Margaret Eby
March 03, 2015 2:04 pm

Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski is the longest-serving woman in Congress. She’s been serving in the U.S. since 1987, and was elected to the House of Representatives before that, in 1976. And yesterday, she announced that, at age 78, she’s officially retiring from public service.

Mikulski, popularly known as “Senator Barb,” may not be a household name, but she should be. She started off as a social worker and community organizer, and was the first woman to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee. And for almost 40 years, she’s been quietly making it normal to have a woman in charge. And she’s not stopping now. During her announcement, Mikulski noted that she would keep pushing in the next few years for women’s rights, freed of the burden of campaigning. “Do I spend my time raising money, or do I spend my time raising hell? Do I focus on my election, or do I focus on the next generation?” she asked, though her answer was implicit. She’ll be raising hell and paving the road for the next generation of women in her own awesome way.

In honor of her years of service, here are some of her most badass moments in government.

The time she ran impromptu gender equality seminars for male senators

During her long career, Mikulski was an enormous advocate for women, both as a legislator and by championing women’s rights in the male-dominated workplace of Congress. In a story for Politico, Liza Mundy described an incident during the infamous Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings, in which Hill accused Thomas, her former boss, of sexually harassing her. Mikulski, with the help of Al and Tipper Gore, “convened a series of off-the-record, bipartisan consciousness-raising dinners, at which the male senators were treated to gender education from the likes of academic feminists Carol Gilligan and Deborah Tannen, as well as Sam Keen, a California philosopher and proponent of a kinder, gentler masculinity”

The time she almost ran for Vice President

The 2009 behind-the-scenes book The Clinton Tapes revealed that when Al Gore was running for president in 2000, then-president Bill Clinton suggested Mikulski as his running mate. (He went for Joe Lieberman instead.)

The many times she supported her fellow female Senators, Democrat and Republican

In the 1990s, Mikulski ran a series of informal, bipartisan dinners with female Senators to talk about the workplace. The rules were: “No staff, no memos, and no leaks.” When Mikulski started, there were only two women in the Senate. Now, there are 20, in part thanks to Mikulski’s efforts and examples. She still meets with them weekly for lunch.

The time she introduced the Childcare And Development Block Grant Act

In 2013, Mikulski introduced a bill that would reauthorize the Block Grant Act of 1990 in order to help low-income families find child care. Her version of the bill not only reinstated the original act, it included improvements to make sure that the funds are being used to better the lives of children.

The time she pushed for the Paycheck Fairness Act

Mikulski has been strong advocate for equality in the workplace. In 2014, she introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would allow workers to sue for punitive damages if they were paid less because of their gender. As President Obama said in a statement about her retirement: “Her leadership serves as an inspiration to millions of women and girls across the globe to stand up and lead…Thanks to her leadership, more women excel in their careers, more children have access to quality education, more families have health insurance and more people are treated fairly under the law.”

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