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|Hattie Wyatt Caraway
the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate
Hattie Wyatt was born in Bakerville, Tennessee, on February 1, 1878. She was educated in the local public schools before going on to Dickson (Tennessee) Normal College, from which she graduated in 1896. In 1902, she married fellow college student Thaddeus Caraway, with whom she moved to Jonesboro, Arkansas. A lawyer by trade, Thaddeus was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1912, and to the U.S. Senate in 1920.
Thaddeus Caraway died suddenly on November 6, 1931, leaving his Senate seat vacant. Arkansas Governor Harvey Parnell appointed Hattie Caraway to fill her late husband's seat; her appointment was formally confirmed by a special election held on January 12, 1932, making Hattie the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate.
In May 1932, Caraway announced her intention to run for re-election to the Senate. When leaders of the Democratic Party in Arkansas vowed that Caraway would not win the nomination, she enlisted the help of Huey Long, who agreed to help in her campaign. With Long's help, along with the support of the American Federation of Labor, Caraway defeated her nearest competitor by a margin of two to one. She was subsequently re-elected in 1938.
In the Senate, Caraway made no speeches, and took no unpopular stances. Known as "Silent Hattie," she nevertheless earned respect from her fellow Senators. Throughout most of her tenure she served as chairwoman of the Committee on Enrolled Bills, and, in 1943, became the first woman to serve as presiding officer of the Senate. She was a loyal advocate of Huey Long's "Share Our Wealth" campaign, and of President Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal programs. She was defeated for re-election by William Fulbright in 1944, and left the Senate on January 2, 1945.
Although she was now out of the Senate, Caraway was not out of public service. President Roosevelt appointed her to the United States Employees' Compensation Commission, where she served until 1946, and to the Employees' Compensation Appeals Board. She resigned from the latter position after suffering a stroke in January 1950.
Hattie Wyatt Caraway died in Falls Church, Virginia, on December 21, 1950, and was buried in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
Caraway's correspondence and other papers were later published under the title Silent Hattie Speaks: The Personal Journal of Hattie Caraway.
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This page was last updated on December 20, 2017.