Caraway, Hattie Wyatt (1878–1950)

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Caraway, Hattie Wyatt (1878–1950)

American politician who was the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate, serving from November 13, 1931–January 2, 1945. Born Hattie Ophelia Wyatt in Bakerville, Tennessee, on February 1, 1878; died in

Falls Church, Virginia, on December 21, 1950; daughter of William Carroll Wyatt and Lucy Mildred (Burch) Wyatt; attended public school; earned a B.A., Dickson (Tennessee) Normal College, 1896; married Thaddeus Horatius Caraway (d. 1931), in 1902; children: three sons, Paul Wyatt, Forrest, and Robert Easley.

Following the death of her husband, U.S. Senator Thaddeus Caraway, in 1931, Hattie Caraway, a devoted homemaker and mother of three sons, received a courtesy appointment to fill out the unexpired term. She later surprised Arkansas politicians by announcing her decision to run for election for a full six-year term. With the support of Senator Huey Long of Louisiana, she defeated seven primary challengers and, in November 1932, became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate.

With a motherly demeanor that belied her political savvy, "Miss Hattie," as she came to be known, gained the respect of her constituents who elected her to a second term over John Mc-Clellan, the powerful senator of the 1950s. Although she never delivered a speech on the Senate floor or participated in a debate ("I haven't the heart to take a minute away from the men," she once confided. "The poor dears love it so."), Caraway impressed her colleagues with her integrity and droll wit. Her tenure was marked by support of President Franklin Roosevelt's foreign policy and domestic economic programs. She was also attentive to the needs of her largely agricultural constituency, throwing her support behind farm relief and flood control. She never missed a vote and, unlike many in the Senate, actually studied the bills and listened attentively at committee hearings.

Caraway became the first woman to chair a Senate committee, the first woman senior Senator, and the first woman to conduct a Senate committee hearing. In May 1932, she established another precedent by presiding over the Senate in the absence of Vice-President John Nance Garner and the usual Senate president, pro tem. During her second term, in 1943, Caraway co-sponsored the Lucretia Mott Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, thus becoming the first woman in the Senate to endorse the measure, which had previously been presented in the Senate 11 times.

Regarding the public's interest in her status as the lone woman senator, Caraway once remarked, "I'm really afraid that tourists are going to poke me with their umbrellas." She went on to declare that there was no reason why women shouldn't sit with men in the House and Senate. "Women are essentially practical because they've always had to be…. And women are much more realistic than men, particularly when it comes to public questions. Of course, having had the vote for such a short time is a distinct advantage, for we have no inheritance of political buncombe."

In 1944, after 13 years of service, Caraway was defeated in the Arkansas primary by Republican Representative William Fulbright. When the 78th Congress held its last session on December 19, 1944, the Senate rose in tribute to her, a rare occurrence. President Roosevelt subsequently appointed her to the Federal Employees' Compensation Committee, on which she served from 1946 until her death on December 21, 1950.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts