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Wednesday, January 12, 2022

January 12, 2022: Women in Politics: Hattie Caraway’s Elections

[On January 12th, 1932, Hattie Caraway became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. So for the 90th anniversary of that historic occasion, this week I’ll AmericanStudy Caraway and a handful of other political women—share your thoughts and your own nominees for an egalitarian crowd-sourced weekend post, please!]

On one particularly interesting detail from each of Caraway’s three Senate campaigns.

1)      1932: In December 1931 Caraway was appointed to serve the final year of her late husband Thaddeus Caraway’s Senate term, a practice that had gone on for nearly a decade by that time. Caraway then won a special election 90 years ago today, making her the first woman formally elected to the Senate. But it was her announcement that she would run in the 1932 general election for Arkansas Senator that represented a truly original and bold step, and she was able to win that controversial and groundbreaking election thanks in part to the efforts of a Senator from a neighboring state, Louisiana’s Huey Long. It was apparently Long’s idea to plant crying babies (who would then be effectively quieted) in the crowd at Caraway rallies, a unique way to acknowledge her gender while implying her ability to transcend any gender stereotypes—as she certainly did in willing the 1932 election.

2)      1938: During her first term Caraway was a dedicated supporter of Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, as well as a committed advocate for farmers and flood control and, unfortunately, a telling early 20th century Southern Democrat (she took part in a filibuster of a 1938 anti-lynching bill). She was also known as “Silent Hattie,” as she generally refrained from speaking on the Senate floor. But if critics thought her silence meant she wouldn’t run for reelection, they were mistaken; as was her 1938 primary opponent, Representative John Little McClellan, in his sexist campaign slogan “Arkansas Needs Another Man in the Senate!” The primary was tight but Caraway triumphed and then easily won the general election, becoming the first woman to be reelected to the Senate in the process.

3)      1944: Caraway sought reelection again in 1944 but placed 4th in the Democratic primary, ending her Senate career. Part of that was due to a crowded field of compelling candidates, led by the winner and next Arkansas Senator, a young up-and-coming Congressman named J. William Fulbright. But part was due to her two boldest Senatorial stances: her 1943 co-sponsorship of the Equal Rights Amendment, making her the first woman to do so; and her 1944 co-sponsorship of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (the G.I. Bill), which despite its eventual popularity was at the time quite divisive as it was seen by many as socialist. Those stands may well have cost Caraway her chance at a third term, but they also reflected an important step for this groundbreaking Senator, as she fully embraced her role and voice and contributed meaningfully to these important and ongoing efforts.

Next political woman tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Other political women or moments you’d highlight?

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