In January of 1932, Hattie Caraway, a Democrat from Arkansas, was appointed to the U.S. senate to fill the term of her deceased husband, Thaddeus Caraway. Before Caraway, Rebecca Felton had been the only woman who had served as a senator in 1922– for a single day only.
In May 1932 Caraway surprised Arkansas politicians by announcing that she would run for a full term in the upcoming election, when the prominent candidates assumed she would step aside.
She told reporters, “The time has passed when a woman should be placed in a position and kept there only while someone else is being groomed for the job.”
Caraway was the first woman elected as a U.S. Senator.
In 1938 Caraway entered a fight for reelection, challenged by Representative John Little McClellan, who argued that a man could work for and represent the state’s interests better. With support from government employees, women’s groups, and unions, Caraway won a narrow victory in the primary, but then took the general election with 89.4 percent of the vote!
During her time in the Senate, three other women, Rose McConnell Long, Dixie Bibb Graves, and Gladys Pyle, held brief tenures of two years or less in the Senate. None of them overlapped, however, so there were never more than two women in the body.
The 115th Congress (2015-2016) had 21 women out of 100 senators. While we have made strides since 1938, it is still not ratio that is close enough (if you ask me).