Special Report

The Oldest Men and Women Who Have Ever Served in Congress

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

When Dianne Feinstein died in September, she had recently celebrated her 90th birthday, and had been the oldest person currently serving as a Washington legislator. She was not the first person to reach that age while in Congress, however. The perks and the power that come with being a member of the Senate or House of Representatives have kept many legislators in Washington well past the age when most Americans have retired.

24/7 Tempo compiled a list of the oldest men and women who have ever served in Congress, using sources including Oldest.org, Time, CNN, the website of the Federal Reserve, and the websites of various legislators. Nine of these figures were born in the 19th century, but all served well into the 20th. The ages of the oldest members of Congress currently serving are as of Oct. 11, 2023.

Questions about the cognitive acuity of older legislators in Washington have been raised by political pundits and the media in recent years. Even so, Americans apparently believe that with age comes wisdom, and often elect and re-elect those well over 65.

Prior to the passing of Feinstein, the median age of U.S. senators was 65. That of members of the House of Representatives is currently 58. In comparison, the median age of the U.S. population is 38.8 years, according to 2021 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

At least 25 members of Congress have served until they were past 87. Among those were World War II hero Daniel Inouye, senator from Hawaii; Louise Slaughter of New York, the first female chair of the House Rules Committee; and Joe Cannon, the iron-fisted Speaker of the House from Illinois. Suffragist Rebecca Felton, who served one day as senator from Georgia — becoming the first woman to hold a Senate seat, though she was appointed as a political gesture with the understanding that the “real” senator would replace her immediately — was an outspoken racist and one of the last legislators who owned slaves. (Also see, the last slaveholder in Congress from every state.)

The oldest legislator today is Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who turned 90 in September and has been in the Senate since 1981. Grassley is one of seven Washington legislators who has served past his 90th birthday. The first to do so was Theodore F. Green, a Democrat from Rhode Island, who left the Senate at age 93 in 1961. The oldest person ever to serve was Strom Thurmond, who was senator of South Carolina until his death at 100 years old in 2003.

At least three legislators logged tenures of more than 50 years while serving in Washington. The longest-serving was Michigan Rep. John Dingell, who graced the chambers of the House of Representatives for 59 years and 21 days. Former Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and ex-Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia each exceeded 50 years in office. 

Here’s a list of the oldest men and women who have ever served in Congress.

Andrew Houston (1854-1941)
> Oldest age while serving: 87 years, 5 days
> Chamber: Senate
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: Texas
> Tenure: April 21, 1941 – June 26, 1941

John Stennis (1902-1995)
> Oldest age while serving: 87 years, 5 months, 3 days
> Chamber: Senate
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: Mississippi
> Tenure: Nov. 5, 1947 – Jan. 3, 1989

Rebecca Felton (1835-1930)
> Oldest age while serving: 87 years, 5 months, 12 days
> Chamber: Senate
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: Georgia
> Tenure: Nov. 21, 1922 – Nov. 22, 1922

James Inhofe (1934-)
> Oldest age while serving: 88 years, 1 month, 16 days
> Chamber: House of Representatives and Senate
> Political party: Republican
> Representing: Oklahoma
> Tenure: Jan. 3, 1987 – Jan. 3, 2023

Sam Johnson (1930-2020)
> Oldest age while serving: 88 years, 2 months, 23 days
> Chamber: House of Representatives
> Political party: Republican
> Representing: Texas
> Tenure: May 8, 1991 – Jan. 3, 2019

Daniel Akaka (1924-2018)
> Oldest age while serving: 88 years, 3 months, 3 days
> Chamber: Senate
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: Hawaii
> Tenure: May 16, 1990 – Jan. 3, 2013

Daniel Inouye (1924-2012)
> Oldest age while serving: 88 years, 3 months, 10 days
> Chamber: Senate
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: Hawaii
> Tenure: Jan. 3, 1963 – Dec. 17, 2012

Carter Glass (1858-1946)
> Oldest age while serving: 88 years, 4 months, 24 days
> Chamber: House of Representatives and Senate
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: Virginia
> Tenure: Nov. 4, 1902 – May 28, 1946

