At her acceptance speech, shortly after learning she had won against Republican candidate, Jay Webber, in the 11th Congressional District race in New Jersey, Rebecca Michelle "Mikie" Sherrill 46, Democratic candidate and former Navy pilot, told supporters and audience members that prior to running, she had asked her daughter Maggie if she would ‘be okay with this.’ Sherrill’s daughter then replied with, ‘If you don’t run, who will?’
That question of ‘who will’ has been answered by 102 women, and after much hard work and history-making gains, these women will serve in the House of Representatives as of January of 2019, according to data from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, accounting for an unprecedented 23% of elected members of Congress.
Of these women, 36 are newly elected with 66 maintaining their seats as incumbents, the highest jump in number of women in the House since 1992, according to the Congressional Research Service reports.
Until this election, women haven’t held more than 84 of the 435 seats in the House, and what is even more inspiring is that many of these women are “Firsts” for other things as well.
Of the newly elected members, some women are making strides for diversity and representation of a different kind. Both Ilhan Omar,37, Dem., winner for Minnesota’s race and Rashida Tlaib 42, Dem., winner of Michigan’s race, are the first Muslim American women to be elected to Congress.
Omar originally came to the United States as a Somali refugee, and in 2016, became the first Somali-American, Muslim legislator in the U.S, according to her campaign site. Omar has made it very clear what a difficult road it has been for her and has framed her campaign around "choosing hope over fear, and unity over division."
“I stand here before you tonight, as your congresswoman-elect with many firsts behind my name,” said Omar during her acceptance speech. “The first woman of color to represent our state in Congress. The first woman to wear a hijab. The first refugee ever elected to Congress. And one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress,” she continued.
Tlaib, born in Detroit, Michigan to Palestinian parents, became the first Muslim woman to be elected State Representative in 2008. She also served in the Michigan House of Representatives, where she focused on multiple topics regarding healthcare and education, according to her campaign site.
She reached out to voters on Twitter after hearing the news of her victory where she wrote, “To our phenomenal volunteers & supporters: Thank you for believing in the possibility of this moment. 13th District residents: Get ready to be spoiled with unwavering advocacy & constituent services. I will never back down because you deserve no less. Now, let's get to work.”
In addition to these women, New Mexico’s Debra Haaland, 57, Dem., and Kansas’ Sharice Davids, 38, Dem. are the first Native American women elected to Congress. Davids is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and Haaland is an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, according to their campaigns. Davids is also the first openly LGBT member of congress from Kansas, another accomplishment for diversity in the political realm.
“We have the opportunity to reset expectations about what people think when they think of Kansas,” Davids said during her victory speech at the Embassy Suites in Olathe. “We know there are so many of us who welcome everyone, who see everyone and who know that everyone should have the opportunity to succeed.”
Haaland commented on the surreal feeling of her victory and the importance of representation. “Seventy years ago, Native Americans right here in New Mexico couldn’t vote,” Haaland said at a rally shortly after learning of her win. “Growing up in my mother’s pueblo household and as a 35th generation New Mexican, I never imagined a world where I would be represented by someone who looks like me. Tonight, New Mexico, you are sending one of the very first Native American women to Congress.”
Newly-elected congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, 44, Dem., is the first black woman to be elected from Massachusetts, as well as Jahana Hayes, 46, Dem., who is the first black woman to be elected from Connecticut.
Pressley made it known to her supporters in her acceptance speech that not only is it difficult being a woman in politics, but a woman of color in politics as well. “When it comes to women of color candidates, folks don’t just talk about a glass ceiling, what they describe is a concrete one. But you know what breaks through concrete? Seismic shifts,” she said.
Hayes grew up in poverty in Waterbury, living in public housing with her grandmother through the duration of her mother’s battle with addiction. She went on to become a high school history teacher named Teacher of the Year in 2016. “Yesterday marked 50 years since Shirley Chisholm was elected as the first African-American woman to go to Congress,” Hayes said. “Today we made history … this history teacher is making history.”
