In that time, we have seen the first female Cabinet member (Frances Perkins, appointed Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor in 1933), Supreme Court justice (Sandra Day O’Connor) and the first major party vice presidential nominee (Geraldine Ferraro), among many other milestones.
Today the political glass ceiling continues to crack, with women holding key roles on the Supreme Court, in Congress, in the White House and across the media. Female Supreme Court justices, senators, congresswomen, Cabinet members and political pundits exert powerful influence in Washington.
These five women are the current cream of the crop among Washington’s power elite (listed in alphabetical order):
Michelle Bachmann rode the Tea Party wave of 2009 to national prominence, both as a Congresswoman and a 2012 Republican presidential primary candidate. Bachmann first was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007, representing the 6th congressional district of Minnesota and becoming the state’s first Republican congresswoman. Prior to that, she was a member of Minnesota’s state senate and a federal tax litigation attorney.
In 2010, Bachmann founded the Tea Party Caucus. Later that year, the Republican Party, fueled in part by the Tea Party movement, gained 63 seats in the House of Representatives and six seats in the Senate, regaining the House and narrowing the gap in the Senate. In June 2011, Bachmann announced that she was running for the Republican nomination for president.
In August 2011, she became the first woman ever to win the Ames Straw Poll, though the momentum from that win didn’t translate to the primaries. She finished sixth in the Iowa caucuses in January 2012 and suspended her campaign soon after. Still, Bachmann remains a rising star in her party, and it would be too soon to count her out for 2016.
What makes Jan Brewer the most powerful female governor among the six currently in charge of various states? It’s a combination of name recognition, bold policy moves and governing one of the key swing states this election cycle. Per Arizona’s line of succession, Brewer was appointed governor in 2009 after then-governor Janet Napolitano was chosen as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security.
Before serving as governor, Brewer was Arizona’s Secretary of State from 2003-09, a state senator from 1987-97, and a state representative from 1983-87. As governor, Brewer signed the now-controversial Arizona SB 1070, which made it a state misdemeanor for aliens to be in Arizona without carrying registration documents and required police officers stopping or arresting someone to determine a person’s immigration status if they suspect the person is an illegal immigrant. The bill stirred up outrage among Hispanic-Americans across the country, was immediately challenged by lawyers and was heard by the Supreme Court in April.
With Arizona, won by John McCain in 2008, currently a toss-up between Mitt Romney and Obama, Brewer has been unafraid to be critical of Obama on issues near and dear to her constituents and party, particularly illegal immigration. Romney will need her help to deliver Arizona to the GOP column again in 2012.
Hillary Clinton, currently the Secretary of State and highest-ranking member of Barack Obama’s cabinet, has been a powerful figure in the Democratic Party for nearly 20 years. First rising to prominence as the First Lady when Bill Clinton was president from 1993 to 2001, she quickly made a name for herself. As First Lady, Hillary Clinton spearheaded a task force that developed a health care reform proposal that, while not passed by Congress, laid the groundwork for Obama’s health care plan to pass.
In 2000, Clinton became the first First Lady to run for and win public office, becoming the first female senator from the state of New York. In 2008, Obama only narrowly defeated her for the Democratic presidential nomination, though Clinton won more primaries and delegates than any female candidate in history. Obama then appointed her to be his Secretary of State. While Clinton has said this will be her last political office, many pundits have put her name out as a top candidate for the 2016 election.
As First Lady, Michelle Obama has the ear of arguably the most powerful man in America, Barack Obama. And like many First Ladies who have come before her, Michelle Obama has chosen several causes near and dear to her to support. She has worked to increase the visibility of the sacrifices that many military families make — particularly when military members are assigned tours of duty far from where their families reside — and to increase support for those families.
Like Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Michelle Obama has supported the organic food movement by planting an organic garden and installing bee hives on the White House grounds. Her garden is the first one planted by a First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt.
But perhaps her most visible cause as First Lady has been tackling childhood obesity through the “Let’s Move!” program. Michelle Obama has appeared on TV shows such as The Colbert Report and The Ellen DeGeneres Show to promote these issues.
Nancy Pelosi might have lost some of her power when the Democrats lost control of the House in 2010, but underestimate her power at your own peril. Formerly the Speaker of the House from 2007-11, she is arguably the highest-ranked elected female politician in the history of the United States.
Pelosi’s elected political career started in 1987, although she had been involved in party politics since 1976. She was elected to represent California’s 5th Congressional district from 1987-93. In 1993, she began representing California’s 8th Congressional district, where she serves to this day. In 2002, she was elected the House Minority Whip, second-in-command to House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. When Gephardt left the House to seek out the Democratic presidential nomination in 2003, Pelosi was selected to be the new minority leader, becoming the first female to hold that post. When she was selected to be the 60th speaker of the House in 2007, she was the first woman to hold that position as well.
Even as minority leader, Pelosi is known as a shrewd politician and powerful party fundraiser, particularly for other Democratic candidates, since her district is one of the most Democrat-dominated in the country. She has been a staunch supporter of liberal policies, and was critical in getting Obama’s health care plan passed.