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Women in Congress: Each election, there are more

REUTERS/Erin Scott
Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib.
There are 102 women currently serving in the U.S. House. That’s just 23.4 percent of the total House membership of 435. So women, who make up more than half of the U.S. population, are still underrepresented in that sense. But the increase in the number of women in Congress has been steady and gathering momentum.

In fact, the number of women has increased in every national election since 1980. That’s 20 consecutive elections. So, naturally, the current 102 is a record high.

The first election after I was born (1951), the number of women elected to the House was 10. So 102 is slightly more than a 1,000 percent increase in my lifetime.

I’ve written several times about Jeannette Rankin, the first woman ever elected to the House (in 1916). Here’s the latest version of my campaign to make her more famous. But she was defeated after one term, then came back 24 years later and served one more term.


The number of women in the House stagnated through the 1970s (generally the number was in the teens) and the through the 1980s was generally in the 20s. During most of those decades, the growth of women in Congress was generally bipartisan, and sometimes dominated by Republicans.

The growth since then has been rather sudden, strong and steady to get to the current record high, but there has been a sharp difference in that recent growth across party lines.

Rankin was a Republican, and the growth in the number of women in Congress was quite strongly bipartisan through the 1980s. But since then the growth has happened almost entirely on the Democratic side of the House. The number of women Democrats has risen steadily, while the number of Republican women in the House stagnated and then, last year, collapsed.

The current tally, which I would call fairly shocking: Of the 102 women in the current U.S. House, 89 are Democrats (a jump from 64 in the 2016 election); 13 are Republicans (down from 24 in the previous House).

In percentage terms, the partisan split of women in the House is 87.3 percent Democrats and 12.7 percent Republicans.

The breakdown by gender in Minnesota is quite stark. Of the five DFL members of the U.S. House, three are women. The three Minnesota Republicans in the House are all men.

Both Minnesota U.S. senators are women, and both are DFLers.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 10/31/2019 - 11:04 am.

    You can look at the Republican women shrinking again next election. For some odd reason they don’t feel welcomed in the party.

  2. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/31/2019 - 12:05 pm.

    It’s not hard to figure out why the number of Republican women has been dropping. The Republican Party began backing away from its historic commitment to women’s rights when it dropped its endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment from the party’s platform, and when it made opposition to abortion a part of the party’s platform. The religious right (the “born agains,” as my Republican Mother used to refer to them) took over the party and moved the needle from economic conservatism to cultural and social conservatism.

    What we’ve seen lately is the culmination of that trend. The willingness to overlook sexual misconduct on the part of Republican men, as well as the hopeless ignorance of women’s issues many of them display (boys, if you’re going to legislate about women’s bodies you should have at least a theoretical understanding of how they work), as well as the casual misogyny on frequent display emphasizes how unimportant women’s issues, and especially gender equality, are to contemporary Republicans.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/31/2019 - 02:45 pm.

      Yet, the first woman president will be a republican in 2024.

      • Submitted by Thomas Eckhardt on 10/31/2019 - 04:28 pm.

        Ivanka???

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/01/2019 - 08:05 am.

        Who do you think is the leading contender for 2024 ?

      • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/01/2019 - 11:37 am.

        I think not, Mr. Tester, but Nikki Haley is at least a plausible candidate, and far, far superior (can we say “in a different universe”?) to the presumed Republican candidate in 2020. I’m more than a little skeptical about a party of proven hostility to women, when not patronizingI them, nominating a woman for the presidency. I try never to say never, but it would be a great surprise outside of the Tester Bubble.

        Meanwhile, I intend to steal RB Holbrook’s line about boys’ ignorance of women’s bodies for use elsewhere, but whether I use it or not, it’s an accurate summary of the sad, sad ignorance of at least half the population by Republican males as a group. Individual exceptions exist, but they’re notable mainly by their rarity. There are plenty of chauvinist male Democrats, too, but they’re a smaller portion of the state and national parties, and they don’t trumpet their misogyny quite as loudly as do far too many Republicans.

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