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Kassebaum, Nancy

Nancy
Kassebaum
Year Inducted: 
1984
Nancy Kassebaum Baker
Highlights: 
  • 1978-1997: Kansas United States Senator
  • First woman to be elected to Senate without being appointed or first serving in the House
  • First woman to chair a major Senate Committee
  • Proposed effective legislation on issues such as crime control, education, worker retaining, abortion and free trade
  • Head of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee
  • Advisory Board member for the Partnership for a Secure America, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to recreating the bipartisan center in American national security and foreign policy
  • 1997: KU CLAS Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award recipient
Biography: 

Nancy Landon was born on July 29, 1932 in Topeka, Kansas. Her father was a distinguished Kansas politician and her family had a long history of political involvement. Though she hailed from a family of great men, it was Nancy who was to set records. Nancy Landon Kassebaum was the first woman to become a United States Senator. She held that Senate seat for nearly two decades and set records throughout her storied career.

Nancy took the first steps toward a successful career at the University of Kansas. She graduated in 1954 with a B.A. in political science then moved to the University of Michigan where she earned a M.A. in diplomatic history. After receiving her M.A. she and her husband moved back to Kansas. Nancy and her family settled on a farm outside Maize, Kansas, she quickly became a member of the Maize school board. In 1978 Nancy announced her candidacy for an open Senate seat. Her simple philosophy that, “To be a good Senator, you need to be willing to work with people. You don’t need to be a professional politician,” won her the election with 54% of the vote. In following elections her winning margins only went up.

When Nancy arrived on capital hill she found herself in a sea of men. At one time she even mentioned being too intimidated to use the Senate dining room! But her nerves settled and her influence became obvious. She sat on many prominent committees in the Senate such as the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, the Budget, Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and eventually the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Nancy continued to sit on the Foreign Relations Committee throughout the rest of her tenure in Congress. She also chaired the Subcommittee on African Affairs as part of her Foreign Relations Committee service.

Nancy remained independent on social issues and soon became known as an ardent advocate of women’s rights. She supported a women’s right to choose and programs for international family planning. Though a women’s rights supporter, Nancy often resisted the “feminist label.” She wanted to be known as a Senator, not a woman senator.

Finally in 1992 she founded the Republican Majority Coalition to counter the rising religious right of the GOP. When she voted for President Clinton’s crime bill the Republican leadership tried, and failed, to strip her of her seniority. But Nancy would not be coerced into “toeing the line.” Instead, she went on to work with Senator Ted Kennedy on a health care bill that would have revolutionized health care in America. As a Senator, and as a woman, Nancy stayed true to her values and what she believed was best for the citizens of the United States regardless of partisan politics. Nancy declined to run again in 1996 and retired from public life.. for a spell. She was named co-chair for the Presidential Appointment Initiative Advisory Board in 2001 and later moved to Tokyo with her husband, Howard Baker, when he was named U.S. Ambassador to Japan.


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