About Hattie Ophelia Caraway (Wyatt)
Hattie Ophelia Wyatt Caraway (February 1, 1878 – December 21, 1950) was the first woman elected to serve as a United States Senator. Senator Caraway represented Arkansas.
Hattie Wyatt was born near Bakerville, Tennessee, in Humphreys County, the daughter of William Carroll Wyatt, a farmer and shopkeeper, and Lucy Mildred Burch. At the age of four she moved with her family to Hustburg, Tennessee. After briefly attending Ebenezer College in Hustburg, she transferred to Dickson (Tenn.) Normal College, where she received her B.A. degree in 1896. She taught school for a time before marrying in 1902 Thaddeus Horatius Caraway, whom she had met in college; they had three children, Paul Caraway, Forrest, and Robert; Paul and Forrest became Generals in the United States Army. The couple moved to Jonesboro, Arkansas where she cared for their children and home and her husband practiced law and started a political career.
The Caraways settled in Jonesboro where he established a legal practice while she cared for the children, tended the household and kitchen garden, and helped to oversee the family's cotton farm. The family eventually established a second home Riversdale at Riverdale Park, Maryland. Her husband, Thaddeus Caraway, was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1912, and he served in that office until 1921 when he was elected to the United States Senate where he served until he died in office in 1931. Following the precedent of appointing widows to temporarily take their husbands' places, Arkansas governor Harvey Parnell appointed Hattie Caraway to the vacant seat, and she was sworn into office on December 9. With the Arkansas Democratic party's backing, she easily won a special election in January 1932 for the remaining months of the term, becoming the first woman elected to the Senate. Although she took an interest in her husband's political career, Hattie Caraway avoided the capital's social and political life as well as the campaign for women's suffrage. She recalled that "after equal suffrage I just added voting to cooking and sewing and other household duties."
In May 1932 Caraway surprised Arkansas politicians by announcing that she would run for a full term in the upcoming election, joining a field already crowded with prominent candidates who had assumed she would step aside. She told reporters, "The time has passed when a woman should be placed in a position and kept there only while someone else is being groomed for the job." When she was invited by Vice President Charles Curtis to preside over the Senate she took advantage of the situation to announce that she would run for reelection. Populist Louisiana politician Huey Long travelled to Arkansas on a 9-day campaign swing to campaign for her. She was the first female Senator to preside over this body as well as the first to chair a Committee (Senate Committee on Enrolled Bills). Lacking any significant political backing, Caraway accepted the offer of help from Long, whose efforts to limit incomes and increase aid to the poor she had supported. Long was also motivated by sympathy for the widow as well as by his ambition to extend his influence into the home state of his rival, Senator Joseph Robinson. Bringing his colorful and flamboyant campaign style to Arkansas, Long stumped the state with Caraway for a week just before the Democratic primary, helping her amass nearly twice as many votes as her closest opponent. She went on to win the general election in November.
Caraway's Senate committee assignments included Agriculture and Forestry, Commerce, and Enrolled Bills and Library, which she chaired. She sustained a special interest in relief for farmers, flood control, and veterans' benefits, all of direct concern to her constituents, and cast her votes for nearly every New Deal measure. Her loyalty to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, did not extend to racial issues, and in 1938 she joined fellow southerners in a filibuster against the administration's antilynching bill. Although she carefully prepared herself for Senate work, Caraway spoke infrequently and rarely made speeches on the floor of the Senate but built a reputation as an honest and sincere Senator. She was sometimes portrayed by patronizing reporters as "Silent Hattie" or "the quiet grandmother who never said anything or did anything." She explained her reticence as unwillingness "to take a minute away from the men. The poor dears love it so."
In 1938 Caraway entered a tough fight for reelection, challenged by Representative John Little McClellan, who argued that a man could more effectively promote the state's interests. With backing from government employees, women's groups, and unions, Caraway won a narrow victory in the primary and took the general election with 89.4 percent of the vote over the Republican C. D. Atkinson of Fayetteville.
During her tenure in the Senate, three other women - Rose McConnell Long, Dixie Bibb Graves, and Gladys Pyle - held brief tenures of two years or less in the Senate, but none of them overlapped, and so there were never more than two women in the body. She supported Roosevelt's foreign policy, arguing for his lend-lease bill from her perspective as a mother with two sons in the army. While encouraging women to contribute to the war effort, Caraway insisted that caring for the home and family was a woman's primary task. Yet her consciousness of women's disadvantages was evident as early as 1931, when, upon being assigned the same Senate desk that had been briefly occupied by the first widow ever appointed to take her husband's place, she commented privately, "I guess they wanted as few of them contaminated as possible." Moreover, in 1943, Caraway became the first woman legislator to cosponsor the Equal Rights Amendment.
In her bid for reelection in 1944, Caraway placed a poor fourth in the Democratic primary, losing her Senate seat to freshman congressman J. William Fulbright, the young, dynamic former president of the University of Arkansas who had already gained a national reputation. To claim the seat Fulbright defeated sitting Governor Homer Martin Adkins and then the Republican Victor Wade of Batesville. The lack of visibility with her constituents may have been the primary reason that she lost the 1944 election.Roosevelt then appointed her to the Employees' Compensation Commission, and in 1946 President Harry Truman gave her a post on the Employees' Compensation Appeals Board, where she served until suffering a stroke in January 1950. She died on December 21 of the same year in Falls Church, Virginia, and was buried in Oaklawn Cemetery in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
Caraway was a prohibitionist and voted against anti-lynching legislation along with other Southern Democratic Senators. She was generally a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt's economic recovery legislation. Caraway's defiance of the Arkansas establishment in insisting that she was more than a temporary stand-in for her husband enabled her to set a valuable precedent for women in politics. Although she remained at the margins of power, Caraway's diligent and capable attention to Senate responsibilities won the respect of her colleagues, encouraged advocates of wider public roles for women, and demonstrated that political skills were not the exclusive property of men.
She loved her family and paid her debts; in the 1930s, one of her sons was visiting a relative in West Tennessee, in the little town of Newbern. The child was thrown from a horse, mortally wounded, in front of the house of local banker Bush Crenshaw. Crenshaw had tried to save the farmers from foreclosure during the Great Depression but his monkeying with papers to do so had incurred a sentence to the federal penitentiary. In gratitude for Mr. Bush's kindness to her son, Senator Caraway intervened with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to get a presidential pardon for Bush Crenshaw. On February 21, 2001, the United States Postal Service issued a 76¢ Distinguished Americans series postage stamp in her honor. Her gravesite was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 20, 2007.
Hattie Caraway, U.S. Senator's Timeline
February 1, 1878
Bakerville, TN, USA
Jonesboro, Craighead, Arkansas, United States
December 21, 1950
Falls Church, VA, USA