What might be the most surprising win of this year’s election is that of 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is the youngest woman to have ever been elected to the House of Representatives.
Ocasio-Cortez, Dem. Who was elected in New York’s race, has been vocal on various social media platforms about her status as a millennial, as a Hispanic American, and as a woman.
“This is what is possible when everyday people come together in the collective realization that all our actions, no matter how small or how large, are powerful, worthwhile and capable of lasting change,” Ocasio-Cortez said during her acceptance speech, claiming that history has been made.
Collectively, many of the issues touched on by these women included healthcare reform, affordability of college tuition, the abolishment of ICE and environmental protection and combating the issue of climate change.
Sherrill, after sharing her story about her daughter’s desire for her to run, said, “I urge you to work for a better future long after tonight. To the thousands of women who are ready to join me to make sure we have a better future for our kids, for New Jersey and for the United States of America.”
Meet the 29 other newly elected congresswoman making history.
Cindy Axne Dem. Iowa, 53
Axne is a native Iowan, a small business owner, parent and community activist, who worked in the Government of Iowa on service delivery in over 20 state agencies in the executive branch. Axne explained her most important campaign issues at her victory speech.
“I talked to Iowans about their struggles for affordable quality healthcare, for jobs that can give families opportunity, and for seniors to be retired with dignity. One thing clear is that Iowa has been working hard, but Washington doesn’t have out back and we deserve a heck of a lot better,” she said.
Angie Craig Dem. Minnesota, 46
Craig is a former executive at St. Jude Medical, has made healthcare reform a cornerstone of her campaign. Craig’s key platform has focused on the allowance of Medicare, affordable secondary education, and tax cuts to middle class citizens.
“From the start, this campaign has always been about what we’re fighting for,” she said in her victory speech. “What we’re fighting for — quality health care for every single American. It’s been about jobs and job skills for every person in this country,” she said during her victory speech.
Madeleine Dean Dem. Pennsylvania, 59
Dean is an attorney who ran for the position of township commissioner in 2011, where she won. After serving many years in that role Dean spoke on the importance of women representation, claiming not just victory for herself, but for women everywhere. “Tonight we’ve changed the face of Congress,” Dean said. “Tonight we’re sending women to Washington!”
Veronica Escobar Dem. Texas, 49
Escobar has served the public of El Paso for over a decade; elected in 2006 as the county commissioner and eventually Sun City’s County Judge in 2010. Escobar praised the youth vote. “I want to give thanks, especially to the young people who stood in line to come out to vote. They are the ones who can change the future, they are the ones who have all of the power. I am very grateful for the support,” Escobar said.
Abby Finkenauer Dem. Iowa, 29
Finkenauer, a Dubuque native with a history in politics, ran much of her campaign on hope and the possibilities that can come from it. "It's about what we are fighting for. This campaign has always been about hope. Hope and the idea that if you work hard, you're not just able to make a living, you're able to have a good life,” she said.
Lizzie Fletcher Dem. Texas, 43
Fletcher is an attorney who made her entrance into politics with this race. Much of Fletcher’s campaign focused on an aversion to President Donald Trump’s current policies and ideologies. "Tonight’s results have shown that we have the power to change the direction of our country—that’s what we did with this race," she said in a statement shortly after hearing of her victory.
Sylvia Garcia Dem. Texas, 68
Garcia is one of the first Texas Latinas to win a seat in congress. Representation and equality have been imperative points in her campaign. “I knocked on the door of an older woman who cried at the doorstep because she never thought she'd see this day and that makes me emotional because I know she came from a generation that had it more difficult than I will ever experience,” Garcia said during her victory speech.
Katie Hill Dem. California, 31
Hill is a former nonprofit leader and started her political journey in this race, inspired by the current political climate to create change “Our goal from day one was to empower this community to have a voice — and with more than 4,000 volunteers and 500,000 doors knocked, we delivered,” she said.
Kendra Horn Dem. Oklahoma, 42
Issues pushed by Horn's campaign have included affordable healthcare and education. "We talked about the need to change things are done in Washington and guess what? That is exactly what we are going to do," she said.
