While we typically focus on women who are early to mid-career here at Girls Like You and Me, there are many women we admire who are further along in their careers, or, in some cases ending them. Today, the members of the 115th Congress were sworn in, and for the first time since 1977, Senator Barbara Mikulski was not among them. After serving 10 years as a U.S. Representative from Maryland, in 1986 Mikulski was elected to the United States Senate. A social worker, Mikulski worked with at-risk children, and became an activist in Baltimore, and eventually was elected to the Baltimore City Council. She's the longest-serving Congresswoman, and has called herself "a social worker with power."
One of my favorite things about "Senator Barb" is her commitment to her fellow women in Congress. She's long hosted regular dinners for all the women in the Senate, whose ranks have grown since she took office with only one female colleague. This fall, she continued her tradition of hosting a reception for all incoming female freshman senators.
Politico had a great piece detailing her career and impact in the Senate, including some of these cultural and political shifts...
Here are three things that changed for women in Congress since Mikulski began her career in politics:
1. There was only one other woman in the Senate when Mikulski was sworn in.
Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, a Republican from Kansas, was the only other woman on the Senate floor in 1987. There were also only 21 women in the House when Mikulski started there in 1977. Today, there are currently 20 women serving in the Senate and 85 women in the House.
This past election also saw a more diverse array of women enter Congress. California Attorney General Kamala Harris will be the first Indian woman and the second black woman to hold a Senate seat; Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is the first Latina elected to the Senate; and Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) will be the first Thai-American in the Senate.
2. Women couldn't wear pants in the Senate until 1993.
In 1993, Senate rules said women couldn't wear pants on the Senate floor, so Mikulski and other female senators led a protest, according to Bloomberg: They simply wore trousers along with female staffers, until the dress code changed.
"A silly rule was struck down and one of the prime symbols of gender inequity was removed," The Washington Post's Robin Givhan wrote.
3. Women's bathrooms were not a thing.
Women didn't get their own restroom near the Senate chamber until 1993, seven years after Mikulski was elected to the body.
It still took years for other women in Congress to get a bathroom.
Women serving in the House didn't get one until 2011.
Previously, The Washington Post's Nancy McKeon wrote, women "had to trek out of chambers and buck the tourists in Statuary Hall to get to what is now called the Lindy Claiborne Boggs Congressional Reading Room for relief."