Barbara Mikulski Biography

U.S. Representative (1936–)
For three decades, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland has served in the U.S. Congress and been a strong supporter of women's issues.


Born in 1936, Barbara Mikulski grew up in East Baltimore as the daughter of a grocer. She graduated from Mount St. Agnes College in 1958 and earned a master's degree in social work from the University of Maryland in 1965. In 1976, she won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1986, Mikulski became the first female Democrat from Maryland to win election to the Senate. She is currently the longest-serving woman senator.

Early Life

For more than 30 years, Barbara Mikulski has served in the U.S. Congress, first as a representative and now as a senator. She broke the record for the longest-serving female senator in 2012, but she did not originally set out to become a politician. Growing up in East Baltimore, Mikulski first aspired to be a scientist after seeing a movie about French chemist and physicist Marie Curie.

Mikulski comes from a Polish, working-class neighborhood and inherited her can-do spirit and determination from her family. Both her grandfather and father were local shopkeepers. Her grandfather ran a bakery, and her father had a grocery store. Mikulski helped out with her father's store in addition to studying hard in school. She went an all-girls Catholic high school and then studied sociology at Mount St. Agnes College.

After completing her bachelor's degree in 1958, Mikulski then earned a master's degree in social work from the University of Maryland. She put her education work for the people of Baltimore, beginning in 1965. Toward the end of the decade, Mikulski became a community organizer, waging war against a 16-lane highway to run through East Baltimore. She brought different segments of the racially and ethnically diverse neighborhood together to stop the highway project. Her coalition, known as Southeast Council Against the Road, or SCAR, won their battle with city hall.

Political Career

Mikulski started out in local politics, winning a seat on the Baltimore City Council in 1971. During her five years with the council, she made her first attempt at national office. Mikulski failed in her 1974 bid for the U.S. Senate, but she won a place in the U.S. House of Representatives two years later. Mikulski's dedication and strong work ethic helped her achieve this goal. She once said that it took "knocking on 15,000 doors, wearing out four pairs, and getting mugged by 47 chihuahuas" to win the election. While in House, she served on the Merchant Marine & Fisheries Committee and Energy & Commerce Committee. Mikulski also advocated for legislation to protect children and supported the Equal Rights Amendment.

In the mid-1980s, Mikulski made great strides again for women in politics. She ran for the Senate again in 1986, becoming the first female Democrat from Maryland to do so in her right. Mikulski had support from such celebrities as singer Carly Simon and renown feminist Gloria Steinem as she raised the necessary funds for her successful campaign.

Mikulski told Time magazine that "In the Senate, I plan to use the good mind, the good mouth, the good heart that God gave me." The prominently male Senate may not have known what to do with the feisty legislator from Maryland at first. She had to endure a few jokes at her expense and some concern over her preference for pants initially, but she soon proved to be a strong advocate for her constituents.

Over the years, Mikulski has been a champion for her state and for many other issues close to her heart. She has worked on behalf of women's issues, including legislation to get breast and cervical cancer screenings and treatment for the uninsured. For the elderly, Mikulski authored the Spousal Anti-Impoverishment Act to combat the potential financial crisis caused by the costs of paying for nursing home care for a spouse. She supports and encourages innovation and research in many areas as the chairwoman for the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science.

After winning her reelection bid in 2011, Mikulski is doing her best to bring more women into the Senate. She has pledged to campaign for other female candidates across the country as the 2012 election draws near. Mikulski also discussed women in the Senate in her speech at the Democratic National Convention held in September 2012.

In the weeks leading up to the convention, Mikulski said in a statement that "In this historic election, with more Democratic women running for Senate at one time than ever before, we have a tremendous opportunity to elect women and hold the Senate for Democrats," according to the Baltimore Sun. "Women . . . . make a difference when we vote and when we lead."

In 2015, Mikulski announced she would be retiring. In response to hanging it up after 30 years of service rather than preparing for another re-election campaign, she responded in her typical blunt manner: "Do I spend my time raising more money, or do I spend my time raising hell?" Later that year, the longtime senator was honored as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Personal Life

Mikulski is such a big fan of her state's signature dish that she shares her mother's recipe for crab cakes on her Web site. She also loves classical music and has written two novels. Mikulski has taken a fictional look at politics with the mysteries Capitol Offense (1996) and Capitol Venture (1997) with co-author Marylouise Oates.

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