Newswise — When the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) was created 50 years ago, its founders were told it wasn’t a subject worth studying; there were only a handful of women serving in office, so what was there to research? These critics aren’t just wrong in retrospect. They were wrong at the time. To celebrate our 50th anniversary, CAWP is launching an interactive timeline, Shaping History: CAWP Through the Years, which includes both developments at CAWP and in American politics broadly, allowing you to travel through the past five decades as barrier after barrier is torn down, and watch CAWP grow into the premier institution in the country devoted to women’s political engagement while intersecting with and mutually supporting American women as they seized their own political destiny.

Some highlights from the timeline include:

  • 1971: CAWP is established in 1971 under the leadership of founding directors Ruth B. Mandeland Ida F.S. Schmertz at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics, with a grant from the Ford Foundation. That year, only 2% of the members of the U.S. Congress are women: 11 women serve in the House and one woman serves in the Senate. Of the 12 women serving, two are women of color; both serve in the House.
  • 1972: Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) becomes the first Black person to seek the presidential nomination from one of the two major parties. Also that year, CAWP convenes the historic first national gathering of elected women, the Conference for Women State Legislators.
  • 1978: Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-KS) becomes the first woman elected to the Senate in her own right without having previously filled an unexpired congressional term. CAWP publishes the second of two editions of Women in Public Office: A Biographical Directory and Statistical Analysis. These are the first comprehensive, publicly-available directories of women officeholders in the United States.
  • 1984: Representative Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY) becomes the first woman in American history to be nominated for vice president by a major party. Meanwhile, CAWP produces a 60-minute documentary film, Not One of the Boys, which airs nationally on the PBS series Frontline.
  • 1991: Anita Hill testifies at the Supreme Court nomination hearing for Clarence Thomas, accusing him of sexual harassment. That same year, Hill makes her first public appearance following the hearings at CAWP’s Forum for Women State Legislators, drawing national attention for speaking about sexual harassment and public policy. CAWP establishes NEW Leadership® (National Education for Women’s Leadership) as a series of annual national summer leadership institutes for college women.
  • 1992: A record number of women are elected to Congress, including the largest-ever freshman class, with many touting it as the “Year of the Woman.” CAWP launches Election Watch, the nation’s only resource for tracking women’s candidacies for state legislatures, statewide executive offices, and Congress. 
  • 1998: Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) becomes the first openly LGBTQ person elected to Congress as a non-incumbent. This year, CAWP creates Ready to Run®, a non-partisan campaign training program to encourage and train women to run for elective office, position themselves for appointive office, work on campaigns, or become active in public life in other ways.
  • 2000: Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) becomes the only first lady ever elected to public office when she is elected to the U.S. Senate. Former Representative Chisholm is named CAWP’s inaugural Senator Wynona Lipman Chair in Women’s Political Leadership, beginning a long legacy of Lipman chairs from politics and media, including our upcoming 2021 Lipman Chair, PBS Washington Week anchor Yamiche Alcindor, who will join us for the Lipman Chair Lecture on January 26th.
  • 2001: Elaine Chao (R) becomes the first Asian American woman to serve in a presidential Cabinet when she is appointed secretary of labor by President George W. Bush. CAWP Senior Scholar Susan J. Carroll publishes The Impact of Women in Public Office , a volume of essays from several scholars about women public officials serving in various offices and locales, and CAWP releases Women State Legislators: Past, Present and Future, highlighting how women and men in state legislatures are similar or different in terms of their attitudes and priorities as well as in terms of characteristics such as age, education, and career background.
  • 2013: New Hampshire becomes the first state to have an all-woman congressional delegation; its four-member delegation consists of Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D) and Kelly Ayotte (R) and Representatives Ann McLane Kuster (D) and Carol Shea-Porter (D). CAWP launches Teach a Girl to Lead® to educate young children about women’s political leadership and inspire girls to see themselves as leaders.
  • 2020: For the first time in history, more than one woman contests a major-party presidential primary, with six women candidates entering the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. CAWP launches its Women, Money, and Politics series of reports, focusing on little-understood intersections between gender and campaign finance.
  • 2021: Kamala Harris (D) is sworn in as the nation’s first woman vice president, and CAWP celebrates 50 years of providing the context for women’s political ascent and preparing them to rise.

View the full timeline at Shaping History: CAWP Through the Years.

“The world has been remade in the 50 years since our founding. Women have gone from being political outliers, afterthoughts, to taking their place in offices at every level across the country,” said CAWP Director Debbie Walsh. “That trajectory, mirrored in our own growth and evolution, has been astonishing to witness. Still, though, this moment allows for reflection on not just our past but also new horizons. Women are less than one-third of officeholders in every level of office we study. There is so much left to do. We are eager to build upon our unique role in the struggle for women’s political equity and have great hope for what the world will look like in another 50 years.”

An Ongoing Mission

CAWP is nationally recognized as the leading source of scholarly research and current data about women’s political participation in the United States. Its mission is to promote greater knowledge and understanding about the role of women in American politics, enhance women's influence in public life, and expand the diversity of women in politics and government. That mission is ever evolving and continuously expanding.

In 2020, CAWP released the Women Elected Officials Database, the most comprehensive collection of information anywhere in the world about women who have served as elected officials in the United States.

In April 2021, for the first time, CAWP released data that debunked a long-held myth that women are more abundantly represented in local politics than state and federal offices. The data shows that women’s representation in municipal office – mayoral offices and city councils – is similar to their representation at other levels. Women hold less than one-third of seats in every level of office CAWP tracks.

Most recently, CAWP released the third report in its Women, Money, and Politics series, which investigates the participation of women as donors and analyzes the fundraising challenges and opportunities facing women candidates. The report found men outgave women two to one in all state legislative contests.

CAWP is also a leader in creating a future of greater opportunity, visibility, and representation for women in politics, and this work will continue to foster and prepare women to run for office locally and nationally. CAWP’s programs Teach a Girl to Lead®, NEW Leadership®, and Ready to Run® focus on speaking directly to young girls, college students, and women to provide them the tools and resources they need to become effective leaders in the political arena. These programs have collectively prepared thousands of women for increased political engagement.

To learn more about CAWP and its 50th anniversary, visit

About CAWP 

The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is nationally recognized as the leading source of scholarly research and current data about women’s political participation in the United States. Its mission is to promote greater knowledge and understanding about the role of women in American politics, enhance women's influence in public life, and expand the diversity of women in politics and government. CAWP’s education and outreach programs translate research findings into action, addressing women’s under-representation in political leadership with effective, intersectional, and imaginative programs serving a variety of audiences. As the world has watched Americans considering female candidates for the nation's highest offices, CAWP’s five decades of analyzing and interpreting women’s participation in American politics have provided a foundation and context for the discussion.