Milestones for Jewesses in politics

Today is the first Tuesday in November, which means that for those of us freezing our toes off up north, it's finally time to turn on the heat!  It also means it is Election Day, and since we're not electing a President this year, we have the luxury to relax and reflect on the trailblazing Jewish women in politics who have made history on this historic day.

  • On Election Day in 1970, Bella Abzug was first elected to the US House of Representatives, becoming the second Jewish woman to be elected to Congress.  (The first was Florence Prag Kahn who won a special election in February, 1925, after the death of her husband, Julius Kahn, a U.S. Representative.) Bella Abzug, one of our most fiery Jewesses, described her days in office as "figuring out how to beat the machine and knock the crap out of the political power structure."  She taught us, among other things, that Congress is the perfect place for a "Jewess with attitude." 
  • In 1984, Madeleine Kunin won election as governor of Vermont, becoming the first Jewish and first woman governor of Vermont, as well as the first Jewish woman governor of any American state. She went on to be the first woman elected to three terms as governor in any American state, all the while staying true to her strong feminist values.
  • In 1988, Nita M. Lowey was elected to the House of Representatives from New York.  She has served as Chair of the Congressional Women’s Caucus and the House Pro-Choice Caucus, and is one of the strongest advocates for women's health and Choice in Congress. Last year Lowey was re-elected for her 11th term, and she is still fighting for women today. 
  • In 1992, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer were elected to the U.S. Senate, becoming the first Jewish women senators, the first female senators from California, and the first two women to ever represent any state at the same time. Feinstein went on to become the first female member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the first woman to chair the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. Senator Boxer went on to become a leader for Choice.  She authored the Family Planning and Choice Protection Act and helped lead the floor fight for passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, and will be running for her 4th term in 2010.
  • In 2002, Linda Lingle became the first woman and first Jew to be elected Governor in the state of Hawaii.  After Governor Kunin of VT, Lingle is only the second Jewish woman governor in American history.  Governor Lingle is public about her Judaism, whether she is holding seders at the Governor's mansion or lighting public menorahs. Lingle says that her Jewish background has given her a deeper understanding of diversity that has allowed her to connect with other groups.

Read more about these stories in This Week in History, or check out JWA's feature on Jewish Women in Politics for an in-depth look at the history of American Jewesses fighting for change.

And don't miss this treat from our archives: 

Nov. 3, 2006: Jewish Women Politicians: Progressively Passionate?

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How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "Milestones for Jewesses in politics." 3 November 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 26, 2019) <>.

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