Barbara Jordan made a habit of establishing “firsts.” As a member of the Texas Senate from 1967 to 1973, she was the first black woman elected to the Texas Legislature. Jordan sponsored or co-sponsored some 70 bills, including the Texas Equal Rights Amendment with then State Representative Frances Farenthold. In 1972, Jordan successfully ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives, making her the first Southern black woman to serve in Congress and the first black member of Congress from Texas. Four years later, she became the first black woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.
Jordan appeared at the National Women’s Conference as the keynote speaker. She was introduced by former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. In her speech, Jordan stressed what was at stake should the conference fail. “We will have wasted, lost, negated an opportunity to do something for ourselves and for generations which are not here,” she concluded. “Not making a difference is a cost we cannot afford.” Her stirring address received a standing ovation.
In 1979, Jordan retired from politics to accept a professorship at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. She taught classes in intergovernmental relations, political values, and ethics. In the early 1990s, Jordan also served as ethics advisor to Texas Governor Ann Richards and head of the United States Commission on Immigration Reform. Among many other honors, Jordan was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990 and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994.