Congress Preparing Itself For New Influx Of Mothers

Following this month's elections, the next Congress will have more mothers of young children than ever before, and the institution's infrastructure may not be ready.

Katie Porter
Mario Tama / Getty Images

Following this month's elections, the next Congress will have more mothers of young children than ever before, and the institution's infrastructure may not be ready.

The election of 2018, in addition to putting the Democrats in power in the House of Representatives, has put a large group of new lawmakers in power in Washington. Among that delegation is more than 100 women, including the first two Muslim women in Congress, while Nancy Pelosi, who was the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House, is expected to return to that office.

Among the women taking seats in Congress in 2019 are several – more than ever before, in fact- who are the mothers of young children.

According to a story in Politico Monday, the new makeup of the incoming Congress has led the institution to adapt on the fly. This will include the installation of nursing stations around the Capitol, baby-changing tables in Congressional bathrooms, changes in the Congressional schedule, and consideration of changing rules that currently forbid members of Congress from using official funds for child care.

While women have served in Congress for over 100 years, there was not a women’s bathroom directly off the House floor until 2011, forcing a longer walk for female members during long sessions and votes. There had always been a men’s bathroom near the floor.

“Congress wasn’t built for members like me,” Katie Porter, an incoming Democratic Congresswoman from California and single mother of three, told Politico.

“For those of us who have young children, which is a minority, there’s definitely the built-in assumption of a two-parent model… There is no template for how to do this in my situation as a single mom.”

Porter also shared an anecdote about arriving in Washington; two meetings had been scheduled at the same time: one of the Democratic Caucus, and another for spouses on “how to be a supportive parent to children of lawmakers.”

Work/life balance is also a concern for male elected officials. The outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan expressed concern before assuming the speakership in 2015 that he would have less time to spend with his family. Ryan cited family again earlier this year when he announced he was retiring from Congress.

Jeannette Rankin, a Progressive Era Republican from Montana, became the first woman elected to Congress, or any other federal office, in 1916. A pioneer of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, Rankin remains the only woman ever elected to Congress from the state of Montana. Four states – Alaska, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Vermont – have never elected a woman to the House of Representatives. The number of women in Congress didn’t reach double digits until World War II, didn’t exceed 20 until the 1960s, and didn’t hit 30 until 1989.