Huck, Winnifred Sprague Mason (1882–1936)
Huck, Winnifred Sprague Mason (1882–1936)
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1922–1923), writer and lecturer. Born Winnifred Sprague Mason on September 14, 1882 in Chicago, Illinois; died on August 24, 1936, in Chicago; daughter of Congressman William E. Mason (a Congressional representative) and Edith Julia (White) Mason; married Robert Wardlow Huck, on June 29, 1904; children: Wallace Huck; Donald White Huck; Edith Carlyle Huck; Robert Wardlow Huck, Jr.
Winnifred Sprague Mason was born on September 14, 1882, in Chicago, Illinois, the middle of seven children of William and Edith Mason . She attended Chicago public schools until 1890, when her father was elected to the House of Representatives and the family moved to Washington, D.C. After finishing high school there, she married steel executive Robert Wardlow Huck, with whom she would have four children.
Winnifred Huck's father served in the Illinois State legislature and both houses of the U.S. Congress before dying while in office in 1921. Huck sought to replace him and, after an energetic statewide campaign, became the third
woman elected to Congress in the special election of 1922 (two years after the 19th Amendment established women's right to vote). She also sought the Republican Party's nomination to a seat in the 68th Congress, but lost to Henry R. Rathbone. In succeeding her father, Huck began a trend which was to become known as the "widow's succession" due to the fact that 31 of the 68 women elected to Congress between 1918 and 1963 took the seats of relatives who were earlier incumbents.
Huck was active during her five-month tenure. She was elected to the Committee on Woman Suffrage, the Committee on Expenditures in the Department of Commerce, and the Committee on Reform in the Civil Service, and advocated for independence for the Philippines and Cuba and for self-determination for Ireland. She was also active in reforms popular among women's organizations, including an end to child labor and economic and legal equality for women. However, her best-known proposal was Resolution 423, which she introduced on January 16, 1923. In it, she called for a "war plebiscite" whereby the power to declare war on another country would rest solely with the American public by way of a popular vote. She also introduced legislation that would prohibit trade with and economic concessions to nations that did not do similarly. In March of 1923, Huck sought to fill the House seat left by the death of Representative James R. Mann but was defeated in a primary race by former senator Morton D. Hull. Huck later accused Hull of grossly exceeding campaign-spending limits; the House did not investigate the allegation.
After leaving office, Huck joined the National Woman's Party's political council, which encouraged women to seek public office. Huck then became a lecturer and freelance writer. In 1925, she began a particularly ambitious project which she later detailed in writing and syndicated for the Newspaper Enterprise Association. With the assistance of Vic Donahey, the governor of Ohio, Huck took an assumed name and was tried and convicted of a petty theft in the state of Ohio. She was sent to the women's prison in Marysville, spending a month there before being pardoned and then working her way to New York under her assumed identity by laboring as a house cleaner, factory worker, and hotel chambermaid. In the articles she wrote about this experience, Huck emphasized the humanity of the women inmates and the willingness of employers to hire an ex-convict. Huck went on to work as a staff writer for the Chicago Evening Post from 1928 to 1929.
Winnifred Huck died on August 24, 1936, in Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago after surgery for idiopathic ulcerative colitis. She was 53, and was survived by her husband and their four children.
James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.
Office of the Historian. Women in Congress, 1917–1990. Commission on the Bicentenary of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1991.
Sonya Elaine Schryer , freelance writer, Lansing, Michigan