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pte-nov18mf-8436-mikulski-barbaraSen. Barbara Mikulski


As the longest-serving woman in the history of the U.S. Congress, Sen. Barbara Mikulski notes that “behind me was a whole lot of we.”

Mikulski began her professional career as a social worker and community organizer, successfully stopping Interstate 95 being built in east Baltimore. She was elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1971 and five years later to the U.S. House of Representatives’ 3rd District.

She faced many challenges running for political office. There were stereotypes about women running for office in the 1970s. They were considered a novelty, so not only did she have to fight to be taken seriously as a candidate but once she won the job as well. Mikulski was also told she didn’t look the part.

“That was a gender word,” she said. “You were supposed to be long, lanky and a guy. You certainly weren’t going to be a female who was short and chunky. As Gloria Steinem said and then I said in my own remarks, ‘This is now what the part looks like’.”

Many women started political careers at the local level utilizing a sweat equity campaign of going door to door to be in direct contact with constituents. Mikulski is impressed with young women today using YouTube to generate interest in their campaigns.

“We didn’t have YouTube (when I started out),” she said. “We stood on street corners and said ‘Yoo-hoo’ to get ourselves known (while) holding signs.”

The Democrat served for a decade in the House before winning the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retiring Sen. Charles Mathias in 1986, becoming only the second woman to ever be elected to both chambers. She was also the first woman to chair the Senate Committee on Appropriations and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Since 2017, Mikulski has worked at Johns Hopkins University as a professor of public policy and an adviser to President Ronald J. Daniels. She most enjoys being around the students. “They want to know about the world and they want to change the world and go beyond using their iPhone to go to a march,” she said. “We believe in protest and marches but I tell them they have to get off the benches and into the trenches, and (I) show them how to be civically engaged and to be effective when they are engaged.”

When discussing the current political climate, Mikulski notes that she thinks people want change. “They want to be listened to, they want to be heard and they want people to end the gridlock and the deadlock, so right now our political climate is very tense and in some instances actually even toxic, but I admire the ones who are in office trying to do the change.”

Mikulski hopes when people look back on her career, they say “one person can truly make a difference, but when she worked with others they really made change,” she said.

This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Path To Excellence: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Path to Excellence magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Path to Excellence.