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Chicago Sun-Times: Since 1818, Illinois sent only 20 women to Congress; a record 7 are serving now

January 4, 2021

Since becoming a state in 1818, Illinois has sent 511 people to Congress.

Only 20 have been women.

The 117th Congress has a record number of women in the House and Senate, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. That’s 144 women, or 26.9%, of all members.

The number of women from Illinois in Congress is also at a new high: seven of the 20 Illinois members in the House and Senate are females.

When you look at the big picture, this good news is tempered: Gender parity in Illinois when it comes to sending members to Congress is dismal, even appalling.

The newest additions were sworn-in on Sunday: Rep. Marie Newman, a Democrat from suburban LaGrange, and Rep. Mary Miller, a Republican who comes from Oakland, a town in east central Illinois.

Both replaced men: Newman beat Rep. Dan Lipinski in the March Democratic primary. Miller follows former Rep. John Shimkus, who retired.

Illinois has 18 House members and two senators.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., is the longest-serving female in the delegation; the other women, along with Newman and Miller, in Congress are Democratic Reps. Robin Kelly; Lauren Underwood; Cheri Bustos; and Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

Democrats have 106 females in the House and Senate; Republicans have 38 women in Congress.

There will be 52 women of color in this new Congress up from the previous high of 48, set in 2019. Of these, according to the Rutgers center, 47 are Democrats and five are Republicans.

The freshman class Newman and Miller are a part of includes 27 women, according to the center.

Until Miller, the last Republican woman in the Illinois delegation was Rep. Judy Biggert, who served from 1999 to 2013.

Schakowsky and Biggert came to the House the same year; at the time it was unusual for Illinois to add two women to the delegation. Schakowsky said, “Being a woman is increasingly, for both parties, an advantage.”

Newman said when it comes to women in Congress, “I think we have opened a door that never will be closed again.”