Milestones for Women in American Politics
The first women's rights convention in the U.S. took place in Seneca Falls, New York. Convened by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and others active in the anti-slavery movement, it resulted in a Declaration of Sentiments modeled on the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration demanded a variety of rights for women, including suffrage.
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 State, receiving 24 votes of 12,000 that were cast.
Victoria Woodhull, a stockbroker, publisher, and protégé of Cornelius Vanderbilt, ran for president of the United States on the Equal Rights Party ticket.
Click here for a complete list of women who have run for president and vice president.
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.
Laura Eisenhuth (D-ND) was elected superintendent of public instruction, the first woman elected to statewide executive office in any state.
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 became the first woman ever elected to Congress. She served in the U.S. House of Representatives 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.
Margaret Laird (R) and Jennie Van Ness (R) became the first two women elected to the New Jersey Assembly.
Rebecca Latimer Felton, a Georgia Democrat, became the first woman appointed to the Senate, but only served one day.
Soledad Chacon (D) was elected Secretary of State in New Mexico, the first Latina and first woman of color to hold a statewide elected executive office.
Emma J. Harvat was elected mayor of Iowa City, Iowa, the first woman to be elected leader of a US municipality with a population exceeding 10,000.
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.
Lena Springs of South Carolina chaired the credentials committee at the Democratic National Convention and received several votes for the Vice Presidential nomination.
Rebecca Estell Bourgeois Winston (D) of Estell Manor became the first woman to serve as mayor in New Jersey.
Mary Teresa Norton (D) became the first woman to represent New Jersey in Congress, serving in the US House of Representatives from 1925 to 1951. To date, no woman has represented New Jersey in the US Senate.
Nellie Tayloe Ross, a Wyoming Democrat, became the nation's first woman governor, elected to replace her deceased husband. She served for two years. Later, she became vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and director of the U.S. Mint. At the 1928 Democratic National Convention, she received 31 votes on the first ballot for Vice President.
Representative Mae Ella Nolan (R-CA) became the first woman to chair a congressional committee when, during the 68th Congress, she chaired the Committee on Expenditures in the Post Office Department.
Hattie Wyatt Caraway (D-AR), appointed in 1931 to fill a vacancy caused by her husband's death, ran for a full term and became the first woman elected to the Senate, where she served two full terms. She was the first woman to chair a Senate committee – the Committee on Enrolled Bills, a minor post.
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.
Representative Chase G. Woodhouse (D-CT) was the first woman to hold the position of secretary in the House Democratic Caucus.
Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) became the first woman elected to the Senate without having first been appointed to serve. Smith had first come to Congress when elected to fill her deceased husband's House seat; she went on to be elected to the Senate in her own right.
Two women – India Edwards and Judge Sarah Hughes – were proposed as Democratic Vice Presidential candidates. Both withdrew their names before the balloting so the choice of presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, Senator Estes Kefauver, could be nominated by acclamation.
Consuelo Bailey, a Vermont Republican, became the first woman ever elected lieutenant governor of a state. In that role, she served as president of the state Senate. Since she had previously served as speaker of the state House of Representatives, she thus became the only woman in the country ever to preside over both chambers of a state legislature.
Madaline A. (Worthy) Williams (D) became the first Black woman elected to the New Jersey Assembly.
Justice Lorna Lockwood of Arizona became the first woman in the U.S. to serve as chief justice of a state supreme court.
Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a Maine Republican, was nominated for the presidency by Vermont Senator George Aiken at the Republican national convention. Smith had campaigned briefly for the post, limiting herself to periods when the Senate was not in session. 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.
Marion West Higgins (R) became the first woman speaker of the New Jersey Assembly, and was the third woman in the nation to be the speaker of a state house.
Mildred Barry Hughes (D) became the first woman elected to the New Jersey Senate.
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.
Wynona Lipman (D-Essex County) became the first Black woman elected to a county freeholder board in New Jersey.
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 Center for the American Woman and Politics was founded at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
Wynona Lipman (D) became the first Black woman to serve in the New Jersey Senate.
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. At the same convention, Frances (Sissy) Farenthold, a former Texas state legislator who twice ran for governor of that state, finished second in the balloting for the Vice Presidential nomination, receiving more than 400 votes.
Jean Westwood was named by presidential nominee George McGovern to chair the Democratic National Committee. The first woman to hold that position, she served until just after the election, when she was replaced by Robert Strauss.
Congresswoman Patsy Mink agreed to have her name appear on the Oregon presidential ballot to provide a platform to discuss opposition to the Vietnam War, force previous Democratic front-runner George McGovern to resume his antiwar focus, and hold the state’s liberal votes together until its delegates reached the convention that summer. Mink received more than five thousand votes in the Oregon primary on May 23 and smaller numbers in Maryland (573) and Wisconsin (913). She made no effort to have her name placed into nomination at the Democratic National Convention.
Lelia Foley-Davis was elected mayor of Taft, Oklahoma, making her the nation's first elected Black woman mayor.
