Dianne Feinstein is an astute politician who has successfully climbed the ladder of elective offices in San Francisco and California in general. She was the first woman elected U.S. Senator from California, (1992), the first woman to be elected president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, (1969), the first woman to be mayor of San Francisco, (1978), the first woman to be considered for selection as the vice-presidential candidate of a major political party, and the first woman to be nominated as governor by a major party in California. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein were the first pair of women to be elected together to the United States Senate from the same state in 1992. The two were also the first Jewish female members of the U.S. Senate.
Dianne Feinstein was born on June 23, 1933, in San Francisco, the oldest of three daughters of Betty and Leon Goldman. Her father was a nationally known surgeon who was a professor at the University of California. She received a B.S. degree in history in 1955 from Stanford University. While going to college, she modeled clothes on television for her uncle Morris Goldman, a clothing manufacturer.
Her first election campaign was at Stanford University where she successfully ran for vice president of the student body.
Feinstein began working in the California district attorney's office and she met Jack Berman, a prosecutor. After a short courtship, they were married on December 2, 1956. Three years later they were divorced and she was left with her daughter, Katherine Anne, born on July 31, 1957.
After deciding that politics was her forte, she was appointed by Governor Brown to a membership on the Board of Trust of the California Institution for Women which was later changed to California Women's Board of Terms and Parole, which regulated the prison terms and parole conditions for women convicts.
She resigned from her position on the Board of Terms and Parole to spend more time with her husband Bertram Feinstein, a neurosurgeon, and her daughter. In 1969, she was elected to the board of supervisors and received the highest vote which automatically elected her to be president of the board for a two-year term. Feinstein held this position for a number of terms and on the morning of November 27, 1978, she was planning to announce her retirement from political life when she received the news that Mayor George Moscone had been fatally shot. Feinstein immediately became the acting mayor. It was during this year that her husband died.
She finished her term as acting mayor and then won the election for mayor in 1979. The law allowed only two terms as mayor of San Francisco, and Dianne Feinstein left office in 1988. She married Richard C. Blum, an investment banker, on January 20, 1980, who helped support her losing campaign for governor as the candidate of the Democratic Party.
Dianne Feinstein set her sights on winning the senate vacancy created when Pete Wilson vacated this position to become governor of California. She easily defeated John Seymour in a special election in 1992. Two years later, she edged out Michael Huffington, a millionaire Republican congressman from Santa Barbara for a full six-year term. Feinstein was re-elected in 2012 with 62.5% of the vote, receiving 7.75 million votes, the most popular votes in any U.S. Senate election in history to that point.
To date, she is also the only woman to have presided over a U.S. presidential inauguration. Feinstein is the oldest sitting U.S. Senator. Upon the retirement of Barbara Mikulski in January 2017, Feinstein became the longest-tenured female U.S. Senator currently serving in the Senate. Having won reelection in 2018 to a six-year term expiring in January 2025, Feinstein will become the longest-serving woman Senator in history should she serve her full term. She announced in February 2023, she would not run for reelection in 2024.
She led a bipartisan group of senators in passing legislation to drastically increase the fuel efficiency of cars. She’s a champion for the preservation of the Mojave Desert, Lake Tahoe, and California's forests. She helped create the nationwide AMBER Alert network, passed bills to criminalize border drug tunnels, succeeded in passing a major bill to help California cope with severe drought and continues to advocate for commonsense gun laws.
She authored the first major cybersecurity bill to be signed into law in years. She’s an aggressive opponent of sex trafficking and authored legislation to help prevent sex abuse of amateur athletes. She’s an advocate for consumers, authoring bills to review ingredients in personal care products, bans chemicals in toys, cracks down on rogue pharmacies, and strengthens food safety.
One of her most notable achievements was leading the six-year review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. This effort culminated in the 2014 release of the report’s executive summary and the passage of legislation banning the use of torture.
In 2017, Senator Feinstein became the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee — the first woman to assume that role—where she helps shape policy on criminal law, national security, immigration, civil rights, and the courts. She also oversees judicial nominations and major investigations including Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Senator Feinstein was also the first woman to chair the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence—a position she held for six years beginning in 2009. She is also a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, where she serves as ranking member on the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. In that role, she has secured billions of dollars for California communities, including critical transportation, water supply and federal building projects.
She also serves on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which she chaired during the 110th Congress. In that capacity, Senator Feinstein was the first woman to chair the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies and presided over the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009.
In addition to her committee assignments, Senator Feinstein is co-chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, co-chairman of the Senate Cancer Coalition, and co-chairman of the Senate Women’s Caucus on Burma. She is also a member of the Anti-Meth Caucus, the Congressional Dairy Caucus, and the Congressional Former Mayors Caucus. She has served as a member of the Aspen Strategy Group since 1997.
Dianne Feinstein has demonstrated that Jewish women can achieve politically in a male-dominated sexist society if they work hard at it.