of Representatives and both houses of the Maine state legislature. She and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan are the only women to have served in both houses of a state legislature and both houses of the federal legislature.

Defeated incumbents[edit]

In 1992, Carol Moseley Braun (D-IL) became the first woman to defeat an incumbent senator when she toppled Senator Alan Dixon in the Democratic primary. Later that year, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was the first woman to defeat an incumbent senator from a different party when she defeated appointed Senator John Seymour in a special election. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) duplicated Feinstein's feat in 1993, toppling appointed Senator Bob Krueger in a special election. In 2000, Stabenow (D-MI) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) became the first women to defeat incumbent elected senators in a general election, unseating Senators Spencer Abraham and Slade Gorton respectively. In 2008, Kay Hagan became the first woman to unseat a female incumbent, Elizabeth Dole.

Senators from the same state[edit]

The first time two female senators from the same state served concurrently was Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-CA), both elected in 1992, with Feinstein taking office that same year (as the result of a special election) and Boxer taking office in 1993. For a brief time, there were two female senators from Kansas serving concurrently, when Nancy Kassebaum and Sheila Frahm briefly served together after Frahm's appointment in 1996; Frahm did not win election to the seat and left office later the same year. Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins served concurrently from 1997, when Collins entered office, to 2013, when Snowe retired. In Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have also served concurrently since 2001, when Cantwell entered office. Upon the opening of the 112th Congress, New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen was joined by newly elected Republican Kelly Ayotte, making the first female tandem senators that do not belong to the same party.

List of states represented by women[edit]

States that have been represented by female senators.
  Both a Democrat and a Republican
Eight Democratic women senators appear at the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver. It has become a tradition at Democratic conventions for incumbent women senators to appear on opening night.

Twenty-seven states have been represented by female senators. In 2009, North Carolina became the first state to have been represented by female senators of both parties; and the first to have a female senator succeeded by a female senator from the other party. In 2011, New Hampshire became the second state to be represented by female senators from both parties, and the first to have female senators of both parties serving concurrently.

New Hampshire202
New York112
North Carolina022
North Dakota112
South Dakota022
West Virginia101

List of female senators[edit]

