Mikulski now longest-serving woman in Congress

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland was recognized on the Senate floor Wednesday as the longest serving women in the history of the United States Congress. CBS Correspondent Chip Reid reports.

Mikulski says that for women, Congress was a different world when she arrived more than 35 years ago.

"When I came to the house and even to the senate, women were still considered a novelty," Mikulski said. "We were greeted with skepticism."

But she never felt intimidated and at 4-foot-11 -- and has never backed off from a fight.

When asked about her proudest moment during her tenure, Mikulski said, "What makes me proudest is the way I've tried to stand up for people."

She says she learned how to do that growing up in East Baltimore, where her father owned a small store.

"Every day my father would open the store and say, 'Good morning, can I help you?" she said. "We saw ourselves as part of a community, that everybody in that neighborhood was part of our family."

In her office she keeps a reminder - the dining room table from her childhood home.

It reminds her of what her constituents are doing and thinking about at their dining room table, from high gas prices and college tuition to shrinking job opportunities.

Mikulski says she's especially proud of how women are increasing their numbers and their power in the Senate.

When she arrived there were two. Now, she says "there are 17 of us. And we want another layer up here and another layer up here."

To make new women senators of both parties get off on the right foot, Mikulski offers "power workshops" which appear likely to continue well into the future - because at 75 years old Barbara Mikulski is showing no signs of slowing down.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.