Nita M. Lowey

b. July 5, 1937

by Alexandra J. Wall

New York Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey.
Courtesy of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
In Brief

Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey used her position to fight for women’s health, public broadcasting, and support for Israel. Lowey served as assistant secretary of state for the New York Department of State before being elected to the House of Representatives in 1988. As co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, she increased funding for breast cancer research, protected funding for domestic violence awareness and child support programs, and advocated for workplace equity. She saved the Public Broadcasting System by “inviting” Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie to make their case before congress when Republican leaders sought to eliminate their funding. She also pushed through several aid packages to Israel. In 2001, she became the first woman to chair the Democratic Congressional Committee.



As cochair of the Bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey made women’s health issues a priority. In the fiscal year of 1995, when the National Institutes of Health received only a three percent increase in funding, Lowey secured a seventeen percent increase in funding for breast cancer research. As a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, she worked to achieve safety from terrorism for all Americans. Also serving on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Lowey was a staunch supporter of the State of Israel.

She was born Nita Melnikoff in the Bronx on July 5, 1937, to Beatrice and Jack Melnikoff, both natives of New York. She had one younger brother, Richard. She attended the Bronx High School of Science and received her bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke College in 1959.


The Democratic congresswoman represented New York’s Eighteenth District, which includes Westchester, Queens, and the Bronx. She was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1988. Prior to that, she served in the New York Department of State and was assistant secretary of state from 1985 to 1987. She also was one of the founders of the New York State Association of Women Office Holders. She was the first woman and the first New Yorker to chair the Democratic Congressional Committee, leading the organization from 2001 to 2002.

During her tenure in Congress, Lowey proved herself a strong advocate for women’s issues. In 1993, she was appointed to the Appropriations Committee, and she was one of two women on the subcommittee that determines health, education, and labor spending. She was also cochair of the Bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues. In this capacity, she helped protect funding for breast and cervical cancer research, domestic violence awareness programs, and child support programs. Lowey also chaired the House Pro-Choice Task Force. Together with Representative Patricia Schroeder of Colorado, she introduced the Women’s Choice and Reproductive Health Protection Act in 1996. Lowey is a former member of the Education and Labor Committee and fought for equity in education for girls and young women, as well as for economic security for older women. She was also a member of the Glass Ceiling Commission, working to promote women’s advancement in the workplace, and cochair of the Congressional Advisory Panel to the Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. A proponent of educational reform, she was also widely credited with saving the Public Broadcasting System: when Republican leaders threatened to eliminate the public television station, she “invited” Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie to make their case before Congress.

In 2003 Lowey was chosen by her colleagues to serve on the new House Committee on Homeland Security, created in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. She was an outspoken supporter of federalizing air and nuclear security, increasing port and rail security, and training first responders to deal with terrorist attacks.

In addition, Lowey’s record shows a strong commitment to the State of Israel. As a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, she helped push through the three-million-dollar aid package to Israel in 1995 and 1996. In 1995, the Lowey Amendment stated that United States officials could not meet with Palestinian officials in Jerusalem, demonstrating her belief in Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem. In 1994, the Lowey-Specter Amendment, which she coauthored with Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, was to ensure that the Palestine Liberation Organization was complying with its end of the Oslo Agreements signed with Israel.

Lowey was active in the United Jewish Appeal and wore the “Lion of Judah” pin symbolizing her support for its work. She and her husband, attorney Stephen Lowey, live in Harrison, in Westchester County, and belong to the Jewish Community Center of Harrison, a Conservative synagogue. They have three grown children, Dana, Jacqueline, and Doug.


Lowey, Nita M. Biography. Congressional office of Nita M. Lowey, Washington, D.C.

Solomon, Adam. Telephone interview with author. Office of Nita M. Lowey, Washington, D.C., September 1996.

“Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey.” United States House of Representatives website, 2004.

“Nita Lowey.” Jewish Virtual Library, 2004.

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How to cite this page

Wall, Alexandra J.. "Nita M. Lowey." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 20 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 25, 2024) <>.