John Dingell (1926-2019)
> Oldest age while serving: 88 years, 6 months
> Chamber: House of Representatives
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: Michigan
> Tenure: Dec. 13, 1955 – Jan. 3, 2015

John Conyers (1929-2019)
> Oldest age while serving: 88 years, 7 months
> Chamber: House of Representatives
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: Michigan
> Tenure: Jan. 3, 1965 – Dec. 5, 2017

Louise Slaughter (1929-2018)
> Oldest age while serving: 88 years, 7 months, 2 days
> Chamber: House of Representatives
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: New York
> Tenure: Jan. 3, 1987 – March 16, 2018

Richard Shelby (1934-)
> Oldest age while serving: 88 years, 7 months, 3 days
> Chamber: House of Representatives and Senate
> Political party: Republican
> Representing: Alabama
> Tenure: Jan. 3, 1979-Jan. 3, 2023

Claude Pepper (1900-1989)
> Oldest age while serving: 88 years, 8 months, 22 days
> Chamber: House of Representatives and Senate
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: Florida
> Tenure: Jan. 3, 1963 – May 30, 1989

Don Young (1933-2022)
> Oldest age while serving: 88 years, 9 months, 9 days
> Chamber: House of Representatives
> Political party: Republican
> Representing: Alaska
> Tenure: March 6, 1973 – March 18, 2022

Joseph Gurney Cannon (1836-1926)
> Oldest age while serving: 88 years, 10 months, 16 days
> Chamber: House of Representatives
> Political party: Republican
> Representing: Illinois
> Tenure: March 4, 1873 – March 3, 1923 (Nonconsecutive)

Robert Doughton (1863-1954)
> Oldest age while serving: 89 years, 2 months
> Chamber: House of Representatives
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: North Carolina
> Tenure: March 4, 1911 – Jan. 3, 1953

Sidney R. Yates (1909-2000)
> Oldest age while serving: 89 years, 5 months
> Chamber: House of Representatives
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: Illinois
> Tenure: Jan. 3, 1949 – Jan. 3, 1969; Jan. 3, 1965 – Jan. 3, 1999

Charles Manly Stedman (1841-1930)
> Oldest age while serving: 89 years, 7 months
> Chamber: House of Representatives
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: North Carolina
> Tenure: March 4, 1911 – Sept. 23, 1930

Chuck Grassley (1933-)
> Oldest age while serving: 90 years, 23 days
> Chamber: House of Representatives and Senate
> Political party: Republican
> Representing: Iowa
> Tenure: Jan. 3, 1975 – Present

Dianne Feinstein (1933-2023)
> Oldest age while serving: 90 years, 3 months, 7 days
> Chamber: Senate
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: California
> Tenure: Nov. 4, 1992 — Sept. 29, 2023

Carl Hayden (1877-1972)
> Oldest age while serving: 91 years, 3 months, 1 day
> Chamber: House of Representatives and Senate
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: Arizona
> Tenure: Feb. 19, 1912 – Jan. 3, 1969

Ralph Hall (1923-2019)
> Oldest age while serving: 91 years, 8 months
> Chamber: House of Representatives
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: Texas
> Tenure: Jan. 3, 1981 – Jan. 3, 2015

Robert Byrd (1917-2010)
> Oldest age while serving: 92 years, 7 months, 8 days
> Chamber: House of Representatives and Senate
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: West Virginia
> Tenure: Jan. 3, 1953 – June 28, 2010

Theodore F. Green (1867-1966)
> Oldest age while serving: 93 years, 3 months, 1 day
> Chamber: Senate
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: Rhode Island
> Tenure: Jan. 3, 1937 – Jan. 3, 1961

Strom Thurmond (1902-2003)
> Oldest age while serving: 100 years, 29 days
> Chamber: Senate
> Political party: Democratic
> Representing: South Carolina
> Tenure: Dec. 24, 1954 – April 4, 1956; Nov. 7, 1956 – Jan. 3, 2003

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