Women Who Know Their Place: Meet the New Feminists in the House of Representatives

This post is excerpted from the latest issue of Ms.—our inauguration specialwhich introduces the new feminists in office. many of whom were sworn in today.

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The former U.S. representative left the House to launch an unsuccessful Senate race against the late Sen. John McCain in 2016. After moving from the rural north to southern Arizona to help out in a family medical emergency, Kirkpatrick launched a successful campaign to flip a Republican seat and represent Tucson. During her previous terms in office, she helped pass the Affordable Care Act (ACA), supported women’s reproductive rights, cosponsored bills to aid veterans and Native Americans and voted for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.



A member of the LGBTQ community and, at 31, one of the youngest to be elected, Hill worked as the executive director of People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), a nonprofit focused on helping veteran and chronically homeless populations. Under her leadership, PATH transformed from a small, local nonprofit to the top provider of housing for the homeless in California—assisting 2,600 families, 2,100 veterans and an additional 1,800 individuals. With a largely grassroots campaign run by young people, Hill saw victory in a historically Republican district.


A law professor at the University of California, Irvine, Porter is an expert on consumer protections and was one of the first to identify the predatory lending practices that led to the Great Recession. Then-Attorney General (now Sen.) Kamala Harris appointed Porter to oversee California banks in paying homeowners back the billions of dollars they were owed. Even before joining Congress, Porter—inspired by her former law school professor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—advocated successfully for federal legislation that provides credit card protections for families.



The 2016 Teacher of the Year, now the first black Democrat to represent Connecticut, Hayes told The New York Times she did not consider running for office until now because “we’re in a critically important time.” Reforming education is at the forefront of her priorities. Raised in the Waterbury, Conn., housing projects, she also vows to fight for social justice and income equity. She’s passionate about environmental protection, immigration reform, gun control, single-payer health care and women’s rights.



A first-generation immigrant from Ecuador, Mucarsel-Powell began working at 15 to help support her mother and sisters. She ran for office because she believes many of the opportunities that enabled her to improve her life are rapidly disappearing. She credits her degrees—a bachelor’s in political science and a master’s in international political economy—as a primary reason for her success, and she hopes to make college tuition more affordable. With 20 years of experience working in nonprofits and education centers, Mucarsel-Powell is also passionate about health care and climate change.


Shalala is accomplished, to say the least, having served in three presidential administrations. She was President Jimmy Carter’s assistant secretary for policy development and research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, President Bill Clinton’s secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) and President George W. Bush’s cochair for the Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors. While working under Clinton, she pushed for an assault weapons ban, and she believes in background checks and increasing access to mental health services. She also oversaw the creation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which has provided access to health care for more than 9 million children and pregnant women. For this—and more—Shalala was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2008.



After her son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed in 2012 by a white man who didn’t like the music he and his friends were playing in their car, McBath became a leader in the push for gun control. She has been a national spokesperson for Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She’s testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and lobbied dozens of elected officials for gun control. An African American elected in a majority white district, McBath is a two-time breast cancer survivor who understands the necessity of affordable health care options in the U.S. She founded the Champion in the Making Legacy Foundation to help graduating high school students in her hometown continue on to higher education.



As a child with a heart condition and, later, a registered nurse with a dual master’s degree in public health and nursing from Johns Hopkins University, Underwood has hands-on experience with the U.S. health care industry both as a patient and a health care provider. She was appointed by former President Barack Obama to serve as a senior advisor at HHS, where her focus was on prevention of, preparation for and response to public health emergencies, bioterrorism threats and disasters. An African American elected in a majority white district, Underwood was asked during the campaign whether that concerned her. Her answer: “This is my home.”



A fifth-generation Iowan with an MBA from Northwestern University, Axne successfully advocated for legislation that would provide all-day kindergarten to all children in West Des Moines. She took up the cause after learning that the city’s lottery system meant that many of the kindergartners were denied access to all-day schooling, receiving just part-time hours instead. In Congress, she’ll work to support rural economies, Planned Parenthood and abortion rights, and she’ll advocate for equal pay, a national paid family leave act and renewable energy.


First elected to the state legislature at age 26, Finkenauer is now 30 years old and one of the youngest members of Congress. She may still be paying off her student loans, but Finkenauer is ready to advocate for a generation not previously represented in Washington, D.C. The daughter of a union pipefitter welder, she keeps an old shirt of her dad’s—full of holes burned through from welding sparks—in her office. She says that seeing those holes, what her father went through to feed their family, reminds her of the importance of hard work. She is among the first generation in her family to attend and graduate college. Finkenauer is focused on affordable education, women’s rights and workers’ rights in Iowa—including adopting more pro-union labor policies and supporting blue-collar communities.



A member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, Davids made history as one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress. She has lived and worked on Native American reservations. An attorney and economic advisor, Davids hosts a podcast series with her brother called “Starty Pants” that showcases Kansas City entrepreneurs, especially those from oppressed or minority communities. She’ll fight for tax cuts for the middle class and to expand Medicaid, and she’ll advocate for members of the LGBTQ community and recipients of the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program.



