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Hattie Caraway

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Dates: February 1, 1878 - December 21, 1950

Occupation: Homemaker, Senator

Known for: first woman elected to the United States Senate; first woman elected to a full 6-year term in the United States Senate; first woman to preside over the Senate (May 9, 1932); first woman to chair a Senate Committee (Committee on Enrolled Bills, 1933); first woman in Congress to co-sponsor the Equal Rights Amendment (1943)

Also known as: Hattie Ophelia Wyatt Caraway

Family:

  • Father: William Carroll Wyatt
  • Mother: Lucy Mildred Burch Wyatt
  • Husband: Thaddeus Horatius Caraway (married February 5, 1902)
  • Sons (3): Paul Wyatt, Forrest, Robert Easley

Education:

  • Dickson (Tennessee) Normal College, graduated 1896

About Hattie Caraway:

Born in Tennessee, Hattie Wyatt graduated from Dickson Normal in 1896. She married fellow student Thaddeus Horatius Caraway in 1902 and moved with him to Arkansas. Her husband practiced law while she cared for their children and the farm.

Thaddeus Caraway was elected to Congress in 1912 and women won the vote in 1920: while Hattie Caraway took it as her duty to vote, her focus remained on homemaking. Her husband was re-elected to his Senate Seat in 1926, but then died unexpectedly in November, 1931, in the fifth year of his second term.

Arkansas Governor Harvey Parnell then appointed Hattie Caraway to her husband's Senate seat. She was sworn in on December 9, 1931 and was confirmed in a special election January 12, 1932. She thus became the first woman elected to the United States Senate -- Rebecca Latimer Felton had previously served a "courtesy" appointment of one day (1922).

Hattie Caraway maintained a "housewife" image and made no speeches on the floor of the Senate, earning the nickname "Silent Hattie." But she had learned from her husband's years of public service about a legislator's responsibilities, and she took them seriously, building a reputation for integrity.

Hattie Caraway took Arkansas politicians by surprise when, presiding over the Senate one day at the invitation of the Vice President, she took advantage of the public attention to this event by announcing her intention to run for reelection. She won, aided by a 9-day campaign tour by populist Huey Long, who saw her as an ally.

Hattie Caraway maintained an independent stance, though she was usually supportive of New Deal legislation. She remained, however, a prohibitionist and voted with many other southern senators against anti-lynching legislation. In 1936, Hattie Caraway was joined in the Senate by Rose McConnell Long, Huey Long's widow, also appointed to fill out her husband's term (and also winning re-election).

In 1938, Hattie Caraway ran again, opposed by Congressman John L. McClellan with the slogan "Arkansas needs another man in the Senate." She was supported by organizations representing women, veterans and union members, and won the seat by eight thousand votes.

Hattie Caraway served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1936 and 1944. She became the first woman to co-sponsor the Equal Rights Amendment in 1943.

More About Hattie Caraway:

When she ran again in 1944 at age 66, her opponent was 39-year-old Congressman William Fulbright. Hattie Caraway ended up in fourth place in the primary election, and summed it up when she said, "The people are speaking."

Hattie Caraway was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Federal Employees' Compensation Commission, where she served until appointed in 1946 to the Employees' Compensation Appeals Board. She resigned that position after suffering a stroke in January, 1950, and died in December.

Religion: Methodist

Bibliography:

  • Diane D. Kincaid, editor. Silent Hattie Speaks: The Personal Journal of Senator Hattie Caraway. 1979.
  • David Malone. Hattie and Huey. 1989.

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