Kathy Kozachenko became the first openly gay or lesbian candidate to run successfully for political office in the United States, winning a seat on the Ann Arbor, Michigan city council.
March Fong Eu (D) was elected California's Secretary of State, the first Asian Pacific Islander to hold a statewide elected executive office.
Ellen McCormack entered 20 state primaries for the Democratic presidential nomination as an anti-abortion candidate, winning 22 convention votes. She became the first woman to qualify for federal campaign matching funds and qualified for Secret Service protection. In 1980, she ran for president again as the candidate of the Right to Life Party, winning more than 30,000 votes from three states.
Congresswoman Lindy Boggs (D-LA) served as chairwoman of the 1976 Democratic National Convention, becoming the first woman to preside over a major party convention. Boggs was also the first woman elected to Congress from Louisiana and later served as United States Ambassador to the Holy See.
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.
Ruth Carpenter (R) of Hunterdon County became the first woman elected sheriff in New Jersey.
Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-KS) was the first woman to have been elected to the Senate without having previously filled an unexpired Congressional term.
Velvalea "Vel" Phillips (D) was elected Wisconsin's Secretary of State, the first Black woman to hold a statewide elected executive office.
Eunice Sato was the first Asian American woman to serve as mayor of a major American city. She was mayor of Long Beach, CA, from 1980-1982.
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.
Jane Burgio (R) became the first woman appointed secretary of state in New Jersey.
Nidia Davila-Colon (D-Hudson County) became the first Latina elected to a county freeholder board.
Sonia Johnson ran on the ticket of the Citizens Party, becoming the first third party candidate for US President eligible for federal primary matching funds.
Arlene Violet (R-RI), a former nun, became the first woman elected as a state's attorney general, serving from 1985-87.
Congresswoman Lynn Morley Martin (R-IL) is elected to the first of two terms as vice chair of the Republican Conference in the House, the first time a woman held an elected position in the congressional party's hierarchy.
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.
Wilma Mankiller became the first woman to serve as chief of the Cherokee Nation.
Madeleine Kunin, a Democrat, was elected governor of Vermont. She became the first woman to serve three terms as governor (1985-1991).
Barbara Ann Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, became the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate without previously filling an unexpired Congressional term. Combining her Senate service from 1987-2017 with her service in the US House of Representatives from 1977 to 1987, she is the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress.
Lottie Shackleford was elected mayor of Little Rock, AR, the first Black woman elected mayor of one of the 100 largest cities in the U.S.
Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder (D-CO) made national headlines when she took preliminary steps toward making a serious run for the presidency, but she dropped out before the primaries, unable to raise the necessary funds.
Kay Orr, a Republican from Nebraska, was the first Republican woman elected governor of a state, as well as the first woman to defeat another woman in a gubernatorial race.
Lenora Fulani ran for U.S. President twice, first in 1988 and again in 1992, and qualified for federal matching funds as a candidate for the New Alliance Party.
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.
Joan Finney, a Kansas Democrat, became the first woman to defeat an incumbent governor. She served as governor from 1991-1995.
Representative Barbara Kennelly (D-CT) became the first woman to hold the position of House Democratic chief deputy whip.
Nydia Velasquez, a New York Democrat, became the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress.
Carol Moseley Braun, an Illinois Democrat, became the first Black woman and the first woman of color to be elected to the U.S. Senate. She had also been the first Black woman to win a major party Senate nomination. She defeated the incumbent in the primary and won the resulting open seat in the general election. 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. She ran unsuccessfully for governor in the 2002 Florida Democratic primary.
Representative Nancy L. Johnson (R-CT) became the first woman to hold the position of secretary in the House Republican Conference during the 103rd Congress (1993-1995).
Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) became the first woman to hold the position of secretary to the House Democratic Conference in the 103rd Congress (1993-1995). She later served as assistant to the House Democratic Leader in the 107th Congress.
Deborah Poritz became New Jersey’s first female attorney general.
Olympia Snowe (R-ME) became the first woman (and the ony Republican woman) to have been elected to her State House, State Senate, U.S. House and U.S. Senate. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) also followed this path to the U.S. Senate, making her the first Democrat to do so.
Christine Todd Whitman (R) became the first woman (and only woman to date) to serve as New Jersey’s governor.
Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) became the first woman to hold the position of secretary to the Senate Democratic Conference in the 104th Congress (1995-1997).
Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-KS) became the first woman to chair a major Senate committee, the Committee on Labor and Human Resources.
Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D) became the first Latina to serve in the New Jersey Assembly.
Deborah Poritz became the first woman to serve as chief justice on the New Jersey State Supreme Court.
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. She had previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 1993-1997.
Aida Alvarez became the first Hispanic women, as well as the first person of Puerto Rican heritage, to hold a cabinet-level position when she was appointed administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration in the Clinton administration.
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. In 2012, she became the first openly gay or lesbian person elected to the US Senate.
