There are one hundred twenty-seven women in Congress this year, a sizable leap from 100 in the previous Congress.
This 15 percent increase is a huge accomplishment—there are now a record number of women of color in the House along with its first Native American women, Muslim women and the youngest female member ever.
Despite your political affiliation, despite who you voted for, it’s a proud moment for women. Still, many women are quick to say but we have so far to go! In the age of #metoo and cries for equality, reports and claims of injustices are flowing like an open faucet after years of being capped. While it’s true that there have been years of silence from women as they endured hardships like sexual misconduct and assault in the workplace, our history is bursting with women who have been anything but silent.
We do have a ways to go. But oh, how far we’ve come.
As a little girl, I can remember watching Mary Poppins and marching around the living room with Mrs. Banks as she sang “Sister Suffragette” in her blue dress, white gloves and straw hat—a “Votes for Women” sash draped proudly over her shoulder.
“We’re clearly soldiers in petticoats. And dauntless crusaders for women’s votes…. Our daughter’s daughters will adore us, and they’ll sing in grateful chorus, ‘Well done, Sister Suffragette!”
This was probably my first introduction to the ongoing fight for women’s rights. I can remember my mother explaining what a suffragette was, and that there was really a time when women couldn’t vote. It was unthinkable at the time, and I can imagine it will be even more unthinkable to my children as we sit and watch Mary Poppins one day.
But in fact, it was only 100 years ago that women gained the right to vote. After a hard-fought series of votes in the U.S. Congress and in state legislatures, the Nineteenth Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution on August 26, 1920, stating, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
There are 127 women in Congress thanks to the Mrs. Banks’ of the world, the Margaret Fullers, the Mary Wollstonecrafts. When we look back in the history of women and what they’ve brought to the table, it’s mind boggling, it’s worth remembering. And it’s not just in political equality—it’s in matters of literature, world peace, the fight against poverty, advances in medicine and science, theological studies.
An all-inclusive list of important women and their successes in history would be astronomical in length. So, the following women, victories and moments in time are simply meant to spark a spirit of remembrance, honor and pride. How far we’ve come…
Recognized as one of the first female gynecologists, Agnodice is said to have courageously practiced medicine in Greece despite facing potential death penalty charges for doing so.
Cleopatra ruled Egypt.
Faltonia Betitia Proba, a Latin Roman Christian poet, becomes the earliest female Christian poet whose work survives.
Celebrated writer and nun Juana Inés de la Cruz of Mexico memorably defended women’s rights to education following criticism for studying secular texts. She famously proclaimed, “one can perfectly well philosophize while cooking supper.”
The first sexually integrated jury hears cases in Albany, New York.
The first state (Mississippi) grants women the right to hold property in their own name, with their husbands’ permission.
Elizabeth Blackwell becomes the first woman to receive a medical degree
Ahead of her time, prominent women’s rights activist and Russian philanthropist Anna Filosofova co-founded a society to provide support to the poor, including not only affordable housing but also decent work for women. She believed it was better to educate and train the poor rather than provide cash benefits.
The first woman suffrage law in the U.S. is passed in the territory of Wyoming.
Through special Congressional legislation, Belva Lockwood becomes the first woman admitted to try a case before the Supreme Court.
The first state (Wyoming) grants women the right to vote in all elections.
New Zealand Suffragette, Kate Sheppard along with fellow campaigners presented a “monster” petition to Parliament demanding women’s suffrage with nearly 32,000 signatures. This was an instrumental move that led to New Zealand becoming the first self-governing country to grant national voting rights to women in 1893.
Alva Belmont donated 200 acres of land in Hempstead Long Island to be used as a training farm and school for agriculture for women.
The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified. It declares: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
National Woman’s Party proposes a Constitutional amendment: “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and in every place subject to its jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
Muriel Siebert becomes the first woman to buy a seat on the NY Stock Exchange.
The first women is recruited for the Secret Service.
Girls permitted in Little League baseball for the first time.
Ella Grasso becomes the first woman governor elected who did not follow her husband into office.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act bans employment discrimination against pregnant women.
Dr. Sally K. Ride becomes the first American woman to be sent into space.
Hillary Clinton becomes the first First Lady to be elected to public office as a U.S. Senator from New York. Condoleezza Rice becomes the first black female Secretary of State.
Nancy Pelosi becomes the first female speaker of the House.
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin becomes the first woman to run for vice president on the Republican ticket.
The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act allows victims, usually women, of pay discrimination to file a complaint with the government against their employer within 180 days of their last paycheck.
Hillary Rodham Clinton secures the Democratic presidential nomination, becoming the first U.S. woman to lead the ticket of a major party.
Congress has a record number of women, with 104 female House members and 21 female Senators, including the chamber’s first Latina, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto
“Well done, Sister Suffragette!” As we celebrate today, let us look at what we can still accomplish with bright optimism, never forgetting the women who made it possible and fought battles harder than we’ll ever know. Because we truly have come such a long way, with nowhere to go but onwards and upwards.