Women in Congress

Many years ago, a popular saying in America was, "A woman's place is in the home." But today, many people believe a woman's place is in the United States House of Representatives and Senate. I'm Mary Tillotson. And I'm Steve Ember. Women in Congress is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

More than half the people of voting age in the United States are female. But only fourteen percent of lawmakers in the current one-hundred-eighth Congress are women. There are one-hundred United States senators. Fourteen of them are women. There are four-hundred-thirty-five member of the House of Representatives. Fifty-nine women serve as voting members in the House.

Still, political experts say these women are gaining power and influence. The Congressional Quarterly publication recently told about twenty-six female members of Congress. The publication told about their lives and how they voted on important issues during the last Congress.

Several women have important positions of power in the current Congress. Representative Nancy Pelosi is a Democrat from the state of California. She is the first woman ever to serve as minority leader in the House of Representatives. This is the highest Congressional leadership position ever held by a woman.

California voters first elected Ms. Pelosi to the House of Representatives in nineteen-eighty-seven. In the last Congress, she was the top Democrat on the House Select Intelligence committee.

Republican Deborah Pryce of the state of Ohio leads the House of Representatives Republican Conference. The job of conference chairman is the fourth most important in the Republican Party. Ms. Pryce is the first female to hold such an important job in about thirty years. The conference plans communications for Republicans in the House.Among United States senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas is vice chairman of the Republican Party Caucus. The caucus plans communications for Senate Republicans. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland is secretary of the Senate Democratic Party caucus.

Other women in Congress are leaders of House and Senate committees or subcommitees. Only two women have led standing Senate committees in the past. But this year, two Republican women from Maine have these responsibilities. Senator Susan Collins leads the Governmental Affairs Committee. Senator Olympia J. Snowe heads the Small Business Committee.

All but five American states have elected women to Congress. In the current Congress, voters in three states have elected women to both seats in the Senate. Both Republican Senators from Maine are women. Washington state has elected two Democratic women to the Senate. They are Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray. The two Democratic Senators from California also are women. They are Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. (FINE-stine)

Two other women from California made history when they were elected to the House of Representatives in November. Democrats Loretta Sanchez and her sister Linda are the first sisters elected to serve in Congress at the same time.

The women in Congress hold widely different opinions about issues. Some are liberal or moderate. Others are conservative. But they are similar in one way. Their work in Congress is generally not limited to traditional women's issues like education and health care. For example, Senator Hutchison is known for her work on America's defense and foreign policies. So is Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.

It has not been easy for women to gain recognition as legislators. Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio has served the longest of any Democratic woman in the House of Representatives. Ms. Kaptur has written a book about women in Congress. Historically, few women have served in Congress. Over the years, only thirty-three women have been elected to the Senate. One-hundred-eighty-nine women have served in the House.

For years, many Americans disapproved of women who spoke in public about disputed issues. Many women who were mothers also limited themselves. For example, Ms. Kaptur says most women did not compete for Congressional office until their children were grown. This has kept many of them from gaining years of service in Congress. Legislators with seniority can lead committees. This means they command great power in the legislative process.

Still, women have played an important part among America's lawmakers. Montana became the first state to elect a woman to Congress in nineteen-sixteen. Jeannette Rankin, a Republican, served one term in the House of Representatives. Many years later, in nineteen-forty, Montana voters again sent Ms. Rankin to the House.

She earned both praise and blame for her opposition to war. Jeannette Rankin voted against the United States entering both the First World War and the Second World War. She was the only legislator to oppose each war.

A Republican Congresswoman from Ohio took the opposite position on war. Representative Frances Bolton served in the House of Representatives from nineteen-forty to nineteen-sixty-nine. Ms. Bolton urged equal rights for women. One of these was the right to serve in the military.

Margaret Chase Smith is another Republican legislator who supported an unpopular position. She was the only woman ever elected to both the House of Representatives and the Senate. She served in the Senate from nineteen-forty-nine to nineteen-seventy-three.In nineteen-fifty, Ms. Smith made an important speech in the Senate. She severely criticized Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. Senator McCarthy had made false charges against a number of public and military officials and entertainers. He falsely accused them of being Communists or sympathizing with Communists.

In nineteen-sixty-four, Margaret Chase Smith competed for the Republican party's nomination for president. She became the first woman ever to campaign for president in a major political party.

Many people believe women now serving in the Senate may compete to become the country's first female president. Some people say it will be Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Democratic senator from New York was elected in two-thousand. She is the wife of former President Bill Clinton. During the nineteen-nineties, Ms. Clinton proposed a plan to improve health care in the United States. Congress never voted on the plan. But her efforts helped establish Hillary Clinton as a serious politician.

Republican Elizabeth Hanford Dole was elected to the Senate from North Carolina last November. Ms. Dole served in the administrations of six presidents over the years. She served as a Cabinet member two times. She also headed the American Red Cross for eight years. Her husband is former Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole.

Ms. Dole unsuccessfully competed for the Republican presidential nomination for the two-thousand election. When she withdrew from competition, she spoke of the difficulty of raising money for her campaign. Political experts said many people who might have given money to Mrs. Dole did not help her. They feared she could not possibly win because she is a woman.

Senator Barbara Mikulski has served the longest of any woman in the Senate. She was first elected in nineteen-eighty-six. She has helped other women in Congress. Senator Mikulski believes women representatives and senators need all the help they can get.

Former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm would agree. In nineteen-seventy-two, she became the first African American woman to compete for the Democratic presidential nomination. She says two facts reduced her effectiveness as a legislator. One was that she is an African American. The other was that she is a woman. Of the two, Ms. Chisholm says the most important limitation was being a woman.

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.