WASHINGTON — Barbara Mikulski, the Baltimorean who is the longest-serving woman in U.S. Senate history, assured Senate and House leaders on Wednesday that she hasn’t forgotten about them.
“I’m a C-SPAN junkie now. I want you to know I have my eye on you,” said Mikulski, 85, who retired from the Senate in 2017, at an event in her honor featuring Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen.
The congressional leaders assured Mikulski they haven’t forgotten about her either. Quite the opposite, since the purpose of Wednesday’s gathering was to name a room in the U.S. Capitol after the diminutive former lawmaker.
Another room was named for the late Margaret Chase Smith, a Maine Republican who was the first woman to serve in both the House and Senate.
Together, they are the first two rooms in the U.S. Capitol named for women who served in the Senate.
“I am very grateful to have a room of my own in the United States Senate and I’m going to share it with all of you, and the American people,” Mikulski said at the gathering, which also included former Mikulski staff members and a number of senators and representatives she long served with.
The Mikulski room, S-115, is on the first floor of the Senate side of the Capitol. It has gold walls, a high ceiling and ornate chandelier. It is decorated with such memorabilia as a Wheaties cereal box bearing her photograph, and a picture of her receiving the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-president Barack Obama.
The room may be small, but it’s well-positioned near important meeting rooms — just like the blunt-speaking, 4-foot-11 former social worker so often was. She was the first woman to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee.
She also broke barriers as the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate in her own right — that is, without following a male relative into office.
Mikulski regaled the lawmakers with stories. She told of arriving in the Senate in 1987 to find no women’s restrooms off the Senate chamber floor, and podiums around the Capitol “built for guys who are 6-foot-2.”
The podium she used on Wednesday was Mikulski-sized.
“I have a podium of my own,” she said, briefly resting her head on it.
Mikulski served in the Senate from 1987 to 2017. She served five terms in the House before that. No woman has served in Congress longer, said Senate leaders at the dedication.
“Barbara, goodness what a remarkable career you had,” McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, told her at the ceremony.
Mikulski is also Maryland’s longest-serving senator. When Van Hollen succeeded her, Mikulski, a Star Wars fan, presented him with a light saber.
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Mikulski closed her remarks with: “May the force be with you.”
The legislation to name the rooms was led by Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. They head the Committee on Rules and Administration, which has jurisdiction over internal management of the Senate.
Klobuchar also promoted the measure because she wanted the Capitol to better represent women’s contributions, according to an aide.
After retiring from Congress in 2017, Mikulski began teaching public policy at the Johns Hopkins University.
In 2020, the Enoch Pratt Free Library opened a “Mikulski Room” featuring mementos and her Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Born in 1936 to Polish-American grocers, Mikulski began attracting attention when she won a seat in 1971 on the Baltimore City Council, where colleagues say she appropriated the brass spittoon that came with her desk — another relic of the old boys’ network — and used it to plant a geranium.
When then-Rep. Paul Sarbanes moved to the Senate in 1976, Mikulski won the election for his House seat. A decade later, when Republican Sen. Charles McC. Mathias retired, she beat Republican Linda Chavez to begin her Senate career.
This article has been corrected to say U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri is a Republican. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.