In March, Senator Barbara Mikulski announced that she would not be seeking reelection in 2016, effectively ending her long time career as a Congresswoman.
The Democratic Senator for Maryland has shattered so many barriers in the male-dominated arena of Congress and has a hefty list of accomplishments to her name. She holds the record for being the longest serving woman in Congress, starting in the House of Representatives from 1977-1987 before her career as a U.S. Senator, which has lasted since 1987. On top of being the first woman elected to the Senate not on the legacy of a male relative or husband before her, she was also the first woman to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee, a position she lost in 2014 when the Republicans gained control of the Senate.
She leaves behind more than being a record-setter, however; she has unceasingly fought for the rights of women, and her efforts have permanently changed the way women are viewed in Congress today.
The most illustrious example of her unceasing push for change is when she advocated against the Senate’s dress code back in 1993. At the time, women were required to wear skirts and dresses. Mikulski, unhappy with the sexist rule, organized a Senate-wide movement where all the women wore pants to work in order to protest the dress code. Not only was the movement effective – the rule was changed soon after – but it jumpstarted a national discussion on gender equality in the workforce.
Mikulski has also consistently fought for unity in Congress. Due to the small number of Congresswomen at the beginning of Mikulski’s career, she aimed to transverse party borders and unite the women of the Senate. Mikulski hosted small, private dinners where women with different political stances and who were on opposite sides of divisive issues met to discuss subjects both related to and outside of Congress. They grew to understand each other better and learned to work as a team. It was a rare moment of bipartisan cooperation that contributed towards the current idea that women in the Senate are more productive than their male peers.
In addition to the work she has done to reform the society within the Senate, Mikulski has also heralded change that benefitted the entire nation. In 2009, Mikulski sponsored the first bill President Obama signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned the oppressive 180-day statute of limitations for women to allege gender-based salary discrimination.
Her work in the area of workforce equality has been far-reaching. With the Paycheck Fairness Act, she helped narrow the wage gap, a significant issue that has plagued our country for years. As a strong voice for women, she helped pass the 1994 Violence Against Women Act that provided much needed funding for the fight against domestic violence and rape.
One of her more recent achievements is the introduction of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act in 2013. The act provides grants for low-income parents to help them find childcare. It is yet another example of the many times Mikulski has placed the needs of her constituents at the forefront of her agenda.
Mikulski has been a vital part of the Senate, helping to enact change for women and her constituents in general. She has always served the people of Maryland, and it is a mindset she continues to demonstrate on the verge of her retirement. When discussing her reasons for retiring at a news conference in Baltimore in March, she said that she would rather spend the next few months fighting for her constituents than campaigning for reelection. Mikulski said, “Do I focus on my election, or do I focus on the next generation?” For Mikulski, the people she serves have always come first.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Grace Cheung of Richard Montgomery High School
Image from Senator Barbara Mikulski’s Senate website.