Women continue to make history in Congress

Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 10:53 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - There are now more women serving in the Congress than ever before in U.S. history. Yet, women are still highly underrepresented on Capitol Hill.

Despite accounting for nearly 51% of the population, women represent only 28% of the combined seats in the House & Senate. It’s a fact that’s not lost on the women who are still achieving ‘firsts’ in Congress, nearly 100 years after the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote.

Sen. Katie Britt (R-Ala.) and Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) are two lawmakers whose election victories in 2022 have smashed barriers in Congress.

For Balint, her election win in Vermont means that all 50 states have now sent a woman to Congress.

“The history I’ve made so far. First woman ever to represent the state of Vermont in Congress. And, also the first openly gay person to represent Vermont in Congress. So feeling really excited about both those things,” said Balint.

Senator Britt is making history too for Alabama. She calls the achievement ‘humbling and exciting.’

“I was unaware when I ran until I read it in the paper that I am the youngest female ever elected on the Republican side of the aisle to the U.S. Senate. And, I am currently the only Republican female with school-age children. And so, I would just say how grateful I am to the people of Alabama for giving me an opportunity to fight for them, to fight for their children. I am working hard,” she said.

Both Balint and Britt recognize the challenges women candidates can face. Balint said it’s difficult to run for office period, but women have other hurdles to overcome.

“When I first ran for office, I was running for State Senate and I had my announcement and I was very excited. And within 48 hours, I had an anonymous letter to my home saying that I should not be running for office, that I was a mom, and that I had my priorities all wrong and that my kids would never forgive me, essentially. Now, I don’t think that any of the men who came before me ever received any kind of missive like that. And so I talked to my colleagues. I know we’ve all had similar experiences. And so there is that that barrier of how we’re perceived, you know, when we put ourselves out there,” she said.

Britt said women and young candidates need support.

“First we’ve got to say it. We need you. And, I hope that people across our great state hear that. But also, to your point, we’ve got to make sure that when people do step out there, that we support them. Because the truth is, we say we want more people to get engaged, but when you step out there, it’s really lonely. And so when you see somebody that is fighting for our values, fighting for people whose heart and passion and determination is going to move our state and our nation forward, stand in there with them,” said Britt.

Balint adds, there is a fundraising gap and women candidates tend to have to ‘fight’ to raise money for their campaigns.

“We have to do it, though, because bills that are created by women in conjunction with their male colleagues are going to be better than bills that are just crafted by men,” Balint said.

The Center for American Women and Politics reports women hold 150 of the 535 seats in Congress. Of those seats, 107 of the women lawmakers are Democrats, 42 are Republicans, and one is an Independent.

Balint believes the platform of the Democratic Party appeals to a greater number of women due to the party’s support of reproductive rights, its focus on the gender gap & wealth gap, and the party’s focus on working families.

“I think about it every day in terms of what do I get to say in committee? What do I get to say in those individual conversations with my colleagues that might not be said if I weren’t a woman or if I weren’t part of the LGBTQ community? So I feel a responsibility for my community back home to represent all of Vermont. And, you know, and of course, part of that is the experience of women now,” Balint said.

Britt, meanwhile, believes the Republican Party appeals to women because she said it is the party of parents and “hard-working Americans.” She said she ran because she can give a voice to that.

“I don’t have to ask somebody what it’s like to go to the grocery store and where milk is cheaper or how much more expensive eggs cost or how much it costs me to now run my children around from, you know, volleyball practice to football practice to play basketball with their friends. Those are things that are real. I don’t have to ask people what it’s like in the classroom with children right now. I am living that every single day,” Britt said.

As a former teacher, Balint said she wants to be remembered as a lawmaker who inspires others. She said her reason for running was two-fold - to protect democracy and alleviate suffering. She shared this advice to women who are considering running for office.

“Here’s what I would say. I think as women, we get shy about asking people to mentor us. And, I think your mentors can come in all shapes and sizes. And, I certainly have had mentors throughout my life. Some are women, some are men, some are came from unlikely sources,” said Balint.

As for Britt, she shares this advice.

“It is not lost on me what this means for little girls all across our state. I have said that the world does place limitations on us, but it is the ones we place on ourselves that do the most damage. And so, if this gives a little girl somewhere across our great state, the hope to do something more, the hope to be something better, the knowing that she can achieve them, by gosh, it is a good day,” said Britt.

In 1916, Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman ever elected to Congress.

Read about the history of women in Congress here.

March is Women’s History Month.