Female Senators, Their Ranks Increasing, Reflect on Breaking Into the Boys’ Club

Welcome to the Senate

It is not uncommon for women in the Senate to suffer from a case of mistaken identity. When Ms. Klobuchar arrived, in 2007, she stepped onto the senators-only elevator, only to be confronted by a male colleague. “This is a senators-only elevator,” she recalled him telling her. “I looked at him and I said, ‘And who are you? I AM a senator.’”

Not much had improved by the time Ms. Heitkamp arrived in 2013. She recalled trying to step onto the subway that connects Senate office buildings to the Capitol. A guard asked for her identification, which she produced. “So you’re a Senate spouse?” she said he asked. “I went, ‘No. I am THE United States senator from my state.’”.

Separate and unequal?

For a long time there was no women’s bathroom on the second floor of the Capitol, off the Senate chamber. Ms. Klobuchar said that when she arrived, there was a small bathroom, not large enough to accommodate the Senate’s growing female population. So she and then Senator Barbara Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who was regarded as the dean of female senators until her retirement last year, “self-appointed ourselves to the ‘expand the woman’s bathroom’ committee.” The architect of the Capitol presented them with a plan to add one stall. Ms. Mikulski, Ms. Klobuchar recalled, was not impressed. “She says, ‘You know what this is? This is a glass-ceiling bathroom.’”

Proper attire required

The men also have a better gym than the women and the men’s gym has a pool. When then-Senator Kay Hagan, the North Carolina Democrat, arrived in the Senate in 2009, she wanted to swim there, only to be greeted with a sign on the door that said “men only.” There was a reason for the sign, Ms. Collins said. There were at least two male senators — she would not name them — who enjoyed swimming in the nude. Today, women can use the pool, and the sign says “Proper Attire Required.” When Ms. Hagan lost her race in 2014, the women of the Senate threw her a goodbye party — at the pool.

About those bipartisan dinners …

Ms. Heitkamp boasted that she ran the “most fun” dinner; she took the women of the Senate bowling at the White House bowling alley, and bought her colleagues bowling shirts. “And we got in big trouble,” she said, “because we stood on the lanes, and they had to resand the lanes afterward.”

No children allowed?

Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, recently became the first female senator to give birth while in office. She is now pushing to change the rule that bars senators from bringing children onto the Senate floor. Ms. Klobuchar, the senior Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, is working with her. “Of course,” the senator said wryly, “my husband does joke, ‘Well what do you mean? There’s a lot of babies on the floor already.’”

Watch the full discussion, below.

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