In 1916, the first woman was elected to the U.S. Congress, Rep. Jeannette Rankin (R-MT). Remarkably, although Montana and several other Western states had already granted women suffrage, Rep. Rankin was elected before the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote in all 50 states.
A century later, women make up 52 percent of the voting-age population in the U.S. And the number of women holding public office, while still not at parity with men, has increased over the years, and today stands at an all-time high at both the congressional (19.6 percent) and state level (24.9 percent). Six of the nation’s current 50 governors are female.
When American women run for elected office, they win at rates equal to their male counterparts. However, women are much less likely to run for office. When they do, women sometimes face unique barriers and challenges. A balanced view should be taken: For some female candidates, gender is a plus. As elected leaders, women bring to the table a myriad of valuable experiences, traits, and insights that are different from men.
Importantly, elected office is not the only way women can and do serve their communities and advance their ideas and values. Women have influenced American politics and government since the Founding, long before having the opportunity to hold office. Even so, we should celebrate the boldness of those women who have served in this specific way and encourage all women with the desire to run for office to do so.