Bolton, Frances Payne (1885–1977)

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Bolton, Frances Payne (1885–1977)

U.S. congressional representative, Republican of Ohio, 76th–90th Congresses, February 27, 1940–January 3, 1969. Born Frances Payne Bingham in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 29, 1885; died in Lyndhurst, Ohio, on March 9, 1977; fourth of five children of Charles William and Mary Perry (Payne) Bingham; attended Hathaway-Brown School in Cleveland, Ohio; attended the Dieudonne Bornel, Oise, France, and Miss Spence's School for Girls in New York City; married Chester Castle Bolton (U.S. congressional representative, 1929–1937, and January 3, 1939–October 29, 1939), on September 14, 1907; children: Charles Bingham, Kenyon Castle, and Oliver Payne Bolton.

Frances Bolton's life was distinguished by her philanthropic work and an extraordinary 28-year political career. Like many early female congressional representatives, she began her career with the decision to run for the seat left vacant by the death of her husband.

Growing up in an extremely wealthy Ohio family, Frances Payne Bingham first became involved in the city's visiting nurses' program as a member of a debutante club in Cleveland, and a lifelong interest in nursing and public health was to follow. In 1907, she married Chester Bolton, a lawyer who had made his own fortune in steel. She devoted much of the next ten years to raising her three sons.

The couple moved to Washington in 1917, the same year that Bolton gained access to a sizable trust fund established in her name by her uncle Oliver Hazard Payne, a founder of Standard Oil. In addition to working with various nursing groups to support World War I efforts, Bolton established the Payne Fund, through which she made philanthropic donations. In 1923, she gave $1.5 million to endow a nursing school at Cleveland's Western Reserve University. She also financed a log-cabin nursery center in Kentucky and provided support for studies on the social value of radio and movies in education, children's literature, and parapsychology. Serving as vice president of the American Social Hygiene Association, she actively supported state and congressional appropriations for the control of venereal diseases.

Bolton had little to do with politics until 1928, when her husband was elected to the House of Representatives, and she became involved with political life in the capital. When Chester failed to win reelection in 1936, the couple moved back to Cleveland where she served as vice chair of the Republican national program committee and as a member of the Republican Central Committee of Ohio. Her husband regained his House seat in 1938 but died in October

1939, leaving a vacancy in his district. With the encouragement of the Ohio Republicans, Bolton decided to run for his seat. She won the election with a greater vote than her husband had ever enjoyed, becoming the first congresswoman to be elected from Ohio.

Bolton entered Congress as an isolationist and a critic of Roosevelt's New Deal. She voted against the Lend-Lease program to aid Britain and the Soviet Union before U.S. entrance into World War II. In September 1941, she gained national attention by opposing the conscription policies of the selective service bill. In an impassioned speech, she warned, "I cannot help see in it more danger than defense, more dictatorship than democracy." Once the United States entered the war, Bolton strongly supported the military effort.

During her second term, Bolton took a seat on the Committee on Foreign Affairs, a post she would hold throughout her congressional career. In March 1942, she voted for the creation of the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps and authored the Bolton Act of 1943, which created the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps. In 1944, Bolton toured military hospitals in England and France, becoming the first member of Congress to visit a war theater. After the war, she continued her travels as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and in 1947 headed up a tour of the Middle East, the Soviet Union, and Poland, to become the first woman to lead a congressional mission. In 1949, she was appointed to the advisory committee of the Foreign Service Institute.

Due to reapportionment of various Ohio Districts in 1952, Bolton's youngest son, Oliver Payne Bolton, was elected Representative from the 11th District, marking the only time a mother and son have served in Congress concurrently. The 1950s also saw Bolton's appointment as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. By 1960, she was the longest serving woman sitting in the House of Representatives and a ranking Republican on Foreign Affairs. Among countless honors and awards, she received the Mary Adelaide Nutting award of the National League of Nursing Education. She was the first American woman, and the second woman internationally, to receive the William Freeman Snow award. When Frances Bolton finally lost her bid for reelection in 1968, she returned to Lyndhurst, Ohio, where she resided until her death on March 9, 1977.


Candee, Marjorie Dent, ed. Current Biography 1954. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1954.

Office of the Historian. Women in Congress, 1917–1990. Commission on the Bicentenary of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1991.

suggested reading:

Loth, David. A Long Way Forward: The Biography of Congresswoman Frances P. Bolton. NY: Longmans, Green, 1957.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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