In March 1999, Elizabeth Dole announced her exploratory committee in a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in the 2000 election. She dropped out of the race later that year. In 2002, she was elected to the U.S. Senate from North Carolina.
Gale Norton became the first woman to serve as Secretary of the Interior, appointed by President George W. Bush. Norton was the first woman elected as Colorado's Attorney General and served that position for two terms.
Ann Veneman (R) 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.
Christine Todd Whitman (R) of New Jersey became the first female former governor to serve in a presidential cabinet-level position when she was appointed administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency by President Bush. She had been the first woman elected governor in New Jersey and served two terms in that position.
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.
Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was elected by her colleagues as House Democratic Whip, the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. Congress.
Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) became the first woman to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She also served as House Minority Whip-at-Large.
Heather Fargo was elected mayor of Sacramento, CA, the first Latina elected mayor of one of the 100 largest cities in the U.S.
Sila Calderon (Popular Democratic Party), former mayor of San Juan, became the first woman governor of Puerto Rico.
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 (formally known as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs) 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.
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.
Arizona became the first state where a woman governor succeeded another woman governor. Jane Dee Hull (R) was succeeded by Janet Napolitano (D). Napolitano was also succeeded by a woman, Jan Brewer (R), in 2009.
Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS) is the first woman governor whose father (John Gilligan, D-OH) was also governor of a state.
Condoleezza Rice became the first Republican woman and the first Black 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). New Hampshire followed suit in 2013.
Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) became the first woman to serve as Speaker of the U.S. House.
Three congresswomen became the first women of color to chair congressional committees: Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH), Committee on Ethics; Representative Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA), Committee on House Administration; and Representative Nydia Velasquez (D-NY), Committee on Small Business.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) was 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. She also became the first woman to be a presidential candidate in every primary and caucus in every state.
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, selected by Senator John McCain as his vice presidential running mate, became the first woman on a national GOP ticket.
Denise Juneau (D) was elected Montana's Superintendent of Public Instruction, the first Native American woman elected to any statewide executive office in the U.S.
M. Teresa Ruiz (D) became the first Latina to serve in the New Jersey Senate.
Janet Napolitano, governor of Arizona, was appointed Secretary of Homeland Security by President Barack Obama, the first woman to hold that post since the Department of Homeland Security was created in 2003.
Sonia Sotomayor was appointed as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by President Barack Obama, becoming the first Hispanic and third female member of the Court. Sotomayor had previously been appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by President George H. W. Bush in 1991 and to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit by President Bill Clinton.
Kim Guadagno (R) took office as New Jersey’s first lieutenant governor.
Barbara Buono (D) became the first woman to be elected majority leader of the New Jersey State Senate.
Two women of color, both Republicans elected in November 2010, took office as governors, the first women of color chief executives in the country. Susana Martinez, a Latina, became governor of New Mexico, and Nikki Haley, an Asian American, became governor of South Carolina.
Mildred Scott (D-Middlesex County) became the first Black woman elected county sheriff in New Jersey, as well as the first woman elected sheriff in Middlesex County.
Sheila Y. Oliver (D) became the first woman of color (and second woman) to serve as speaker of the New Jersey Assembly. She was the second Black women in the nation to serve as speaker of a lower house.
Mazie Hirono (D-HI) became the first Asian-Pacific Islander woman — and only the second woman of color — elected to the U.S. Senate.
Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) became the first openly bisexual person elected to Congress. In 2018, she became the first openly bisexual person elected to the US Senate.
U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) campaigned for the Republican nomination for president. She withdrew from the race after a disappointing showing in the Iowa caucuses.
Jill Stein ran for president twice, in 2012 and 2016, as the Green Party nominee. In both cases, she qualified for federal matching funds.
New Hampshire became the first state to have an all-female Congressional delegation (Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte, and Representatives Ann McLane Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter.)
Maura Healey (D) was elected Massachusetts attorney general, becoming the first openly gay state attorney general elected in the United States as well as the first openly gay woman to be elected to any statewide office in the country.
Mia Love (R-UT) became the first Black Republican woman in Congress.
Kate Brown (D-OR) became the nation's first openly bisexual governor and the first person to be openly LGBT at the time of assuming the governor's office.
Bonnie Watson Coleman (D) became the first Black woman and the first woman of color to represent New Jersey in Congress.
In June 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first woman to be a major party's presumptive nominee for president. She formally became the first woman to be a major party's presidential nominee at the Democratic National Convention on July 26, 2016. Despite winning the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, Clinton lost the Electoral College and conceded the general election on November 9, 2016.
Susan Shin-Angulo (D-Camden County) became the first Asian American woman elected to a county freeholder board in New Jersey.
Sharice Davids (D-KS) and Deb Haaland (D-NM) became the first Native American women elected to Congress.
Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) became the first Muslim women elected to Congress.
Michele Lujan Grisham (NM) became the first Democratic woman of color governor nationwide.
As of February 2019, six women have formally announced their candidacy for president: Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Marianne Williamson. This is the first time in history that more than two women competed in the same major party's presidential primary process.