Women’s Caucus History
On April 19, 1977, fifteen Congresswomen met in a small room in the Capitol, known then as the Congresswomen’s Reading Room, to hold the first meeting of the Congresswomen’s Caucus, co-founded by Reps. Elizabeth Holtzman and Margaret Heckler. In the months that followed, the Congresswomen met 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 then-Commerce Secretary Juanita Kreps to discuss government contracts for women-owned businesses and asked the Small Business Committee to hold hearings on the subject.
In 1981, the Congresswomen changed the organization’s name to the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues. Twenty-four newly elected Congresswomen arrived on Capitol Hill in 1993, nearly doubling the number of women in the Caucus in what became the “Year of the Woman.”
The Congresswomen frequently continued to gather – 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 1995, the House of Representatives voted to eliminate funding for offices and staff of caucus organizations on Capitol Hill. Following the January 1995 vote, the Congresswomen reorganized themselves into a Members’ organization by the same name.
Bipartisanship is the key to the Caucus’ strength and success. The legacy of its first 40 years is one of a bipartisan group of Congresswomen committed to improving the lives of women and families, and willing to put their partisan differences aside to do it.
Women’s Caucus Accomplishments
Since the establishment of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, the number of women in the House of Representatives has grown from 15 in 1977 to 106 (including four Delegates) today. Although women make up a little more than 24 percent in the 116th Congress, the Caucus’ influence has far exceeded its representation in Congress.
The earliest accomplishments of the Women’s Caucus include:
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978)
- The Retirement Equity Act (1984)
- The Civil Rights Restoration Act (1987)
- The Women’s Business Ownership Act (1988)
- The Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act (1990)
- The Child Support Enforcement Act (1992)
- The Mammography Quality Standards Act (1992)
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (1993)
- The Violence Against Women Act (1994)
- The Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology Development Act (1998)
In recent years, the Women’s Caucus has introduced legislation signed into law to address the needs of women serving in the military and women veterans, combat the domestic and international trafficking of women and girls, end sexual harassment and violence, increase the number of women and girls in STEM, and address women’s preventative health.
The influence of the Women’s Caucus extends far beyond its impressive list of domestic legislative achievements. Caucus members have championed women’s issues around the globe from Afghanistan and Iraq, from Cambodia to Cairo to Beijing, and represented the Congress at UN world conferences on women, population, and development, working to bring international attention to the plight of women.
The Women’s Caucus also has served as an inspiration and a model worldwide for women parliamentarians – 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.