Mikulski honored as longest-serving woman in Congress

Call her Maryland's Iron Lady.

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski was lauded Wednesday on the floor of the Senate for setting the record as the longest-serving woman in Congress, a streak that her colleague, Sen. Ben Cardin, likened to that of another Marylander: baseball's Iron Man.


"Marylanders understand longevity records. We're very proud of our Cal Ripken," Maryland's junior senator said of the holder of baseball's consecutive-games streak. "Senator Mikulski's, like Cal Ripken's, legacy is what she has done in office, not the length of it."

For several hours, fellow senators from both parties rose to pay tribute to Mikulski, who joined the House of Representatives in 1976 and the Senate in 1986. On Saturday, Mikulski surpassed the previous longest-serving woman, Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts, who died in 1960.


Before an audience that included her family, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, they spoke of her rise from a Highlandtown grocer's daughter to elected office, from an activist who helped stop a highway from ripping up her Baltimore hometown to the so-called dean of Senate women.

They spoke of her fiery advocacy on issues such as women's health and pay equity, her quick wit and her mentoring of other female office holders.

"The Senate used to be a very lonely place for women, but Senator Mikulski changed that," Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts recalled how Mikulski fumed when she learned a medical study would include only male subjects because women had different hormones. "My hormones rage because of comments like that," Kerry remembered his colleague saying.

Mikulski paid tribute to her parents, saying she approaches her job much as her father approached his.

"I still am the young girl who watched her father open his grocery store and say, 'Good morning, can I help you?'" Mikulski said.

And she thanked the Catholic nuns who taught her, first at the Institute of Notre Dame, then at Mount Saint Agnes College, noting that she fleetingly considered joining their ranks.

"That vow of obedience," she said jokingly, "slowed me down a bit."