Chrissy Houlahan Dem. Pennsylvania, 51
Houlahan is an engineer, entrepreneur, and former United States Air Force officer. “We made history together tonight thanks to the incredible work and dedication of our campaign’s countless supporters,” said Houlahan in a statement. “Our success in this election proved that people of good conscience can still come together, regardless of party or politics, around long-standing Pennsylvania values of civility and service.”
Ann Kirkpatrick Dem. Arizona, 68
Ann Kirkpatrick served as the U.S. Representative from Arizona's 1st congressional district from 2009 to 2011 and again from 2013 to 2017. She said she credits her hundreds of volunteers and great team for her pending win. "We had energy from so many groups, especially women who met monthly, marched and made phone calls," she said. "We also had 35 young student volunteers. Two of them couldn’t even vote.”
Susie Lee Dem. Nevada, 52
Lee has been a huge advocate for education and helping communities through humanitarian and nonprofit work. “You won, families won, and most importantly family values won this race,” she said, shortly after hearing the news of her win.
Elaine Luria Dem. Virginia, 43
Luria is a retired Navy Officer and engineer who chose to make her entrance into politics during this current election. “If we want to change the conversation in Washington, we need to change the people we send to Washington,” Luria said in closing her speech. “This is your night, your democracy, and let’s get to work.”
Debbie Lesko Rep. Arizona, 60
Lesko is one of two elected Republican females, and the first female to be elected in her state. “I’ve really come a long way and this is really quite overwhelming, it’s very surreal,” she said. “Twenty-five years ago I left an abusive husband and I sure as heck never would have dreamt in a million years that I would be running for Congress to be a congresswoman. I mean, that’s right, now I’m actually running for Congress, I won!”
Lucy McBath Dem. Georgia 58
McBath entered politics in response to her son who she lost from gun violence. “The voters responded to my commitment to put aside partisan fights for the good of the American people. Six years ago, I went from a Marietta mom to a mother on a mission. After my son was lost to gun violence, I stood up and started demanding more,” she said in her victory statement. “After Parkland, I was compelled to enter this race for Congress – to provide leadership that would be about the business of putting lives over profit. I vow to make that my top priority. I look forward to representing the people of Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, and I pledge to work hard fighting for every single person and family in this district.”
Carol Miller Rep. Ohio, 68
One of two Republican elected congresswomen, Miller’s platform aligned with current republican values and more specifically, with President Trump’s current policies and values. “I'm pro-life, pro-jobs, pro-coal, pro-Second Amendment, I strongly support protecting Medicare and Social Security, and I'm running to cut the bull out of politics - That's why I'm the only candidate endorsed by President Trump,” Miller writes, according to her campaign site.
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell Dem. Florida, 43
Mucarsel-Powell immigrated to the United States from Ecuador as a child, and has spent the last twenty years working for various non-profit organizations and community outreach programs. "Only in this incredible country does an immigrant from Ecuador get elected to the United States House of Representatives," Mucarsel-Powell told supporters during her victory speech. "I am overwhelmed with joy and my heart is bursting with you tonight."
Katie Porter Dem. California, 44
Porter is a law professor who campaigned on an ‘unabashed liberal agenda,’ pushing for issues such as overturning President Trump’s tax reform package, supporting universal health care, and endorsing mandatory background checks on all gun sales and a ban on so-called assault-style weapons. “We are going to bring accountability back to Washington, ” she said.
Mary Scanlon Dem. Pennsylvania, 59
Scanlon is a civil rights attorney and a former president of the Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board. She is the first woman to be sworn into the delegation since 2015. During her victory speech, Scanlon attributed her victory to women, and their need to jump from the sidelines and be heard. “They’ve risen to the occasion in order to protest and push back against the worst impulses of this administration,” she said.
Kim Schrier Dem. Washington, 40
Schrier, a pediatrician and first-time candidate entered the race with the motive in mind to improve healthcare and help families. “Congress is broken, and people in the 8th District are ready for a community pediatrician to bring a dose of common sense to DC,” she said in a statement. “We deserve a representative who will take on drug companies and insurers to lower healthcare costs, who will protect pre-existing conditions, who will finally give the middle class a pay raise, and who will get corporate money out of politics. That’s exactly the representative I will be in Congress, she said.
