Kelly, Edna Flannery (1906–1997)

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Kelly, Edna Flannery (1906–1997)

Democratic congressional representative from New York (1949–69). Born Edna Patricia Kathleen Flannery on August 20, 1906, in East Hampton, Long Island, New York; died in Alexandria, Virginia, on December 14, 1997; one of seven daughters (two of whom were adopted) of Patrick Joseph Flannery (a horticulturist) and Mary Ellen (McCarthy) Flannery; graduated from East Hampton (New York) High School; Hunter College, New York, B.A., in 1928; married Edward Leo Kelly (a lawyer), in June 1928 (died); children: William Edward Kelly; Maura Patricia Kelly.

The longest serving congresswoman from New York (20 years beginning in 1949), Edna Flannery Kelly was one of seven daughters of Patrick Joseph Flannery, a horticulturist, and Mary Ellen Flannery , and the only one who did not become a schoolteacher. Born and raised in East Hampton, Long Island, Edna graduated from Hunter College in 1928, and that same year married Brooklyn attorney Edward Kelly. While her husband enjoyed an active political life, Kelly's life centered mainly on her home and family, which soon included two children.

Following her husband's death in an automobile accident in 1942, life changed for the

young housewife, who became active in politics "to carry on in the Kelly family tradition." Put in charge of the women's auxiliary of the Madison Democratic Club by district leader Irwin Steingut, Kelly proceeded to work in a succession of party offices beginning with her election in 1944 to the Democratic executive committee of Kings County, New York. Reelected to three consecutive terms on the committee, Kelly also served as research director for the Democratic Party in the New York State legislature from 1943 to 1949.

In 1949, Kelly was chosen as the Democratic candidate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Representative Andrew L. Somers. She was probably selected because of her experience in Albany, she surmised. "Perhaps, too," she was quick to add, "the leaders may have decided that it would be a sound thing for the Democratic Party in Brooklyn to express its confidence in women by nominating one to run in an election that looked like a sure thing." Indeed, Kelly defeated her Republican and Liberal rivals handily, becoming the fourth woman from New York State to serve in the House of Representatives At the onset, she vowed to fly home each weekend so that she could be available to her constituents and to her children who remained in Brooklyn.

Edna Kelly's tenure was marked by her support of federal social and economic programs and her concern for U.S. interests in defense and foreign aid. She served on the Committee on Foreign Affairs and chaired its Subcommittee on Europe, as well as a special Subcommittee on the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary group. She proposed legislation to extend rent control, to provide working mothers with tax cuts, and to require the Post Office to cancel mail with the postmark reading, "In God We Trust." She also introduced a number of bills to provide equal pay for women. As a foe of communism, she sponsored a successful amendment to President Truman's 1952 foreign aid request which suspended aid to Yugoslavia. Her amendment to the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954, outlawing the sale of farm surplus commodities to the Soviet Union, was also successful. She later supported a higher minimum wage and lower retirement age requirements for beneficiaries of old age and survivors' insurance benefits.

In 1968, the New York Legislature divided Kelly's district between the Twelfth District and the Tenth District of long-time Representative Emanuel Celler. In a bid to unseat Celler, who had not been challenged since he entered Congress in 1923, Kelly lost the June primary, receiving only 32% of the vote in a three-way race. In later years, she made her home in Alexandria, Virginia.


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

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Kelly, Edna Flannery (1906–1997)

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