Ninety years ago, a Georgia woman made history as the first female U.S. senator. Rebecca Felton was allowed to hold the reins of power for only 24 hours.
Felton's appointment was purely symbolic.
Today, there is nothing symbolic about the growing influence of women in the Senate.
With the election of Nebraska Republican Deb Fischer and four other women on Tuesday, the number of women in the U.S. Senate will rise to an all-time high of 20.
And the firsts don't stop there.
For the first time, an Asian-American woman will take a seat: Mazie Hirona of Hawaii.
For the first time, a woman from Massachusetts — one of the nation's original states — will take office: Elizabeth Warren.
For the first time, a woman was elected from North Dakota: Heidi Heitkamp.
For the first time, a state will have an all-female congressional delegation: New Hampshire.
And the first openly gay person elected to the Senate is a woman: Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.
Fischer has her own footnote in gender history. She is the first woman from Nebraska to be elected to a full term in the Senate after a competitive, full-scale campaign. Two other women served briefly, after being either appointed or elected to serve out the remainder of a term.
Fischer handily defeated Democrat Bob Kerrey to replace retiring Sen. Ben Nelson. She will take the oath of office in January.
In all, 39 women have served in the Senate throughout its 224-year history. (The constitutional amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote was ratified in 1920.)
Several current and former senators indicated in public statements last week that Fischer will find an air of collegiality among the ranks of female lawmakers.
Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat who holds her own historic title as the longest-serving female lawmaker in the history of the Senate, has already issued an invitation to Fischer and the other newly elected women to attend a “power workshop” next week.
Mikulski started the coffee gathering for female lawmakers in the early 1990s to help give pointers to newcomers and others.
She said all women of any party affiliation are welcomed. “We have coffee. We have an exuberant time congratulating the new people. Then we get down to business,” she said in a press release.
Mikulski said she hopes that this new and large class of female lawmakers will make a difference in the “macaroni-and-cheese issues” that have an impact on America's families.
“We women know that the issues we're concerned about also have the support of great men, because we're interested in the economic security of families,” Mikulski said.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who was re-elected Tuesday, said femal lawmakers often cross party lines.
“I believe if we are going to grow our economy and create a competitive environment against other nations, we need women as part of that effort,” Gillibrand said.
Two women who have served in the Senate said in an MSNBC interview last week on that the incoming female lawmakers should expect to make some fast friends on both sides of the aisle.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, a Republican, said women in the Senate put a greater emphasis on building consensus and making deals to get legislation passed.
“The women in the Senate have gotten very close. We are friends,” said Hutchison, who is retiring this year. “We do know how to get together to get things done.”
In the same interview, former Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat, agreed.
She said Fischer and the four other newcomers will bring a much-needed female perspective to the Senate on issues such as Social Security. Lincoln noted that women are often the primary caregivers in many families and, because they live longer, have a “critical” interest in sustaining programs such as Social Security.
“I'd say to those new five women, 'Bring your experiences to the table,'” she said. “Make sure you've got a place at the table, and be sure to share them with others, because it makes a big difference in the outcome of some critical legislation.”
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