SenatorStateFromToLength of
service (days)
Entered the SenateReason for leavingParty
Sen. Felton Felton, Rebecca LatimerRebecca Latimer FeltonGeorgiaNovember 21, 1922November 22, 19221AppointmentAppointment endedDemocratic
Sen. Caraway Caraway, HattieHattie CarawayArkansasDecember 9, 1931January 3, 19454,774AppointmentLost renominationDemocratic
Sen. Long McConnell Long, RoseRose McConnell LongLouisianaJanuary 31, 1936January 2, 1937337AppointmentAppointment endedDemocratic
Sen. Graves Bibb Graves, DixieDixie Bibb GravesAlabamaAugust 20, 1937January 10, 1938143AppointmentAppointment endedDemocratic
Sen. Pyle Pyle, GladysGladys PyleSouth DakotaNovember 9, 1938January 3, 193955Special electionRetiredRepublican
Sen. Bushfield Bushfield, Vera C.Vera C. BushfieldSouth DakotaOctober 6, 1948December 26, 194881AppointmentAppointment endedRepublican
Sen. Smith Chase Smith, MargaretMargaret Chase SmithMaineJanuary 3, 1949January 3, 19738,766ElectionLost re-electionRepublican
Sen. Bowring Bowring, Eva KellyEva Kelly BowringNebraskaApril 16, 1954November 7, 1954205AppointmentAppointment endedRepublican
Sen. Abel Hampel Abel, HazelHazel Hampel AbelNebraskaNovember 8, 1954December 31, 195453Special electionRetired, and resigned early[n 1]Republican
Sen. Neuberger Brown Neuberger, MaurineMaurine Brown NeubergerOregonNovember 9, 1960January 3, 19672,246Special electionRetiredDemocratic
Sen. Edwards Edwards, ElaineElaine EdwardsLouisianaAugust 1, 1972November 13, 1972104AppointmentAppointment endedDemocratic
Sen. Humphrey Humphrey, MurielMuriel HumphreyMinnesotaJanuary 25, 1978November 7, 1978286AppointmentAppointment endedDemocratic
Sen. Allen Pittman Allen, MaryonMaryon Pittman AllenAlabamaJune 8, 1978November 7, 1978152AppointmentLost nomination to finish termDemocratic
Sen. Kassebaum Landon Kassebaum, NancyNancy Landon KassebaumKansasDecember 23, 1978January 3, 19976,586ElectionRetiredRepublican
Sen. Hawkins Hawkins, PaulaPaula HawkinsFloridaJanuary 1, 1981January 3, 19872,193ElectionLost re-electionRepublican
Sen. Mikulski Mikulski, BarbaraBarbara MikulskiMarylandJanuary 3, 1987Present10,263ElectionIncumbentDemocratic
Sen. Burdick Burdick, JocelynJocelyn BurdickNorth DakotaSeptember 16, 1992December 14, 199289AppointmentAppointment endedDemocratic
Sen. Feinstein Feinstein, DianneDianne FeinsteinCaliforniaNovember 10, 1992Present8,125Special electionIncumbentDemocratic
Sen. Boxer Boxer, BarbaraBarbara BoxerCaliforniaJanuary 3, 1993Present8,071ElectionIncumbentDemocratic
Sen. Murray Murray, PattyPatty MurrayWashingtonJanuary 3, 1993Present8,071ElectionIncumbentDemocratic
Sen. Moseley Braun Moseley Braun, CarolCarol Moseley BraunIllinoisJanuary 3, 1993January 3, 19992,189ElectionLost re-electionDemocratic
Sen. Hutchison Bailey Hutchison, KayKay Bailey HutchisonTexasJune 14, 1993January 3, 20137,143Special electionRetiredRepublican
Sen. Snowe Snowe, OlympiaOlympia SnoweMaineJanuary 3, 1995January 3, 20136,575ElectionRetiredRepublican
Sen. Frahm Frahm, SheilaSheila FrahmKansasJune 11, 1996November 6, 1996148AppointmentLost nomination to finish termRepublican
Sen. Collins Collins, SusanSusan CollinsMaineJanuary 3, 1997Present6,610ElectionIncumbentRepublican
Sen. Landrieu Landrieu, MaryMary LandrieuLouisianaJanuary 3, 1997January 3, 20156,575ElectionLost re-electionDemocratic
Sen. Lincoln Lincoln, BlancheBlanche LincolnArkansasJanuary 3, 1999January 3, 20115,880ElectionLost re-electionDemocratic
Sen. Cantwell Cantwell, MariaMaria CantwellWashingtonJanuary 3, 2001Present5,149ElectionIncumbentDemocratic
Sen. Carnahan Carnahan, JeanJean CarnahanMissouriJanuary 3, 2001November 25, 2002691AppointmentLost election to finish termDemocratic
Sen. Clinton Rodham Clinton, HillaryHillary Rodham ClintonNew YorkJanuary 3, 2001January 21, 20092,940ElectionResigned to become Secretary of StateDemocratic
Sen. Stabenow Stabenow, DebbieDebbie StabenowMichiganJanuary 3, 2001Present5,149ElectionIncumbentDemocratic
Sen. Murkowski Murkowski, LisaLisa MurkowskiAlaskaDecember 20, 2002Present4,433AppointmentIncumbentRepublican
Sen. Dole Dole, ElizabethElizabeth DoleNorth CarolinaJanuary 3, 2003January 3, 20092,192ElectionLost re-electionRepublican
Sen. Klobuchar Klobuchar, AmyAmy KlobucharMinnesotaJanuary 3, 2007Present2,958ElectionIncumbentDemocratic
Sen. McCaskill McCaskill, ClaireClaire McCaskillMissouriJanuary 3, 2007Present2,958ElectionIncumbentDemocratic
Sen. Shaheen Shaheen, JeanneJeanne ShaheenNew HampshireJanuary 3, 2009Present2,227ElectionIncumbentDemocratic
Sen. Hagan Hagan, KayKay HaganNorth CarolinaJanuary 3, 2009January 3, 20152,191ElectionLost re-electionDemocratic
Sen. Gillibrand Gillibrand, KirstenKirsten GillibrandNew YorkJanuary 26, 2009Present2,204AppointmentIncumbentDemocratic
Sen. Ayotte Ayotte, KellyKelly AyotteNew HampshireJanuary 3, 2011Present1,497ElectionIncumbentRepublican
Sen. Baldwin Baldwin, TammyTammy BaldwinWisconsinJanuary 3, 2013Present766ElectionIncumbentDemocratic
Sen. Fischer Fischer, DebDeb FischerNebraskaJanuary 3, 2013Present766ElectionIncumbentRepublican
Sen. Heitkamp Heitkamp, HeidiHeidi HeitkampNorth DakotaJanuary 3, 2013Present766ElectionIncumbentDemocratic
Sen. Hirano Hirono, MazieMazie HironoHawaiiJanuary 3, 2013Present766ElectionIncumbentDemocratic
Sen. Warren Warren, ElizabethElizabeth WarrenMassachusettsJanuary 3, 2013Present766ElectionIncumbentDemocratic
Sen. Capito Moore Capito, ShelleyShelley Moore CapitoWest VirginiaJanuary 3, 2015Present36ElectionIncumbentRepublican
Sen. Ernst Ernst, JoniJoni ErnstIowaJanuary 3, 2015Present36ElectionIncumbentRepublican



