This past year has been the advent of so many milestones for women in the U.S. There are currently 131 women in both chambers of the 116th Congress, up by 130 from the sole congresswoman elected to federal office in 1917 in Montana. And for women of color, the outcome is unprecedented. In “the 116th U.S. Congress 47 of the 127 women serving or 37.0%, are women of color; in addition, a Black woman, a Latina, an Asian Pacific Islander, and a Caribbean American woman serve as Delegates to the House from Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands, respectively. Women of color constitute 8.8% of the total 535 members of Congress,” (CAWP). Surely this is the year of the woman.
As we celebrate the current victories of women making political waves, let us remember some of the pioneers who paved the way for the successes of today. The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University provides fact sheets and timelines highlighting historic firsts for women: who have run for the Presidency (the first was Victoria Woodhull who ran on the Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872), elected to Senate (the first woman elected to the Senate was Hattie Wyatt Caraway (AR) in 1931), elected to the House (Jeannette Rankin was the first elected in 1917 and the only lawmaker to vote against U.S. entry into both world wars!), and of color (Soledad Chacon was elected Secretary of State in New Mexico in 1923. She was the first Latina and woman of color to hold a statewide elected executive office, Cora Belle Reynolds Anderson was the first Native American elected to a state legislature in 1924 (Michigan) and Minnie Buckingham Harper was the first Black woman in a state legislature). Illinois can boast Carole Mosely Braun as the first female African-American Senator (1993-1999) and Michelle Obama as the first African-American first lady of the U.S. But we still have a long way to go. Visit the CAWP website to see a historic timeline highlighting other significant firsts and the progression of successes leading up to recent achievements and statistics at all levels of government.
A couple of specialized databases for accessing historic primary source material on or by women are the following:
Gerritsen Collection: The Gerritsen Collection was begun by Aletta Jacobs Gerritsen in the late 1800s. By the time their successors finished their work in 1945, the Gerritsen Collection was the greatest single source for the study of women’s history in the world, with materials spanning four centuries and 15 languages. The primary source materials date from 1543 to 1945 focusing on Europe, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand.
Women and Social Movements in the United States: The focus of this resource is on women’s activism and spans four centuries from 1600-2000. There are over 125 document projects and archives, approximately 4,700 publications, a chronology of women’s history, teaching tools, book and web site reviews, archival news regarding primary sources in U.S. Women’s History, a digital archive with a focus on federal, state, and local commissions on the Status of Women between 1961 and 2005. It also includes a dictionary of social movements and organization along with an online edition of the five-volume biographical dictionary, Notable American Women (1971-2004).