“[T]here’s no sound reason why women, if they have the time and ability, shouldn't sit with men on city councils, in state legislatures, or in the House and Senate.… Of course, having had the vote for such a short time is a distinct advantage, for we have no inheritance of political buncombe.”
Born this day in 1878: Hattie Caraway (1878–1950), first woman elected to the U.S. Senate
Hattie Caraway was born Hattie Ophelia Wyatt on a farm in Tennessee. In 1896 she received a B.A. degree from Dickson Normal College and began teaching. She married classmate Thad Caraway of Arkansas in 1902. The couple had three sons. Thad Caraway practiced law, and Hattie Caraway managed their small plantation in Arkansas. Mr. Caraway became a congressman and later a U.S. senator.
Thad Caraway died in November 1931. His term was not set to expire until March of 1933. The Arkansas governor appointed Hattie Caraway serve in his place until a special election could be held the following January. She won the election, unopposed, becoming the first woman elected to the U.S. senate.
Caraway was a diligent senator and served on two committees, including the Agriculture and Forestry Committee. She was not known for speaking on the Senate floor (“I haven’t the heart to take a minute away from the men,” she quipped. “The poor dears love it so.”), but made her views quite known in committee meetings and to the general public. She was quite popular, even if something of a curiosity as a woman senator. She was known especially for her wry humor and folksy delivery.
In May of 1932 she was invited to preside briefly over the Senate. She took the opportunity to announce—to the surprise of everyone—that she would run again. “The time has passed when a woman should be placed in a position and kept there only while someone else is being groomed for the job.”
With the help of Huey Long, who campaigned for her, Caraway won her first full Senate term. She won again in 1938 against an opponent whose slogan was “We need another man in the Senate.” (Let that one sink in a minute.) She lost her 1944 reelection bid.
Caraway was a friend to the New Deal, farmers, labor, veterans, and the League of Nations. She was also the first woman in Congress to sponsor the Equal Rights Amendment. She did not do right by African Americans, however, and once opposed anti-lynching legislation and removal of the poll tax.
After her Senate career Caraway served on the United States Employees’ Compensation Commission and on the Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board.
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