Dianne Feinstein served as the first female senator of California for 31 years. Not only did these years set precedents for female leaders in Congress, but also included significant milestones for democracy, bipartisanship and leadership in the United States.
Dianne Feinstein began serving in the Senate at 59 years old, the first woman from California to do so. However, her life as a trailblazer in public service began long before her time as a senator. In 1978, Feinstein served as mayor of San Francisco for 10 years. During this time, she became known for her infrastructure improvements and focus on gay rights. After her mayoral term, she was elected as a Senator, serving as a strong Democrat who was willing to compromise in order to pass critical legislation. Feinstein fought for gun control, environmental protection and conservation. Her bipartisanship made her a stand-out who served not her party, but the people, making her less popular with polarized members of the Democratic party.
Feinstein’s election to the Senate was a pivotal moment for women. She rejected tokenism and remained confident in her ability to focus on her impact as a Senator, while still uplifting feminism. Feinstein intentionally hired young female staffers, helping them grow as leaders with her wealth of knowledge and experience on what it means to be a leader. Her true level of commitment to feminism was her ability to display it in the most graceful and understated ways.
“Women have begun to see that if I go through that doorway, I take everybody through it.”(Feinstein)
In terms of the immediate future, Feinstein’s passing means little for the balance of the Senate, due to her replacement (former EMILY’s List President Laphonza Butler) being a Democrat and a woman, following in Feinstein’s footsteps. However, long-term this could mean a significant loss for pro-gun control and pro-bipartisanship democrats. Feinstein, both as a leader in the Senate and as a leader in her party, showed the value in harnessing power to hold a position of leadership without regard for title.
Her time in public service broke new ground for women and truly embodied the idea of not being given a seat at the table, so creating one for yourself. Feinstein understood her impact on women and expressed it, “Women have begun to see that if I go through that doorway, I take everybody through it.”