Change Agent: Senator Barbara Mikulski


150323 Barbara Mikuslki

Growing up in East Baltimore, Maryland, Barbara Mikulski learned from the generosity of her parents. Every morning her mother and father would open up their small neighborhood grocery store and say, “Good morning, can I help you?” Since then, Barbara says she tries to approach each day with a “can I help you?” attitude.

After working as a social worker, Barbara was elected to Baltimore’s city council in 1971 and hasn’t strayed from politics since then. While serving on city council, she gave a moving speech on the ethnic movement in America and this caught the attention of many.

“America is not a melting pot,” she said. “It is a sizzling cauldron for the ethnic American who feels that he has been politically courted and legally extorted by both government and private enterprise.”

Barbara continued to raise awareness for the underdog and was elected to the US Senate in 1976. Barbara was the first woman elected to the Senate without a husband or father who had served in office. She has been reelected four times and is now the longest serving woman in congress.

Barbara is currently the Dean of Women in the Senate and mentors younger women in the senate by hosting dinners and planning “power workshops.” Her goal is for the women in the senate to work together to achieve their goals. She has fought for women to be included in clinical trials and medical research, she has written a law which requires federal standards for mammograms, and she has fought for women who are uninsured to receive screening for breast and cervical cancer.

She sponsored the first bill Obama signed into law: the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. On average, women are paid 77 cents for every dollar that men are paid. This bill aims to address this problem and restore the protection against discrimination.

“We, the women of the Senate, with President Obama by our side, will keep fighting – our shoulders square, our lipstick on – because you deserve equal pay for your hard work,” she said.

Barbara also introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would also aim to fix the wage gap. The bill has not passed in the senate yet and Barbara was nothing short of shocked. She then addressed the notion that women should not hold positions of power because they are viewed to be more emotional than men.

“It brings tears to my eyes to know how women every single day are working so hard and are getting paid less. It makes me emotional to hear that,” she said. The moving speech can be seen here.

Although this bill is still struggling to pass in the senate, many other initiatives that Barbara supports have been successful in creating change and raising awareness. She has fought for free preventative care for women as a part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, she has created grants for low-income families to afford childcare, and she has even helped Vice President Joe Biden pass the Violence Against Women Act in 1994.

“It was her leadership that brought the nation’s attention to the need for shelters for victims of domestic violence, helping countless women escape the worst prison on earth – the four walls of their own home,” Biden said.

Biden not only praised Barbara’s work as an advocate for women, but also as an advocate for men.

“There’s a lot of talk about what the women of America owe Barbara Mikulski. But the truth of the matter is the men of America owe her even more. Because she freed men of the stereotypical notions that they were raised to believe,” Biden said.

Barbara also serves on three senate committees: appropriations committee, senate select committee on intelligence, and the health, education, labor, and pensions committee.

Barbara Mikulski has had many years of success in the senate and even more years of being a change agent for women and for gender equality. She has paved the way for women in the senate to find their place and to feel more comfortable. Barbara was one of the first women to ever wear pants in the chamber, which she called a “seismographic event.”

Barbara recently announced that she would not be running for reelection in 2016 and would be retiring from her place in the senate.

“I had to decide whether to spend my time fighting to keep my job or fighting for your job. Do I spend my time raising money or raising hell to meet your day-to-day needs?  Do I spend my time focusing on my election or the next generation. Do I spend the next two years making promises about what I will do or making progress on what I can do right now,” said Barbara.


Written by Lauren Every, Women’s Fund Intern

Sign Up

for the latest blog posts