Barbara Kennelly

Barbara Kennelly

Induction Category:
Politics, Government & Law

Born: 1936

Inducted: 1994

Town: Hartford

Barbara Kennelly came from a well-known Connecticut political family and distinguished herself during the 17 years she spent representing the state’s 1st District in the United States Congress. She made history in 1989 when she broke through the ranks of traditionally male leadership to become the first woman to serve as the Democratic Deputy Majority Whip of the House of Representatives.

Barbara Ann Bailey was born in Hartford, the daughter of state and national Democratic leader John Bailey and his wife, Barbara, a former teacher and women’s rights activist. Young Barbara earned her undergraduate degree from Trinity College in Washington, D.C., and a Master’s degree in government from Trinity College in Hartford. She married Hartford attorney James Kennelly, who later became Speaker of the Connecticut General Assembly, and with whom she had four children. James Kennelly died in 1995.

Before entering politics, Barbara Kennelly was active in civic, political and governmental organizations in the Hartford area. Her first elected post was on the Hartford Court of Common Council, a position she held from 1975 to 1979. She was elected to statewide office in 1978, when she ran a successful campaign to become Secretary of the State. Like Chase Going Woodhouse in the 1940s, and Ella T. Grasso in the 1970s, Kennelly enjoyed statewide name recognition generated by serving as Secretary of the State. In 1982, she won a special election to serve as the Democratic representative from Connecticut’s First Congressional District, encompassing the greater Hartford area.

Kennelly served nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, winning re-election each time by decisive margins. She was the third woman in history to be elected to the 200-year-old House Ways and Means Committee. She was also a member of the House Budget Committee and the House Committee on Administration. In August 1991, Congresswoman Kennelly was appointed as one of three (now four) Chief Deputy Majority Whips, the first woman to hold the position. During the 103rd Congress, she was elected Vice Chairman of the Democratic Caucus, making her, at that time, the highest ranking woman ever in the party’s leadership. In addition to leadership and committee responsibilities, she was a member of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, which acts to promote issues of particular importance to women.

After leaving the House of Representatives in 1998, Kennelly was appointed Associate Commissioner and Counselor at the Social Security Administration, overseeing the office of retirement policy. She now serves as President of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. In 2004, the city of Harford named its post office the Barbara B. Kennelly Post Office Building in her honor.


During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice