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Home Her Voice 7 Historical Firsts For Women In U.S. Politics

7 Historical Firsts For Women In U.S. Politics

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With strong women like Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton hitting the 2016 presidential campaign trail, its inspiring to see how far the country has come in supporting the success of women in politics. There was a time when a woman running for mayor or Senate - let alone president - seemed impossible. But someone had to get it handled - Olivia Pope style. 

Here are some of the most historic firsts for women in American politics. 

1. First Woman to Run for President


As an advocate for ideas that were way ahead of her time, Victoria Woodhull was an outspoken fighter who stood for women's rights and free love. With the help of her sister, she was among the first women to found a newspaper. 


In 1872, as a member of the Equal Rights Party (also known as the Cosmo-Political Party as shown above), Woodhull announced her candidacy as the first women to run for President of the United States. She ran on a platform that spoke out against political corruption and the capitalist elite but won no electoral votes in the end. 

2. First Female Mayor


Kansas got pretty progressive in 1887 with the election of Susanna Salter for Mayor of Argonia, Kansas. This marked not only the first female mayor in U.S. history but the first woman to be elected in any public office. 

Her term as mayor was much less eventful than her actual election, which gained international attention from newspapers looking to feed the debate about women in politics. One year into her term, Salter announced she would not be seeking a second. The home she lived in while the mayor was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970's.

3. First Woman Elected to Congress


Just as the women's suffrage movement was beginning to heat up, Jeannette Rankin was elected as the first woman to win a House seat. Her terms in Congress, elected by the state of Montana, fell on a particularly turbulent time in American history. 

Rankin was the only member of Congress to vote against entry into both World Wars and was the only member of Congress to vote against war with Japan following the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Rankin's pacifistic stances inspired a new generation of feminists, civil rights, and peace advocates. 

4. First Woman Elected to Senate

SenatorABack in 1931, it was common practice for a senator to die in office and have his wife finish out the term. It was uncommon, however, for the woman to then seek reelection. That's what made Hattie Caraway's time in office so important.

After being appointed senator of Arkansas following the death of her husband, Caraway was convinced that stepping down to let a man take the seat was wrong, telling reporters, "The time has passed when a woman should be placed in a position and kept there only while someone else is being groomed for the job."

Photo Credit: AState.edu

5. First Woman in President's Cabinet


Secretary of Labor would have been a tough job during the Great Depression. Add to that the pressure of being the first woman appointed to the President's cabinet and most people would truly have a tough time. Luckily, Frances Perkins was not like most people. 

Instrumental in the development of child labor laws and unemployment insurance, Perkins was an advocate for the poor and a champion of social reform. She was known for her tough stance and willingness to speak her mind. She once even told the chairperson of the board at General Motors, "You'll go to hell when you die," for not accepting the terms of his striking workers.

6. First Woman on the Supreme Court

Reagan took a lot of heat from pro-life and religious supporters when he announced Sandra Day O'Connor would be his nomination for a Supreme Court Justice. Nevertheless, O'Connor was granted unanimous confirmation by the U.S. Senate in 1981 and became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

O'Connor's career in the Supreme Court covered hugely significant decisions, including the case of Bush v. Gore which ultimately determined the outcome of the election.

7. First Black Woman Elected to U.S. Senate


It took until the 1990's but in '92 Americans elected a black woman to the U.S. Senate. Carol Moseley Braun held on to her Senate seat for the remainder of the decade and later moved on to become Ambassador to New Zealand. 

As a Senator, Braun was a centralist when it came to economics but voted more liberally than her peers when it came to social issues. She was a strongly pro-choice Senator, who fought against the capital punishment and voted for gun control legislation.