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While Lawless didn’t offer any names, the short list of powerful women in the Senate include California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both elected in 1992) and Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe (elected in 1994) and Susan Collins (elected in 1996).
Mikulski’s record also offers another lesson, Lawless said.
“The fact that Mikulski is the only woman to serve longer than 24 years also reinforces the fact that women are still relatively new entrants to the U.S. Senate,” she said. “Given that the bulk of women in Congress were elected in 1992 or later, there have been few opportunities for women to achieve years of service comparable to many of their male colleagues.”
Indeed, the number of female Senators could be counted on one hand until 1993, and on two hands until 2001.
Smith’s early example offers some perspective. The Maine Republican served in the Senate from 1949 to 1973, a tenure spanning more than two decades during which she was usually the only female Member in the chamber.
And when Mikulski joined the Senate, there was just one other woman in the chamber, Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kansas).
“I was the first Democratic woman elected in my own right, but I didn’t want to be the only. I wanted to be the first of many,” Mikulski said. “I believe in the empowerment of women and work for them to use their power in their community, and to run for a public office. When I first arrived in the Senate, I was the 16th woman in all of American history to serve in the Senate. Today we have 17 women serving in the Senate at one time. That’s a stunning accomplishment.”