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Humphrey, Muriel (1912–1998)

Humphrey, Muriel (1912–1998)

United States senator. Name variations: Muriel Humphrey Brown. Born Muriel Fay Buck on February 20, 1912, in Huron, South Dakota; died on September 20, 1998, in Minneapolis, Minnesota; daughter of Andrew E. Buck and Jessie May Buck; educated at Huron College; married Hubert Horatio Humphrey (former vice president and U.S. senator) in 1936 (died 1977); remarried; children: (first marriage) Nancy Humphrey ; Hubert H. Humphrey, 3rd; Robert Andrew Humphrey; Douglas Sannes Humphrey.

Born Muriel Fay Buck on February 20, 1912, in Huron, South Dakota, Muriel Humphrey was known more for her many years as a politician's wife than for her brief career as a senator. Muriel Buck met Hubert Humphrey while attending Huron College in the 1930s. After they were married, Muriel worked at a utility company as a bookkeeper to support the couple while Hubert finished college. While he was a graduate student at Louisiana State University, she continued to help with family finances by making sandwiches which her husband sold to other students for ten cents each.

The Humphreys' political life began in 1943 when Hubert, a Democrat, ran for mayor of Minneapolis. Humphrey was active in her husband's campaign at a time when few politicians' wives were, and continued to assist him throughout a career that included presidential and senatorial campaigns. She stepped into the forefront of politics on January 25, 1978, when Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich appointed her to fill the Senate seat left empty by her husband's death until a special election could be held.

On February 6, Muriel Humphrey took the oath of office and became the only woman in the 100-member Senate. Humphrey's reception in the legislative body was cool; save for a few Democrats, the other senators virtually ignored her. Despite this, Humphrey was active during her nine months in the Senate. She served on the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Governmental Operations and helped to pass legislation that dealt with women's issues, including providing child-care and flexible work schedules for working mothers, lowering female unemployment, and extending the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). She was asked by President Jimmy Carter to chair the Women's Advisory Panel after the forced exit of Bella Abzug , which she declined.

Humphrey supported President Carter on his sale of jet fighter planes to Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia, voted in favor of the Panama Canal neutrality pact, and sponsored an amendment to the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 that offered job security to federal employees exposing fraud or waste. She also sponsored an amendment to the Department of Education Organization Act (which changed the name of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to the Department of Health and Human Services).

On November 7, after the special election that elected David Durenburger to Humphrey's seat, Muriel Humphrey retired to Minnesota where she later remarried and used the name Muriel Humphrey Brown. Humphrey was active in work dealing with mental retardation, a condition with which her eldest granddaughter had been born. She also participated in the Minnesota State Fair, winning prizes for her needlepoint. Muriel Humphrey Brown died of natural causes at the age of 86 at Abbott Northwestern Memorial Hospital on September 20, 1998. In her obituary, Walter Mondale was quoted as saying about the Humphreys, "Together they helped change this country to a better, fairer, more decent society."


Charlton, Linda. "The Newest Senator from Minnesota," in The New York Times Biographical Service. January 1978.

Feldman, Trude B. "Muriel Humphrey: Senator or Not, She Continues as a Force," in Ladies' Home Journal. October 1978.

Obituary. The [New London] Day. September 22, 1998.

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

Karina L. Kerr , M.A., Ypsilanti, Michigan

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