Women & Congressional Elections: A Century of Change

Since 1916, when the first woman was elected to the US Congress, fewer than 10 percent of all members have been women.


Why is this number so extraordinarily small? And how has the presence of women in the electoral arena changed over the past hundred years? Barbara Palmer and Dennis Simon combine a rich analytical narrative, data on nearly 40,000 candidates, and colorful stories from the campaign trail in the most thorough accounting of women's performance in House and Senate elections ever presented.

The authors go beyond the conventional wisdom as they explore the continuing underrepresentation of women in Congress. In the process, they show how the "rules of the game"—together with an important cluster of demographic characteristics that can make a district more or less "women friendly"—have shaped opportunities for female candidates across a century of US history.

The book includes complete lists of:

  • The First Women to Run for and Serve in the U.S. House and Senate
  • Women Initially Elected to the U.S. Senate
  • Sitting Female House Members Who Ran for the U.S. Senate
  • Women of Color Elected to the U.S. House
  • Women Who Have Served Ten or More Terms in the U.S. House
  • Women Who Succeeded Their Husbands in the U.S. House
  • Women Who Were Appointed to the U.S. Senate
  • Congressional Women Who Married Members of Congress
  • Congressional Women With Prominent Political Fathers
  • Congressional Women Whose Sons Served in Congress
  • Congressional Women Who Had Babies While Serving in Congress
  • Women Under Forty Years Old Who Served in the U.S. House
  • General Elections for U.S. Senate with Two Female Candidates

In addition, our analysis includes over 30 additional tables and figures, such as:

  • Women as Candidates for U.S. House, 1956 - 2010
  • Women as Candidates for U.S. Senate, 1958 – 2010
  • Reelection Rates for Male and Female House Incumbents by Redistricting Period, 1956-2010
  • Women as a Proportion of Candidates Seeking Their Party’s Nomination for the U.S. House and Senate, 1956 – 2010
  • The Shifting Demographics of U.S. House Districts Electing Men and Women by Party, 1956 – 2010
  • The Demographics of U.S. House Districts Electing African-American and Hispanic
  • Male and Female Democrats, 1956 – 2010
  • The Top Twenty Women-Friendly House Districts, 2010
  • The Bottom Twenty Women-Friendly House Districts, 2010
  • Probability of Electing a Woman to the U.S. House, By Decade, 1972 – 2010

Praise for the Book:

“A sweeping overview and analysis of the election of women to national office in the United States.  Palmer and Simon's work substantially contributes to our knowledge of women and politics from both a historical and a contemporary perspective."
—Barbara Burrell, Northern Illinois University

"An indispensable account of women's election to Congress…. comprehensive, accessible, and empirically rich. Women and Congressional Elections is a great choice for courses on Congress, elections, and women and politics."
—Kira Sanbonmatsu,  Rutgers University