Cardiss Collins

Lived:September 24, 1931—February 2, 2013 (aged 81)
Career:U.S. House of Representatives, 1973-1997
Education:Northwestern University

Cardiss Hortense Collins served in the United States House of Representatives from 1973 to 1997, after first being elected in a special election to replace her husband, George Collins, who had died in office. She was the first African American woman to be elected to Congress from Illinois, and the first woman and first African American to serve as Democratic Whip-at-Large. Between 1983 and 1990, she was the only Black woman serving in the House of Representatives.

Collins was born September 24, 1931, in St. Louis, Missouri. Attending night classes at Northwestern University while working as a stenographer with the Illinois Department of Labor, she earned a business certificate in 1966 and a diploma in professional accounting in 1967. After graduation, she worked for the Department of Labor as a secretary and then for the Department of Revenue as an auditor until her election to Congress.

Collins' first political experience was serving as committeewoman of the Twenty-fourth Ward Regular Democratic Organization in Chicago. She also participated in her husband's campaigns for alderman, committeeman and U.S. Representative.

In Congress, Collins' legislative interests included establishing universal health insurance, providing for gender equity in college sports and reforming federal child care facilities. In 1979, Collins served as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and she later served as caucus vice chairman. In 1990, Collins and 15 other African American women and men formed the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom. Collins did not seek re-election in 1996.

Collins passed away on February 3, 2013.

For information on Collins' policy subject areas, committee appointments and sponsored/co-sponsored legislation during her time in the U.S. House of Representatives, please visit her profile on