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|Kathryn O'Loughlin McCarthy
the first Democrat ever elected to the U.S. Congress from her district, as well as the first Kansas woman ever elected to that body
Kathryn O'Loughlin was born near Hays, Kansas, on April 24, 1894. Her father, John O'Loughlin, was a State Representative and cattleman. She grew up on the family ranch and attended the local schools. After graduating from Hays High School in 1913 and Fort Hays Kansas Normal School in 1917, she entered the University of Chicago Law School, from which she received her law degree in 1920. She was admitted to the bars in both Illinois and Kansas in 1921, and practiced law in Chicago until returning to Hays and establishing a practice in 1928.
O'Loughlin began her political career as a delegate to the 1930 Kansas State Democratic Convention, and she was elected to the State Legislature that same year; she served one term, 1931-1932. In 1932, she beat out eight men to become the Democratic nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives. She then launched an aggressive campaign focused on the devastated agricultural economy of western Kansas during which she logged over 30,000 miles and delivered an average of a dozen speeches a day. The campaign was successful, as she defeated Republican Charles I. Sparks with 55% of the total vote to become the first Democrat ever elected to the U.S. Congress from her district, as well as the first Kansas woman ever elected to that body. She married Daniel McCarthy, a newly elected Kansas State Senator she had met on the campaign trail, on February 4, 1933, and served as Representative Kathryn O'Loughlin McCarthy.
Having based her campaign on the plight of Kansas agriculture, McCarthy demanded a seat on the House Committee on Agriculture but was instead placed on the Education Committee, where she fought for an emergency grant of $15 million in federal assistance for private, denominational, and trade schools. A supporter of President Roosevelt's "New Deal," she recommended extending experimental Agricultural Department programs to promote better dry land farming practices and supported the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA). She was also an advocate for relaxing the 18th Amendment (Prohibition).
McCarthy's support of the "New Deal" angered many of her constituents, and Governor Alf Landon, a Republican, made it his mission to see to it that she did not win re-election. She ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination, but lost the general election to Frank Carlson by a margin of 2,796 votes.
After leaving Congress, McCarthy returned to Hays and resumed her law practice. She also owned and operated large ranch, and was part owner of an automobile agency in Hays and Ellis. She did not, however, give up politics, serving as a delegate to Democratic National Conventions in 1940 and 1944 and leading a reform effort to stop the wholesale practice of sterilizing young girls at state correctional facilities. Her business success allowed her to pay the tuition for dozens of low-income students to attend Fort Hays State University, including several African Americans to whom she also extended free room and board in her home.
Kathryn O'Loughlin McCarthy died in Hays on January 16, 1952, and was buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery.
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This page was last updated on September 23, 2017.