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Record Number of Women in 113th U.S. Congress

By Jane Morse | Staff Writer | 07 January 2013
Kirsten Gillibrand, her son, and Joe Biden (AP Images)

After her official swearing-in, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand obliged her son Henry with a mock ceremony that included Vice President Biden.

Washington — A record number of women — 101 across both chambers — has been elected to the new U.S. Congress, and they are predicting that their more collaborative work style will make itself felt.

“I think women bring a slightly different perspective,” Representative Tammy Duckworth (Democrat from Illinois) told the New York Times. According to Representative Tulsi Gabbard (Democrat from Hawaii), the congresswomen, no matter what their party affiliation, “are going to reach across the aisle a lot more. We’re a lot more pragmatic, but we do come from all different backgrounds.”

“What I find is, with all due deference to our male colleagues, that women's styles tend to be more collaborative,” Senator Susan Collins (Republican from Maine) told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer.

“I always push back the idea that there are 'women's issues,'” Collins said. “Because every issue from war to taxes to education affect women in this country. And that's why the point of having women be represented on all committees and leading many of them is so important.”

With the opening of the 113th Congress on January 3, 20 women were sworn into the U.S. Senate and 81 into the House of Representatives.

“I can tell you this is a can-do crowd," said Senator Barbara Mikulski (Democrat from Maryland) of the Democratic and Republican women senators after their swearing-in. "We are today ready to be a force in American politics."

Mikulski is the first woman to chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. She is also the longest-serving female senator and the longest-serving woman in the history of the U.S. Congress, having been first elected in 1976.

U.S. senators serve six-year terms; representatives two-year terms. Each state has two senators; representatives are apportioned according to the size of the state’s population.

One state, New Hampshire, now has an all-woman congressional delegation. California and Washington state are each represented in the Senate by two women. Nebraska elected its first woman senator, Deb Fischer (Republican).

"It was an historic election," Fischer said. "But what was really fun about it were the number of mothers and fathers who brought their daughters up to me during the campaign and said, 'Can we get a picture?'"

The 113th Congress is also the most diverse in history. It includes 31 Latinos, 12 Asian Americans and seven openly gay or bisexual members.

Gabbard and Representative Tammy Duckworth (Democrat from Illinois) have become Congress’ first women combat veterans after serving in the war in Iraq.

Religious diversity in the U.S. Congress has also expanded. Senator Mazie Hirono (Democrat from Hawaii) is the first Buddhist senator and Gabbard becomes the first member of Congress to have embraced Hinduism.

Although the swearing-in ceremony was a jubilant occasion for the congresswomen, second-term Senator Claire McCaskill (Democrat from Missouri) told the New York Times: “I don’t think we should be satisfied until we have the same number of women in the Senate that represent the percentage of the population that are women, so we still have a long way to go.”

Even so, women are gaining seniority and important committee assignments.

Senator Patty Murray (Democrat from Washington) will chair the Senate Budget Committee. Just elected to her third term, Senator Maria Cantwell (Democrat from Washington), takes over as chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Cantwell also sits on the Finance, Commerce, and Energy and Natural Resources committees. Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (Republican from Washington) gained a seat on the House Appropriations Committee. Fischer of Nebraska is joining the Defense, Environment and Public Works, Indian Affairs, Small Business, and Commerce committees.