After beating the incumbent Democrat, Michael Capuano, in the primary, Pressley ran uncontested to become the state’s first black congresswoman. She was also the first woman of color to be elected to the Boston City Council, and in that leadership role she helped establish the Committee on Healthy Women, Families and Communities; she revised and mandated enforcement of a pregnant teen policy to reduce the school dropout rate; she developed a more thorough health and sex education curriculum; and she convened evidence-based research groups to reform school disciplinary policies that affect the school-to-prison cycle.


The daughter of a union worker, Trahan grew up in a middle-class Massachusetts home. She attended Georgetown University and Harvard Business School and went on to become the CEO of a consulting firm. She never considered running for government office until Trump won the presidency. She plans to bring change to Washington, D.C., on behalf of women and working-class Americans.



The Republican repeal effort of the ACA hit a nerve with Slotkin. Her mother died of cancer because her “preexisting condition”—a previous bout of cancer—allowed health insurance companies to set her premium impossibly high (a once-common practice that was banned by the ACA) and she couldn’t afford it until it was too late. A former CIA analyst who served three tours in Iraq and had a leadership role in President Obama’s Defense Department, Slotkin supports gun legislation, especially to keep terrorists and domestic abusers from obtaining guns; environmental protections; and equality for all people.


As chief of staff on the Treasury Department’s Auto Task Force, Stevens played a large role in saving thousands of jobs in Michigan. She also assisted in developing two federal offices in Michigan to help create jobs. Stevens continues her economic leadership, advocating for equal pay for women, education reform and workers’ rights.


One of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, Tlaib plans to propose a justice-for-all civil rights act to protect diverse populations. A former attorney and state legislator, Tlaib was dubbed “The People’s Advocate” by the Detroit Metro Times for her ability to enact real change in the community, including her victory over the Koch brothers in a local pollution case. The Palestinian American was kicked out of an economic club in Detroit in 2016 for challenging then-candidate Donald Trump in response to his rhetoric about Muslims and immigrants. Her message to Trump was that he needed to read the U.S. Constitution.



Craig has taken the seat of REP. Jason Lewis, a former right-wing talk show host who supported calling women “sluts” on public radio. The 2018 election was a rematch for the two candidates: In 2016, Craig lost to Lewis by fewer than 7,000 votes. Raised by a single mother in a mobile home park, Craig put herself through college and became a newspaper reporter. She was chief executive at St. Jude Medical, a Fortune 500 company, for more than 10 years. She and her wife have four sons, making her the first lesbian mother in Congress.


Omar is the first Somali American and one of the first Muslim women to join Congress. In 1991, when she was 8, her family fled civil war in Mogadishu, first to Kenya and four years later to Minneapolis. Omar has been a community organizer and progressive activist since high school. Elected to the Minnesota state House in 2016, she was the first Somali American legislator in U.S. history. She’s also the director of policy at the Women Organizing Women Network, a group working to empower firstand second-generation immigrant women to become leaders.



Lee and her seven siblings grew up in a working-class home. Her family could not afford health insurance after her father was laid off, and when her mother had a heart attack, they almost lost their house. Lee has been a leader in helping disadvantaged families, especially women and children. When she moved to Las Vegas, she founded a women’s investment group and a crisis intervention homeless shelter. She is the founding director of a program to provide after-school care to students from low-income families.



A Navy helicopter pilot from the first class of women eligible for combat, Sherrill was up for a fight when her district’s 12-term incumbent announced his retirement and she started her first run for office. A former assistant U.S. attorney, she’d intended to take up criminal justice reform. But Trump’s election changed her trajectory. “I fought for this country my whole adult life,” she told Glamour magazine. “I have four kids. There wasn’t a point where I could consciously decide that I was not going to fight for the future of this country.”



Filling the seat vacated by now-Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Haaland is one of the first Native American women in Congress. A single mother, Haaland knows what it’s like to go hungry. She founded a salsa company to support herself through law school. She was the first Native American woman to chair the state Democratic Party. She helped pass a state ban on so-called conversion therapy for LGBT individuals and supported a law that allows members of New Mexico Indian tribes to receive in-state tuition at colleges and universities. Some of her top priorities are to protect immigrants, demilitarize the police and expand access to abortion care.


A Las Cruces, N.M., native, Torres Small knows jobs depend on water. Before she joined Congress, she worked as an attorney specializing in water conservation—determining how governments, farmers, developers and conservationists can best share this precious resource. Earlier, as a law clerk for a federal judge, she became passionate about fixing the flaws in the U.S. immigration system. She believes strongly that rural areas of the country need better access to health care and education.



