WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the dean of Maryland's congressional delegation, will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom next week, the White House said Monday.
The medal, the nation's highest civilian honor, will be awarded to Mikulski for her work on health research, women's issues, science funding and making higher education more affordable, the White House said. Mikulski is the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and is the longest-serving woman in Congress.
First elected to the Senate in 1986, Mikulski shook up the state's political establishment once again this year by announcing her retirement in 2017. That decision has set off one of the most competitive Democratic Senate primaries in the nation.
Mikulski will be one of 17 noted Americans to receive the honor at a White House ceremony on Nov. 24. Other recipients will include Yogi Berra, the former New York Yankee who died this year, Lee Hamilton, the former Indiana congressman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, and composer Stephen Sondheim.
"From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans," Obama said in a statement.
Mikulski, 79, grew up in Highlandtown, the daughter of Baltimore grocers. A social worker, she rose to political prominence by successfully blocking efforts to extend Interstate 83 through Fells Point in the 1960s.
She won a seat on the Baltimore City Council in 1971 -- one of only three women to serve on the council at that time -- and was elected to the House six years later.
Mikulski is one of her party's most ardent advocates on women's issues. She successfully pushed through a law that extended the statute of limitations for suing an employer over wage discrimination, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which became the first major bill signed into law by President Barack Obama. And she inserted language into the Affordable Care Act that ensured certain preventive care for women would be covered for free.
Mikulski said Monday that she was honored for the recognition.
"To the people of Maryland, I thank you," she said in a statement. "Time and again you have honored me with your confidence and trust. I'm so grateful for the opportunity you've given me to serve Maryland and the nation."