Barbara Ann Mikulski was born and raised in East Baltimore, where she often helped out at her parents’ grocery store, or delivered groceries to their elderly customers and neighbors. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Mount Saint Agnes College (now part of Loyola University). In 1965, she obtained a master’s degree in social work from the University of Maryland School of Social Work.
Social work soon led her to activism, as she championed those living in underprivileged and neglected neighborhoods in the Baltimore area. She worked for Catholic charities as well as Baltimore’s Department of Social Services, where she helped establish the Southeast Community Organization, a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect the interests and improve the quality of life of Baltimore’s neighborhoods.
In 1986, Mikulski was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat, representing the state of Maryland. She served Maryland in that capacity from 1987 to 2017, becoming the longest-serving female senator. Prior to her time in the Senate, Mikulski served in the House of Representatives from 1977 to 1987. She was the second woman in U.S. history to serve in both chambers.
While in office, she helped establish the Office of Research on Women's Health at the National Institutes of Health, championed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, was a supporter of research as well as scientific and technological innovation (including the Hubble Space Telescope), and fought to make higher education more accessible. Closer to home, she worked tirelessly to improve her home state, helping pass legislation to fund shelters for battered spouses and the dredging of the Baltimore harbor. She was notably the first woman to ever be appointed to the Energy and Commerce Committee.
She was well respected by those who worked closely with her, inspiring one colleague to note: “We often talk of the lions of the Senate. Barbara Mikulski ranks among them. I will miss her fierce advocacy, her counsel, her commitment, her tenacity, and her grit.”