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Women couldn’t wear pants on the floor of the U.S. Senate until 1993

Carol Moseley Braun holds the distinction of being the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate, and in 1993, she also helped bring about another victory for equality: a rare rule change in the Senate that updated the dress code from its outdated, gendered restrictions to better align with the times.

Before becoming a senator, Moseley Braun was used to wearing pantsuits during her tenure in the Illinois legislature, where rules were more relaxed. One morning in early 1993, not long after she was sworn in as a Democratic senator, she chose an Armani pantsuit to wear to work. “I walked onto the floor of the Senate, and the gasps were audible,” she later said. The dress code — which required women to wear dresses or skirts with a jacket — was enforced primarily by peer pressure, as well as the whims of the Senate doorkeepers who allowed people into the chamber. 

Female aides initially tried to challenge the dress code in 1972, but their request was reportedly ignored. By 1993, thanks to an increasing number of women senators, the tide began to shift. After Moseley Braun’s unintentionally bold move, Senator Barbara Mikulski did the same. (Although no official Senate record confirms which senator first wore pants on the floor, most available information suggests it was Moseley Braun.) Female staffers, journalists, and other senators soon began advocating for an official allowance to wear pants. Shortly after, Senate Sergeant at Arms Martha Pope issued an amendment to the dress code, allowing “coordinated pantsuits” as part of the acceptable attire for women — a major win in what’s been called the “pantsuit revolution.”

They began allowing babies in 2018

In April 2018, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution allowing senators to bring their children under the age of 1 onto the Senate floor during votes. Senator Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, played a significant role in this historic decision. Just days before, Duckworth herself made history as the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office, and she had already been advocating for a rule change — a rarity in the Senate — so she could continue her governmental duties while caring for her newborn. “Whether you are a woman or a man… you should be able to bring that child on to the floor and continue to do your job,” she said at the time. Ten days after giving birth, Duckworth became the first senator to cast a vote on the Senate floor with her baby cradled in her arms.

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