Twenty-two states have ever elected at least one Black woman to Congress, and 29 have elected at least one woman of color, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. House and Senate historical records. The analysis comes ahead of a Feb. 21 special election to fill a vacant House seat, which could see Virginia become the latest state to elect a Black woman to Congress for the first time.
Overall, 57 Black women – among a total of 106 women of color – have ever been elected to the national legislature, counting both voting and nonvoting members of Congress.
Ahead of a special election that could see Virginia elect a Black woman to Congress for the first time, Pew Research Center conducted this analysis to see how many states have ever done so. We also examined how many states have ever elected any non-White woman to Congress. For this analysis, we used the race and ethnicity categories from U.S. House and Senate historical records.
All racial groups in this analysis refer to single-race non-Hispanics. Hispanics are of any race. The two multiracial lawmakers in this analysis are counted once in the overall total, but they are included in the counts for each of the racial and ethnic groups they identify with. Portuguese lawmakers are not counted with Hispanic members.
Our analysis reflects the 540 voting and nonvoting members of Congress as of Feb. 16, 2023, excluding the vacant seat of Democratic Rep. Donald McEachin, which will be filled following the Feb. 21 special election in Virginia. In this analysis, independent members of Congress are counted with the party they caucus with.
Sixty-one women of color currently serve in the 118th Congress as voting or nonvoting members. Just under half (29) are Black, 20 are Hispanic and 11 are Asian American. Kansas Democrat Sharice Davids is American Indian, and Alaska Democrat Mary Peltola became the first woman ever elected from the state and the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress in a 2022 special election. (Washington Rep. Marilyn Strickland, a Democrat, is both Black and Asian American, and she is counted in both categories in this analysis.)
The vast majority of the women of color currently serving in Congress (58 of 61) serve in the House, either as voting or nonvoting members. Three are senators, all Democrats: Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois (who are Asian American) and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada (who is Hispanic).
All but nine of the 61 women of color in the current Congress are Democrats. Eight are Republicans, and the resident commissioner of Puerto Rico, Jenniffer González-Colón, is a member of the New Progressive Party. Among the Republicans, five are Hispanic. Three other Republican women in Congress – California Reps. Young Kim and Michelle Steel and American Samoa delegate Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen – are Asian American.
Nearly 60 years on Capitol Hill
Women of color have served in Congress for almost six decades. The first ever to do so was Democratic Hawaii Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink, an Asian American woman who was elected in 1964. The first Black woman in Congress, Democratic Rep. Shirley Chisholm of New York, was elected in 1968. Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the first Hispanic woman to serve in either chamber, was elected via special election in 1989.
In all, the 106 women of color who have served on Capitol Hill make up a quarter of the 423 women ever elected to Congress.
Most of these 106 women (58%) were first sworn into to Congress within the last 10 years. That includes nearly three-quarters (73%) of the Hispanic women who ever served, 65% of the Asian women and 46% of the Black women who ever served, as well as all four American Indian and Alaska Native representatives.
Here’s a closer look at the Black, Hispanic, Asian American, American Indian and Alaska Native women who have served in Congress:
- Of the 57 Black women ever to serve in Congress, 55 have served in the House, either as voting members (52) or as nonvoting members from the District of Columbia (1) or the U.S. Virgin Islands (2). Two Black women have served in the Senate: Democrat Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, elected in 1992; and current Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat who was sworn in as a California senator in 2017. Two multiracial lawmakers are included in this count: Harris and Strickland are both Black and Asian.
- A total of 30 Hispanic women have served in Congress since the 1989-90 session. All but one of these lawmakers – Cortez Masto – have served in the House.
- Since Hawaii voters elected Mink in 1964, 16 other Asian women have served in Congress, including 14 who have served only in the House and one – Harris – who served only in the Senate. Two women, Hirono and Duckworth, have been elected to both chambers.
- In addition to Davids and Peltola, two American Indians have represented New Mexico in the House: Republican Yvette Herrell and Democrat Deb Haaland. Haaland is currently secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the first Native American Cabinet secretary in the country’s history.
More than eight-in-ten (86%) of the women of color ever elected to Congress have been Democrats. The sole Republican Black woman to serve on Capitol Hill was Rep. Mia Love of Utah, who served during the 114th (2015-16) and 115th (2017-18) Congresses.
In addition to the 22 states that have ever elected at least one Black woman to Congress, 10 have elected at least one Hispanic woman, six have elected at least one Asian American woman, and two have elected an American Indian woman. Alaska is the only state to have elected an Alaska Native woman to Congress.
American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have all been represented in the House at least once by a woman of color who’s served as a nonvoting delegate or resident commissioner. None of these places have been represented by an American Indian or Alaska Native woman.
In the current Congress, 25 states are represented by women of color, including three for the first time: Oregon (Democratic Rep. Andrea Salinas and Republican Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer are Hispanic), Colorado (Democratic Rep. Yadira Caraveo is Hispanic) and Pennsylvania (Democratic Rep. Summer Lee is Black).
The states where the greatest number of women of color have served in Congress are California (21), Florida (10) and Texas (8).