The Road to a More Diverse Congress through Primary Sources
The 116th Congress was sworn into office on January 3, 2019, making history with the youngest and most diverse membership ever.
The 2018 midterm elections resulted in a cascade of historic firsts for Congress, particularly for women (including a record number of women of color) and LGBT candidates. More than 100 women won seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, shattering the previous record of 84. Women also made gains in the U.S. Senate, with 12 women winning seats. Among many historically-relevant newcomers to the 116th Congress include the body's first Native American women (Sharice Davids of Kansas and Debra Haaland of New Mexico) as well as its first Muslim women (Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota). This Congress also ushers in a new generation of younger leaders. Between the 115th and 116th Congress, the average age of a congress member dropped from 57 to 47. New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, elected at 29 years old, became the youngest woman to ever join congressional ranks. Another significant milestone is the record number of openly LGBT candidates elected (and reelected).
What are the turning points in history that have resulted in this diverse congress?
Shifts in congressional demographics are not a new phenomenon, and have often been driven by legislative, cultural, and social changes. What are some of the history-making people and events that have driven congressional diversification, from 1789 to today?
Explore these questions through the Primary Source Connection on congressional diversity, in the Background Resources menu to the left. Through relevant and engaging primary sources, aligned with relevant reference content, this feature uses a driving question to engage students critically with foundational moments in American history. Use the Key Question to explore how defining moments such as the expansion of voting rights during the Jacksonian era, Reconstruction, and the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment diversified congressional representation. Investigate how new migration patterns for Latinos and Asian Americans and shifts in public opinion on issues like LGBT rights further expanded political representation in the 20th century. With the direction of Using the Evidence and the bonus Instruction by Tom Bober, students will investigate the primary sources associated with each turning point to answer the driving Key Question. Each primary source includes a targeted analysis guide to deepen interpretation.
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