Women of Color in the 116th Congress

As we commemorate the centennial of women’s suffrage in 2020, it is important to remember that not every woman could cast a ballot after the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Women of color couldn’t exercise their voting right for more than four decades until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Despite the fact that only 100 years ago, women couldn’t even vote in the United States, the current 116th Congress comprises the highest number of female members in its history so far. Out of 127 women in the Congress today, 48 of them identify as women of color—4 in the Senate and 44 in the House. One of the notable women of color in Congress is Senator Kamala Harris who, as of November 7, 2020, is the Vice President-elect of the United States. Although the representation of women of color in Congress is yet to reach its pinnacle, the 116th Congress is a beautiful reminder of how far we have come. Keep reading below about some of the remarkable women of color in the 116th Congress: 

1. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) 

Senator Mazie Keiko Hirono wears many first hats—she is the first Asian-American woman to serve in the Senate, she is the first Buddhist senator in the country, and she is the first female to serve in the U.S. Senate from Hawaii. Hirono is also the first Japanese-born senator in Congress. Previously, she was elected as Hawaii’s House Representative for three terms and as a lieutenant governor of Hawaii. She graduated from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa with a bachelor’s degree and graduated from Georgetown University Law Center with a J.D. degree. Hirono was also elected to the U.S. House representing Hawaii’s 2nd legislative district. 

2. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)

Senator L. Tammy Duckworth has represented the state of Illinois in the U.S. Senate since 2017. Prior to that, she served in the U.S. House from the 8th legislative district of Illinois from 2013 to 2017. Born in Bangkok, Thailand, Duckworth received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawaii, a master’s degree from Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, and a doctorate degree from Capella University. Sen. Duckworth also served in the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and Reserve Forces.

3. Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) 

Representative Grace Meng has served in the U.S. House since 2013, becoming the first and only Asian-American to represent New York in Congress. She represents the 6th legislative district of the state of New York. She was born in New York and is of Taiwanese descent. Meng attended the University of  Michigan and later attended Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, where she received a J.D. degree. Prior to getting elected to the U.S. House, she served in the New York State Assembly for the 22nd district. Rep. Meng has won a fifth term in the general election of 2020. 

4. Representative Jahana Hayes (D-CT)  

Representative Jahana Flemming Hayes is the first African-American woman as well as the first African-American Democrat to serve in Congress from Connecticut. Hayes represents the 5th congressional district of Connecticut since 2019. Born and raised in Connecticut, Hayes attended Southern Connecticut State University for her bachelor's degree, the University of Saint Joseph for her master’s degree, and the University of Bridgeport for her 6-year advanced degree. She was named 2016’s National Teacher of the Year, while she was teaching at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Connecticut. Rep. Hayes, along with Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), is the first woman of color to represent New England in Congress. She has been re-elected for her second term in the U.S. House.  

5. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) 

Representative Ilhan Omar has been elected to represent the 5th congressional district of the state of Minnesota since 2019, making her the first Somali-American, the first naturalized citizen born in Africa, one of the only two Muslim women to get elected to Congress, and the first woman of color from Minnesota to serve in Congress. She attended North Dakota State University for her undergraduate. Previously, Omar represented district 60B in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Rep. Omar has won the 2020 election for her second term. 

6. Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) 

Since 2010, Representative Jamie Lynn Herrera Beutler has represented the 3rd congressional district of Washington in Congress. She also served in the Washington House of Representatives from the 18th congressional district for two terms. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington. Rep. Herrera Beutler has been re-elected for her fifth consecutive term after she won the 2020 election. 

7. Representative Nanette Barragán (D-CA) 

Representative Nanette Diaz Barragán has served California’s 44th congressional district since 2010. Born in Los Angeles, Barragán’s roots extend to Mexico, becoming the first Latina to represent California’s 44th district. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a bachelor’s degree and graduated from the University of Southern California with a J.D. degree. Previously, she served in Hermosa Beach City Council. Rep. Nanette Barragán has won the 2020 general election for her third term.

8. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) 

Representative Pramila Jayapal, born in Chennai, India, is the first Indian-American woman to serve in the U.S. House. She represents the 7th district of the state of Washington since 2017, becoming the first Asian-American to represent Washington at the national level. Jayapal is the first woman to serve in the 7th district. She also represented the 37th congressional district of Washington from 2015 to 2017 in the state senate. She attended Georgetown University for a bachelor’s degree and Northwestern University for an MBA degree. Rep. Jayapal has won a third term in the election of 2020. 

9. Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)  

Representative Tulsi Gabbard represents Hawaii’s 2nd legislative district since 2013. Born in American Samoa, Gabbard is the first Samoan-American, and the first Hindu elected to Congress. Gabbard is the youngest person ever to serve in Hawaii’s State Legislature. She also served in Hawaii’s Army National Guard. She graduated from Hawaii Pacific University. Rep. Gabbard withdrew from the 2020 presidential nomination while she had already dropped out of her re-election race to the U.S. House during her presidential campaign. 

Women running for the U.S. House and Senate have reached a record high in 2020. There is an increase in African-American women and GOP women running for office in the 2020 election. Stay tuned for the next blog about the freshman congresswomen elected to the 117th Congress, and until then, check out our post-election detox guide and take care of yourself.