History of the Women's Caucus
On April 19, 1977, a small group of Congresswomen sat down to talk about
spousal abuse. This first meeting of the Congresswomen's Caucus was held
in a small room in the Capitol, known then as the Congresswomen's Reading
Room. Photographs of the 18 women serving in the House were mounted on
one wall. The narrow hallway leading to the room displayed the pictures
of the other 69 women who had served in the House since Jeanette Rankin
was first elected in 1916.
In the months that followed, the 15 Congresswomen who made up the Caucus
met in the reading room to discuss Social Security and private pension
reform, as well as the importance of child care and job training in moving
women off welfare. The new Caucus met with Commerce Secretary Juanita
Kreps to discuss government contracts for women-owned businesses and asked
the Small Business Committee to hold hearings on the subject.
But the Congresswomen sometimes found it difficult to command the respect
they deserved. When they wanted to meet with the Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff to discuss discrimination against women in the military,
their request was rebuffed by a colonel who said "the General is unable
to come to your party." A call from the ranking Republican on the Military
Personnel Subcommittee Rep. Marjorie Holt (R-MD) changed his mind.
Bipartisanship is the key to the Caucus' strength and success. The legacy
of its first 20 years is one of Democratic and Republican Congresswomen
committed to improving the lives of women and families, and willing to
put their partisan differences aside to do it.
In 1981, the Congresswomen invited their male colleagues to join the
Caucus and changed the organization's name to the Congressional Caucus
for Women's Issues. The Caucus frequently gathered both formally and informally
in their room in the Capitol. In 1990, the House unanimously approved
a Caucus-inspired resolution to honor long-time Caucus Secretary Lindy
Boggs by naming the room the Corrine "Lindy" Boggs Congressional Women's
Reading Room. In 1993, twenty-four newly elected Congresswomen arrived
on Capitol Hill, nearly doubling the number of women in the Caucus in
what became the "Year of the Woman."
In 1995, the House of Representatives voted to abolish legislative service
organizations, which cost the Caucus its office, staff, and budget. However,
with the encouragement of the Congresswomen, two former members of the
Caucus staff started Women's Policy, Inc. (WPI), a nonprofit
organization whose mission is to provide nonpartisan public policy research
and information services to Members of Congress and the public.
Over the past 21 years, Caucus members have successfully worked to improve
the lives of women and families. They have fought to open the doors of
opportunity for women and girls in both school and work. They have championed
fair credit, tougher child support enforcement, equitable pay, and retirement
income. And they have led efforts to promote women's health and protect
victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, securing several billion
dollars for these efforts.
The Caucus' long list of legislative accomplishments includes:
*The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
*The Child Support Enforcement Act
*The Retirement Equity Act
*The Civil Rights Restoration Act
*The Women's Business Ownership Act
*The Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act
*The Mammography Quality Standards Act
*The Family and Medical Leave Act
*The Violence Against Women Act.
For many years the Caucus has helped to set the public policy agenda
for women and families through the introduction of omnibus legislation,
such as the Economic Equity Act, the Women's Health Equity Act, and the
Gender Equity in Education Act.
In 1990, when the Caucus launched an investigation into the exclusion
of women from clinical trials funded by the National Institutes of Health,
not one woman sat on the appropriations subcommittee that oversees NIH's
funding. Today several women serve on that subcommittee.
In addition, the influence of the Caucus extends far beyond its impressive
list of legislative achievements and far beyond the borders of the United
States. Caucus members have championed women's issues around the globe
from Cambodia to Cairo to Beijing, working to bring international attention
to the plight of refugees and representing the Congress at U.N. world
conferences on women and on population and development.
The Caucus has also served as an inspiration and a model for women parliamentarians
the world over whose image of American democracy is shaped in part by
the example of women from different political parties working together
to improve the lives of women and families.
Today, 22 years after the Caucus' founding, there are 58 women Members
of Congress (41 Democrats and 17 Republicans). These Congresswomen are
nearly as diverse as the constituency of women they represent. They come
from 23 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands; they
are African American, Latina, Asian American, and Caucasian. Together,
they bring to Congress a wealth of experience as mayors, state legislators,
businesswomen, lawyers, doctors, nurses, educators, community activists,
mothers, and grandmothers.
Since the beginning, this bipartisan spirit has been reflected in the
*Reps. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-NY) and Margaret Heckler (R-MA), the founding
*Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-CO) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who together
led the Caucus for more than a decade;
*Reps. Constance Morella (R-MD) and Nita Lowey (D-NY), who led the Caucus
during the 104th Congress;
*Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC),
who led the Caucus during the 105th Congress;
*Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Sue Kelly (R-NY), who are currently
leading the Caucus in developing a Legislative Agenda for the 106th Congress.