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Powerful & Famous Brooklyn Women: Female Members of Congress from Kings County

Women's History Month Focus on the New York City Borough of Brooklyn

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Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman to be elected the the US Congress — and she was from Brooklyn. What other women members of Congress were elected to represent Brooklyn in Washington? As it turns out, not very many.

Here's a quick run-down of Brooklyn female elected officials representing the borough in the US Congress. A few things are interesting about this list:

  • First, back in the 1950s, the Democratic political machine in Brooklyn was not only open, but "eager" to put a woman candidate on the ballot.
  • Two out of the five women profiled below entered politics because a man in their life left the job (one a husband, the other a father) and the women stepped up to keep the seat.
  • No women Senators have been elected from Brooklyn, NY.
Biographic information below drawn from the federal government website Women in Congress. The list is organized chronologically, in order of the most recent service.

1. Nydia M. Velázquez. Democrat in House of Representatives. Served 1989-current

Congresswoman Velázquez currently is the only woman in Congress representing Brooklyn, NY. She serves a diverse district that includes parts of Brooklyn: Bushwick, Greenpoint, Red Hook, Sunset Park and Williamsburg.

In 2012, Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez was currently serving her tenth term as Representative for New York’s 12th Congressional District. In the 112th Congress, she is the Ranking Member of the House Small Business Committee and a senior member of the Financial Services Committee.

2. Susan Molinari. Republican in House of Representatives. Served 1990-1997

Assuming her father's seat when he left Congress to become Staten Island borough president, Representative Molinari's district included Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn. Initially a moderate Republican, she eventually become the fifth ranking Republican woman in Congress. She left politics to become a TV anchor, and also wrote her memoirs of her time in Congress, e Representative Mom: Balancing Budgets, Bill, and Baby in the U.S. Congress.

3. Shirley Chisholm. Democrat in House of Representatives. Served 1969–1983

Nicknamed "Fighting Shirley," in 1968 Shirley Chisholm of Brooklyn, New York, became the first African-American woman ever elected to Congress.

With strong roots in her then all-black Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, she was, according to the history outlined in the Women in Congress site, " a national figure—catapulted into the limelight by virtue of her race, gender, and outspoken personality." In a largely symbolic gesture, she ran for President in 1972, to underscore the fact that mainstream candidates did not "represent the interests of blacks and the inner-city poor." She declined to run again in 1982, after the ascendancy of Ronald Regan to the presidency. She was instrumental in the founding of the National Political Congress of Black Women.

4. Elizabeth Holtzman. Democrat in House of Representatives Served 1973-1981

Born in Brooklyn,Liz Holtzman graduated Brooklyn's Abraham Lincoln High School, Radcliffe, and Harvard Law School. Well known for her role on the House Judiciary Committee during the Richard M. Nixon impeachment inquiry and as a co-founder of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues, she served four terms.

Subsequently she held other elected offices and today has a private law practice. She also authored her memoirs,Who Said It Would Be Easy?: One Woman’s Life in the Political Arena (New York: Arcade, 1996).

5. Edna Flannery Kelly. Democrat in House of Representatives. Served 1949–1969

Assuming a seat left by her deceased husband, Edna Flannery Kelly spent two decades in the US House of Representatives during the post-World War II years.

She was a hardline anticommunist who supported the House Un American Activities Committee and became chair of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe in 1955. She introduced bills deploring religious persecutions in Eastern Europe and supported an aggressive US role in mediating Arab–Israeli conflict through the UN, where she subsequently worked as a delegate with Adlai Stevenson.

According to the Women in Congress website, "On July 15, 1949, Kings County Democratic leaders chose Kelly as their nominee to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Brooklyn-based U.S. Representative Andrew L. Somers. Local leaders were eager to put a woman on the ballot. “They felt that this was the time to recognize the work of women,” Kelly later explained. “I had been a long time working in the Democratic Party.”

Kelly's Brooklyn district contained large Catholic and Jewish populations and was heavily Democratic.

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