Women of History: The First US Senators

This week we are going have a double feature, the first two women to ever serve in the US Senate:  Rebecca Felton and Hattie Caraway. Women having the right to vote was passed with the 19th amendment to the constitution in 1920, but it would be quite a while before women started taking office in the highest offices in the government.  In fact, Rebecca Felton was appointed to be a Senator for a day in 1922, but Hattie Caraway, the first woman to be elected to the Senate was sworn in November 1931, almost a full decade after Rebecca served her day.

Several of the next female Senators would be widows  of Senators who died in office. The first time more than 2 women served at once wouldn’t be till the 1990s. Even in the current congress, women only make up 22 percent of the elected body.  Only 29 states have ever had a female senator, and only 51 women have ever served in Congress.  The current congress is actually the highest percentage ever of women.

Rebecca Felton was born Rebecca Ann Latimer on June 10, 1935.  She grew up in Decatur, Georgia with three siblings. Her father was a general store owner and merchant, and was able to afford to send his daughter to live with relatives in Madison so that she could attend Methodist Female College, where she graduated at the top of her class in 1852 at 17.  The college at the time was set up to provide a foundation education for the women who would one day be the wives of the businessman and planters.  However, the war between the states would soon see the educational facility closed down.

A year later Rebecca married William Felton and moved with him in Cartersville, Georgia. William was, like her father, a planter and owned a plantation.  Her experiences during the civil war, both as a resident of Georgia who saw the results of Sherman’s march and her life as a slave owner influenced her later political life.  She saw slavery as mainly economical, a investment.  However, she felt that she would have rather have given up ‘domestic slavery’ then have seen the detriment of the war on Georgia.

After the war,both she and her husband became more politically active.  Rebecca herself focused on prison reform and women’s suffrage.  However, she was not a intersectional feminist by any means.  She pushed against the right to vote for black citizens, claiming education and voting would lead to more black crime.  She was in favor of lynching and was otherwise a supremacist in attitude.

Her time in the senate arrived as an appointment.  in 1922, Sen. Thomas E. Watson died.  The governor of Georgia, Thomas Hardwick, decided to appoint Rebecca as a placeholder till a special election could take place.  However, congress didn’t meet again until after the special election was held.  Hardwick had been running for the position, but ended up losing to Walter F. George.  George decided to allow Rebecca to be sworn in on November 21, 1922.  She was the Senator from Georgia for 24 hours, as George was sworn in on November 22.

Rebecca continued her activism after she left office.  She passed away on January 24, 1930 at the age of 94.  It would be another year before another woman would take office in the US Senate.

Hattie Caraway would be the first woman elected into the Senate, but like Rebecca it would start as an appointment.

She was born Hattie Ophelia Wyatt on February 1, 1878 in Bakersville, Tennessee.  Like Rebecca, she was the daughter of a farmer who owned a store.  The family as a whole moved to Hustburg when she was four.  She would remain there till her college years when she would transfer from Ebenezer College to Dickson Normal College where she would earn her bachelors of Arts degree in 1896.

She went on to teach for about eight years prior to her marriage to Thaddeus Caraway.  She had met Thaddeus in college, but the pair didn’t marry until 1902.  The pair would move to Jonesboro, Arkansas with their three children and set up a legal practice for Thaddeus and cotton farm.

In 1912, the couple made a second home in Maryland after Thaddeus was elected to the US House of Representatives for Arkansas.  He would hold that position for 9 years before he was elected senator in 1921.  In 1931, Thaddeus died suddenly from a blood clot while the couple was back home in Arkansas.  The governor decided to appoint Hattie to hold the seat till an election could be held.  She won the special election to finish out her husband’s final term.  She won an election on her own right in 1932, and then proceed to hold her seat until 1945.

During her time in office, she became the first woman to preside over the Senate, to chair a committee and to win a re-election.  She was given the responsibility of presiding over the senate twice.  Once in 1932 (although it was not officially noted down) and again in 1943. She was a great supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and his new deal programs, although she, like Rebecca before her, was against any anti-lynching bill.  She was focused on issues dear to her state,  requesting to serve on the agricultural committee.  She earned a reputation as “Silent Hattie”  for her lack of speeches made on the floor.  She tended to reserve her opinions for committee meetings and rallies instead.

After loosing her re-election campaign in 1944, she served both Roosevelt and Truman on their Employees’ Compensation committees. She suffered a stroke in early 1950 while still serving on the Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board , and died later that year on December 21.

Further Reading

Women in the US Senate

Rebecca Felton

Wikipedia: Rebecca Latimer Felton

History of Madison Georgia

The History of the First Methodist Church of Madison

Country Life in Georgia – Rebecca Felton  (Ebook available free from Google Play)

Georgia Encyclopedia: Rebecca Latimer Felton

House History: Felton, Rebecca Latimer

Hattie Caraway

Wikipedia: Hattie Wyatt Caraway

House History: Caraway, Hattie Wyatt

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas: Hattie Ophelia Wayt Caraway

US Senate: A Woman Presides over the Senate

 

Master List

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Memorial Day

The time has come around to celebrate Memorial day, a day set aside to honor those who have died in the armed services of the United States.  Last year I covered some of the history about the holiday on this post. This year I figured I would revisit some of the wars in which the US has participated.  In researching this, I found that we have been in more armed conflicts then I had thought we had.  Whether this was an oversight of my history education in school, or just something I forgot, I don’t know.   I was even going to type up a list, but if the wikipedia list is anything to go by, it would have been too long for a simple blog post.

Some of the conflicts and wars were Americans against ourselves or our neighbors such as the Native Americans, Mexico and once Canada (on behalf of Britain). Others were American forces helping out in other conflicts or outright war with another country.  Either way, Memorial Day is a day to celebrate the Men and Women who put their life on the line for our country and lost it.   We might not remember why they fought or disagreed with the leadership that sent them to fight, but we should remember their sacrifice for our country.

The US of course isn’t the only country to have a day set aside to memorialize those who have died while in the service of their country, as shown in this Time.com Article.  Some take place in spring, like the US holiday, but others take place at other times of the year.  For example, in Great Britain, they celebrate Remembrance Day on November 11, the day World War II ended.

Memorial Day is sometimes confused with Veterans Day, but they have separate purposes.  Veterans Day in the US is held on November 11, and is there to honor all those who served.  Memorial day is for the sole purpose of honoring the memory of those who served and lost their lives.

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Source: Pixabay

 

The Articles of Confederation: Introduction

Introduction:

The Constitution of the United States was not the first attempt to organize our government once the United States declared Independance.  The original “constitution” was called the Articles of The Confederation and Perpetual Union or Articles of Confederation for short.  For simplicity I will refer to it as The Articles in this essay series.

I’ve been doing this series a little backwards, starting with the Constitution’s amendments, then the Constitution itself and now the forerunner document, but if you are reading this after the fact, you may be starting here.  So it all depends on if you are going in tag order, chronological order or in the order the documents were written.  Welcome to my journey of amatuer history commentary.

But lets get back on topic. When the young nation first declared independence, it was quickly seen that something needed to be done about forming a new government to replace the one they had rejected. The influences on this document started long before independance.

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