One of the youngest women to serve in Congress, 29-year-old Ocasio-Cortez, of Puerto Rican heritage, is the first woman of color to represent her district, which includes parts of the Bronx and Queens counties. Born into a working-class family in the Bronx, she has focused on immigrant rights and the rights of low-income people of color. One of the most progressive members of the incoming class, she believes in Medicare for all; a federal jobs guarantee; an assault weapons ban; the end of private prisons; abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; tuition-free higher education; and housing as a human right.



A fifth-generation Oklahoman, Horn has led two nonprofits that encourage women to run for public office. In 2018 she took her own advice. Horn has been an attorney, a mediator and a political consultant, and she’s worked in the local aerospace industry. As a legislator, she’s focused on education, women and families, health care and gun safety.



Dean’s love of politics began around the family dinner table with her parents quizzing her and her six siblings on current events. After graduating from high school, Dean became a local committee member at age 18. She was the executive director of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers and later opened her own three-woman law practice. Dean volunteered in politics before becoming a public servant herself. In the state legislature she championed progressive causes, and after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting she created the PA SAFE Caucus as a way of addressing the gun violence epidemic.


Houlahan has been an Air Force captain, an engineer, an entrepreneur and a chemistry teacher. In her new role in the House, she says she’ll put her talent for facts, data and problem solving to good use. The daughter of a Holocaust survivor, she earned her industrial engineering degree from Stanford University on an ROTC scholarship and her master’s from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She’s dedicated to improving education, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), for women and girls and communities of color.


A civil rights lawyer for more than 35 years, Scanlon devoted her career to advocating for children and public education while working at the Support Center for Child Advocates, the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Commission on Children at Risk, the Education Law Center and the Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board. More recently, as the national pro bono counsel at Ballard Spahr, she focused on free press, domestic violence, refugee rights and voter suppression.


A graduate of George Washington University Law School, Wild was the first woman solicitor of Allentown, Pa.—her post confirmed by a unanimous City Council vote. In that role, she focused on transparency and accountability. Wild has also served on the board of directors of Second Harvest Food Bank, the Program for Women and Families and the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley.



One of the first Latinas to represent Texas, Escobar taught English and Chicanx literature. She also advocated for the Border Rights Coalition (now the Border Network for Human Rights). Escobar’s House district includes El Paso, and her perspective as a Latina woman living near the Mexican border should carry weight. Her district has witnessed asylum-seekers being denied access into the U.S., and she believes that the Department of Homeland Security should be held accountable.


Texas is changing: A liberal woman—and a first-time candidate—unseated a conservative, nine-term-incumbent man. A lawyer, Fletcher was also a cofounder of Planned Parenthood Young Leaders, which helps train young adults to fight for women’s health and choices. She’s long been an advocate for young women. She cares about women’s health issues, clean-energy jobs, accessible health care and the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), and will be a vote against a border wall.


Garcia joins Escobar as one of the first two Latina representatives from Texas, and “it’s about time,” she told Elle. One of 10 children, Garcia grew up in a South Texas farming community, where her parents taught her to value education. She won a scholarship for her undergraduate studies and worked multiple jobs to afford law school at Texas Southern University in Houston. While serving three terms in the state Senate, Garcia worked on progressive bills like the Relationship Privacy Act, which outlaws revenge porn, and the Truckers Against Trafficking Bill, which requires commercial drivers to receive training to combat human trafficking.



Luria joined the Naval Academy at 17, inspired by its mission: to graduate leaders who will “assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship and government.” After 20 years of service in the Navy, where she earned the rank of commander, Luria helped launch the Military and Veteran Legal Resource Guide with the Virginia attorney general to help veterans with their unique legal needs. Her top values are security, equality and prosperity, which she hopes to uphold by voting for bills that increase access to health care, incentivize green innovation, preserve Social Security and Medicare, end voter suppression and guarantee women’s equality.


Spanberger was politically active from an early age. Her mother, a nurse, was an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) advocate who took a young Spanberger with her canvassing for voters. In her career, Spanberger has been a page for Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.), a federal law enforcement officer and a CIA agent specializing in counterterrorism. Most recently a consultant on higher education, she worked to diversify student bodies, raise graduation rates and make college more affordable. The day Republicans voted to repeal the ACA, Spanberger decided to run for the House. She remains a staunch supporter of the ERA.


As a prosecutor and children’s advocate, Wexton focused on domestic violence and child abuse and neglect cases. As a member of the state Senate, she passed more than 40 bills, all with bipartisan support, on issues including health care, child safety and job expansion. In her first term in the U.S. House, she’ll also turn her attention to such causes as criminal justice reform, gun violence prevention, reproductive rights and paid family leave.



Schrier, a pediatrician, was inspired to run when then-Rep. Dave Reichert voted to advance the bill to repeal the ACA and replace it with Trumpcare. Schrier was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a teenager, so she knows just how important health insurance and affordable health care are. Now she’s the only woman physician serving in Congress. She told The Guardian before being elected that when Congress debates women’s and children’s health care and women’s reproductive rights, “having a woman doctor at the table is an important perspective.”


The team is a collection of Ms. print and digital editors and writers.