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Cokie Roberts On The History Of Women In Politics


Let's ask Cokie about the history of women in American politics.


SHIRLEY CHISHOLM: I am not a candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am a woman and proud.


CHISHOLM: I am the candidate of the people of America.


INSKEEP: That was Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress, declaring a symbolic candidacy for president in 1972. She said she wanted to shake up the status quo, which is just what a lot of women candidates are saying in this year's elections in which an unprecedented number of female candidates are running. Many of you had questions about women running for office. And we put them to Cokie Roberts, who joins us to take your questions about politics and other government work. Hey there, Cokie.


INSKEEP: First question here about the so-called year of the woman.

SCOTT ARIAS: This is Scott Arias from Van Nuys, Calif. I keep hearing and reading 2018 will be the year of the woman in politics. I remember the same being said in 1992. Were there any other so-named election years before that?

ROBERTS: Well, this is painful for me, Steve, since I was one of the reporters always declaring the year of the woman when it wasn't.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

ROBERTS: But 1984 we thought might be a year of the women. 1990 we thought might be a year of the women. But '92 actually was, and more women were elected than in any decade before that - 24 to the House, the number in the Senate tripled. Also, it was the beginning of minority women's representation in large numbers - 47 of the 58 minority women now serving in Congress were elected between 1992 and 2016.

INSKEEP: We have two more questions from two other listeners.

NICHOLAS GARZIANO: Hi. This is Nicholas Garziano from Makawao, Hawaii. I was wondering, who was the first woman to run for Congress?

LUKE WALKER: Hi. My name's Luke Walker, and I'm from Kansas City, Mo. Who was the first woman to serve in Congress? And then also who was the first woman elected to serve in Congress?

ROBERTS: First to run was Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1866 when, of course, she couldn't really run because women couldn't vote. The first to be elected and to serve were the same, Jeannette Rankin, who went to Congress in 1917 when women in Montana could vote, though the national suffrage amendment had not yet been passed.

INSKEEP: Well, our next listener wants to know if women are portrayed inside the artwork in the United States Capitol.

TAMARA POWER-DRUTIS: This is Tamara Power-Drutis from Seattle. When did the U.S. Capitol building get its first statue of a woman, and what went on behind the scenes to make that change?

ROBERTS: Well, the first is the statue of freedom atop the dome. It went up in 1863. But the first real woman is Frances Willard in 1905. There's no backstory. Each state is allowed two statues in Statuary Hall, and Illinois chose her. She was a major activist, spurring women on to make their voices heard for suffrage, against lynching, et cetera. The most famous statue of women in the Capitol are Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. It took years to get it from the hidden crypt up to the rotunda.

INSKEEP: Well, OK, we have one more question here. A listener wants to know what difference it makes when we elect women.

HOLLY CLINTON: Hi, Cokie. My name is Holly Clinton from Arlington, Texas. On average, does the election of more female politicians really help enact more gender-friendly policies?


ROBERTS: Yes, absolutely. Women get together across party lines. Think of that, Steve. And they enact legislation that is helpful to women, children and families, whether it's pension reform, child support enforcement, domestic violence, family and medical leave. They pull all those issues out from the bottom of the pile and put them on top. Steve, we had a whole lot of questions on this subject, so we should come back to it before the midterms.

INSKEEP: We might well have a chance. Cokie, thanks.

ROBERTS: OK, good to talk to you.

INSKEEP: Commentator Cokie Roberts. And you can ask Cokie your questions about how politics and the government work by tweeting us with the hashtag #AskCokie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.