March 4, 17890 
November 21, 19221*
November 23, 19220 
December 9, 19311*
January 31, 19362**
January 3, 19371*
August 20, 19372**
January 11, 19381*
November 9, 19382**
January 4, 19391*
January 4, 19450 
October 6, 19481*
December 27, 19480 
January 3, 19491*
April 16, 19542**
January 1, 19551*
November 9, 19602**
January 4, 19671*
August 1, 19722**
November 14, 19721*
January 4, 19730 
January 25, 19781*
June 8, 19782**
November 8, 19780 
December 23, 19781*
January 1, 19812**
September 16, 19923***
November 10, 19924****
December 15, 19923***
January 3, 19936******
June 14, 19937*******
January 3, 19958********
June 11, 19969*********
November 7, 19968********
January 3, 19979*********
January 3, 200113*************
November 26, 200212************
December 20, 200213*************
January 3, 200314**************
January 3, 200716****************
January 3, 200917*****************
January 22, 200916****************
January 26, 200917*****************
January 3, 201320********************
January 3, 201520********************

Time series[edit]

Joni ErnstShelley Moore CapitoElizabeth WarrenMazie HironoHeidi HeitkampDeb FischerTammy BaldwinKelly AyotteKirsten GillibrandJeanne ShaheenKay HaganClaire McCaskillAmy KlobucharElizabeth DoleLisa MurkowskiDebbie StabenowHillary Rodham ClintonJean CarnahanMaria CantwellBlanche LincolnMary LandrieuSusan CollinsSheila FrahmOlympia SnoweKay Bailey HutchisonPatty MurrayCarol Moseley-BraunBarbara BoxerDianne FeinsteinJocelyn BurdickBarbara MikulskiPaula HawkinsNancy Kassebaum BakerMaryon AllenMuriel HumphreyElaine S. EdwardsMaurine Brown NeubergerHazel AbelEva Kelley BowringMargaret Chase SmithVera C. BushfieldGladys PyleDixie Bibb GravesRose McConnell LongHattie CarawayRebecca Latimer Felton

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Abel resigned 3 days before the end of her term, a common practice to give her successor seniority advantage.


External links[edit]