Lesson Plan: Early Women in Congress

Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin

House of Representatives historian Matthew Wasniewski and Curator Farar Elliott discussed the career of Jeannette Rankin, the first women elected to Congress.


This lesson looks at women who were early pioneers in Congress. Students will explore the political careers of nine women Senators and members of Congress. They will use what they learn about their career paths, contributions, challenges, and legacy to discuss the common challenges these Congresswomen faced and how they worked to overcome these challenges. This lesson provides a Choice Board option for teachers to use with their students.


  • SET-UP:

    This lesson offers several options for you to use with your students whether you are teaching in class, using a hybrid model, or engaging through distance learning. It can be completed in steps as a class or independently by students.

    Each activity, video and handout included in the lesson can be linked to an online discussion board or learning management system. You can also save and share the following Google Docs handout or Google Slides presentation for students to use with this lesson.

    Handout: Early Women in Congress ( Google Doc)

    Choice Board Slides: Early Women in Congress (Google Slides)

    By making a copy of this Google Doc/Google Slides presentation, you can adjust the instructions to meet the needs of your class and provide that copy to your students. Your students can also make a copy and complete the assignments digitally in the space provided.

  • WARM-UP:

    To begin class, have students brainstorm a list of answers to the following question. Teachers can choose to have students complete this as a Think-Pair-Share activity if needed.

    • What challenges have women faced throughout U.S. history and how have they worked to overcome these challenges?

    Have students research how each of the following vocabulary words relate to Congress. They can use the Google Doc handout or Google Slide presentation to complete this task. Students should provide a definition for each term as it relates to Congress. These terms will be used throughout the lesson.

    Handout: Early Women in Congress ( Google Doc)

    Choice Board Slides: Early Women in Congress (Google Slides)

    • Appoint

    • Committee Assignment

    • Committee Chair

    • Special Election

    • Vacancy

    Using the handout or Choice Board slides, have students view the video clips to explore notable women Senators and members of the House of Representatives. Students should take notes on the following topics for each Senator or Congresswoman. Students will later use this information to discuss the common challenges that women faced as members of Congress and how they worked to overcome these challenges.

    • Path to Congress

    • Legislative and Policy Contributions

    • Challenges

    • Legacy and Significance

    To differentiate this exploration section, teachers can choose one of the following options:

    • Use a jigsaw format to assign students one of the video clips and become experts. They will share their notes with the group.

    • Reduce the number of videos the students are required to view. You can assign specific video or have students choose.

    • Use the digital slides as a choice board and have students choose which members of Congress they will learn about. You can dictate the number of video clips students must choose based on time constraints. Directions on the Slide 4 of the Google Slides presentation can be altered to inform students of these changes.


    Using the notes from the handout, students will address the prompt below. Teachers can opt to have this as a written assignment or class discussion:

    • Using examples from the video clips, discuss the common challenges that women faced as members of Congress and how they worked to overcome these challenges.

    Trading Cards- View the short clip about the Supersisters trading cards. Using that model, choose a woman featured in the lesson and create a trading card of her. Include information about her biography, “stats”, and achievements based on information from the videos and the biographies linked on the video clips.

    Women in Elected Office Today- View the video clip on Women in Elected Offices . Use this video to respond to the prompt below:

    • What actions should be taken to increase the number of women in Congress?

    • How did Congresswomen highlighted in these video clips reflect the changing views on the role of women in the United States?

    • How did early Congresswomen use committee assignments to accomplish their policy goals?

    • What characteristics allowed for these Congresswomen to be successful?

Additional Resources


  • Appointment
  • Appropriations
  • Assimilate
  • At-large District
  • Committee Assignment
  • Committee Chair
  • Congressional Black Caucus
  • Coya Knutson
  • Edith Nourse Rogers
  • Florence Kahn
  • Incumbent
  • Jeannette Rankin
  • Legislative Agenda
  • Margaret Chase Smith
  • Martha Griffiths
  • Mary Norton
  • Pacifist
  • Rebecca Latimer Felton
  • Rule Committee
  • Shirley Chisholm
  • Special Session Of Congress
  • Vacancy
  • Widow
  • Women’s Suffrage


Legislative Branch


Middle SchoolHigh School