News & Politics

7 Power Squads for Women on Capitol Hill

If you haven't been to Debbie Dingell's Poker Night, you're missing out.

The Pink Ladies, one of the formal and informal) groups where women come together on Capitol Hill. Photograph courtesy of Representative Lois Frankel.

Here are all the clubs—formal and informal—where women on the Hill network, commiserate… and gamble:

Bipartisan Dinner Night

When formed: 1980s.
Membership: Female senators; originally founded by Barbara Mikulski.
What they do: Mostly socialize. And per Mikulski’s rule, “What happens at the dinner stays at the dinner.” Last year, they met at Mazie Hirono’s office, the Botanical Gardens, and the Sewall Belmont House.

Debbie Dingell’s Poker Night

When formed: A longstanding event that Dingell was invited to join years ago.
Membership: Former and current Hill and administration members, mostly Republicans.
What they do: Monthly (low-stakes) games over a potluck dinner. An invitation sounds tougher to get than a security clearance. All Dingell will say of the player roster is “There are very interesting people around town who play poker.”

Senate Chiefs of Staff

When formed: 2006.
Membership: The 37 female chiefs—19 Republicans and 18 Democrats.
What they do: Quarterly brown-bag lunches. “When I got into the chief-of-staff rank, there weren’t that many women in the position,” says Maura Keefe, Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s chief of staff. “It’s a bipartisan little sorority.”

Black Women’s Congressional Alliance

When formed: 2018.
Membership: It started as a con-tact list—a spread-sheet with a hand­ful of names—and morphed over-night into a bicameral, bipartisan group of 200.
What they do: Events for staffers. “We were like, five people might show up,” organizer Meaghan Lynch says of the first meetup. “Over 100 women showed up, from chiefs and staff directors to interns.”

Senate Moms

When formed: 2010.
Membership: Parents who are Senate staffers.
What they do: Regular lunches to trade notes on subjects such as leave policies and finding balance in jobs that are overwhelming even without kids. “The Senate is much more family-friendly than it used to be, but it’s still a tough environment for working parents,” says Meredith Davis West, a founding member who works on the Small Business Committee.

The Pink Ladies

When formed: 2012.
Membership: Congresswomen Lois Frankel, Cheri Bustos, Grace Meng, Annie Kuster, Katherine Clark, and Julia Brownley, plus a rotating cast of other Dems, many of whom live in the same Capitol Hill apartment building.
What they do: Regular dinners and late-night water-aerobics classes in the building’s pool—plus, says Frankel, “We text each other all day, every day.”

Women’s Congressional Staff Association

When formed: 2008.
Membership: Hill staffers.
What they do: Trivia nights, résumé workshops, networking meetups, and continuing education such as last year’s “Etiquette Class: Dining Best Practices.”

This article appears in the February 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

Britt Peterson

Britt Peterson is a contributing editor for Washingtonian.