Donna Shalala Dem. Florida, 77
Shalala, once the Health and Human Services Secretary under the Clinton Administration, has continued to extend her political reach and provide a message of unity and positivity to her supporters. Her first time running for public office was attributed to a need to step up and create change in this administration. "Mr. President, here we come," she said during her speech. "Bringing us together is absolutely crucial. Some people would like to divide us. We just can't let that happen, because it's un-American."
Elissa Slotkin Dem. Michigan, 42
Slotkin is a former CIA analyst who served three tours in Iraq, and worked in national intelligence under both the Bush and Obama Administration. Slotkin explained that a large part of her campaign would be listening and making sure all voices are heard. “I want to speak to the people who did not vote for me," she said. "Whatever your reason for not supporting me, I want you to know that it is my job to support you. We will not always agree, but I will always listen."
**Abigail Spanberger Dem. Virginia, 39 **
Spanberger is an American federal law enforcement agent and former CIA operations officer, who now works for a company responsible for aiding in diversity in education. “We won an unwinnable district by doing exactly what every campaign should do. We focused on the needs of the people, the voters,” Spanberger said in her victory speech, as captured on Facebook. “It is my profound honor to be standing here tonight, and I am committed to bringing you the kind of responsive and accountable leadership you deserve.”
Haley Stevens Dem. Michigan, 35
Stevens has done much work in creating and maintaining jobs in Michigan, morse specifically in the auto industry where she was able to save over 200,000 jobs. She has also created a program dedicated to getting students involved in STEM education. “America was not built on fear, it was built on courage, imagination and bold determination to do the job at hand,” she said.
Xochitl Torres Small Dem. New Mexico, 34
Torress Small is an attorney, law clerk for a federal judge, and entered the election hoping to bring change to immigration policies and bring change in general. "It would have been easy to give up on this process," she said. "People could have said this is just another time where it hasn't worked. And instead, people were calling me up this morning, people were showing up this morning, people were showing up to make sure their votes counted. And this is just the beginning."
Lori Trahan Dem. Massachusetts, 45
Trahan is the CEO of a woman-owned consulting firm, and worked as chief of staff under Congressman Marty Meehan. “Tonight is a victory for women, but also for working and middle class families, and for the values of hard work and community that have always defined us. It is also a victory for anyone who believes that America is a place where we take care of each other. Where we have each other’s back. Where we’re in each other’s corners,” she said during her speech.
Lauren Underwood Dem. Illinois, 32
Underwood is a registered nurse, public health advisor under the Obama Administration and feminist. She hopes to use her platform to bring about change and awareness for healthcare and its issues, as well as use her platform to embolden women around her. “I’m one of the women who marched in the Women’s March and decided to campaign. ‘Time Magazine’ called us ‘The Avengers.’ What was very clear is that women have been mobilized in a very specific and concrete way to engage in our country,” Underwood said.
Jennifer Wexton Dem. Virginia, 50
Wexton has served in the Virginia senate for a number of years, and is also an attorney. She relinquished her seat in order to pursue this election and be able to focus on the issues she cares about most. “We don’t have to live in a nation where people are stripped of their health care, we don’t have to live in a nation where our kids go to schools that are crumbling, we don’t have to live in a nation where children are torn away from their parents at the border and we don’t have to live in a nation where people live in fear of being gunned down in synagogues, churches … our country is better than that,” she said at her victory speech, commenting on the work she feels needs to be done.
Susan Wild Dem. Pennsylvania, 61
Wild is a civil litigator and former Allentown solicitor. She voiced some of the issues she will be directly dealing with, during her victory speech. "It's hope that we can move away from a profit-driven health care system toward a society where high-quality, affordable health care is the birthright of every child, woman, and man in our country," Wild said. "It's hope that our next Congress will defend the right to organize a union and fight for a decent wage."
by Courtney Buell