Barbara Mikulski celebrates her arrival on the Baltimore City Council in December 1971. (Baltimore Sun photo by Irving Phillips.)
In honor of Women’s History Month, Retro Baltimore could spotlight any number of women, from socialites (Wallis Warfield Simpson, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte) to rock stars (Mama Cass Elliot, Gina Schock of The Go-Gos), award-winning actresses (Mo’Nique, Jada Pinkett Smith) to medal-winning Olympic swimmers (Anita Nall, Wendy Weinberg).
But when it comes to Baltimore women making history, it pays to think small — about 4’ 11”, to be exact. We speak, of course, of U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in U.S. congressional history (elected to Congress in 1976, she hasn’t left Washington since) and, perhaps, the inventor of the adjective “irrepressible.”
Few might have pegged her for national attention when she first emerged on the Baltimore scene in the late 1960s, fighting plans to plow under much of Fells Point and Canton so I-95 could cut through the city. But from that humble (and, thankfully, successful) beginning, the Highlandtown native powered forward.
Though trained as a social worker, Mikulski quickly identified politics as her real life’s calling. Elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1971, at age 35, the hometown gal known affectionately as “Babs” or “Senator Barb” has rarely looked back. After losing her first Senate bid, in 1974 to incumbent Republican Charles McC. Mathias, Mikulski was elected to the House of Representatives in 1976, succeeding Paul Sarbanes. Ten years later, she was elected to succeed the retiring Mathias; since then, she has been re-elected four times, never winning less than 61 percent of the vote.
City Councilwoman Barbara Mikulski officially enters the Democratic primary for the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland’s Third District in this photo taken Jan. 9. 1976. (Baltimore Sun photo by Weyman Swagger.)
Last year, she became the longest-serving female member of Congress in history, surpassing the 35 years served by Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts.
No matter how much time she spends in Washington, however, Mikulski remains a certified Baltimorean; few Bawlamer accents have gained such national notoriety. She’s equally at home pressing her fellow senators, as chair of the Appropriations Committee, to restore money earmarked for needy families that had been cut during the sequestration battle, or speaking movingly to an audience at the Maryland Film Festival about why the movie “To Kill a Mockingbird” had such a profound effect on her.
And even with her 78th birthday looming in July, Mikulski seems the political equivalent of the Energizer Bunny: she keeps on going, and going, and going …
Also see: Sen. Barbara Mikulski [Pictures]