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Lusk, Georgia Lee (1893–1971)

Lusk, Georgia Lee (1893–1971)

American educator and politician who was the first woman elected to Congress from New Mexico. Born Georgia Lee Witt on May 12, 1893, in Carlsbad, New Mexico; died on January 5, 1971, in Albuquerque, New Mexico; interred in Sunset Gardens Memorial Park, Carlsbad, New Mexico; eldest of four children, three daughters and a son, of George Witt (a surveyor and rancher) and Mary Isabel (Gilreath) Witt; graduated from Carlsbad High School, 1912; attended Highlands University, in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and Colorado State Teachers College, in Greeley, Colorado; graduated from New Mexico State Teachers College (later Western New Mexico University), in 1914; married Dolph Lusk (a rancher and banker), in August 1915 (died 1919); children: three sons, including Eugene Lusk who served in the New Mexico state senate.

Often referred to as "the first lady of New Mexico politics," Georgia Lee Lusk had a political career that spanned 35 years and included several terms in state education posts and a term as the first congresswoman elected by the voters in her state.

Lusk was born in 1893 and grew up on a ranch near Carlsbad, New Mexico. After high school, she attended Highlands University and Colorado State Teachers College, in Greeley. After graduating from the New Mexico State Teachers College in Silver City in 1914, she began a teaching career in Eddy County. One year later, she married cattleman and banker Dolph Lusk and gave up teaching to begin a family. When her husband died suddenly in 1919, she was left with two small sons and was pregnant with a third.

The next few years were challenging for Lusk. In addition to managing the ranch, she returned to her teaching career, often taking her small sons to school with her. In 1924, she was elected school superintendent of Lea County, a post she held until 1929. After losing an initial bid for state superintendent, in 1930 she won the first of two successive terms and served from 1931 to 1935. Unable by law to succeed herself immediately following her second term, she served again as state superintendent from 1943 to 1947. (In the interim, she was a rural school supervisor in Guadalupe County.) During her tenure as state superintendent, Lusk succeeded in securing free textbooks for the public school and expanded the curriculum to include physical education and arts-and-crafts programs. She was also successful in establishing higher salaries and a teacher-retirement program.

In October 1944, Lusk took part in the White House Conference on Rural Education,

and in 1946 entered the campaign for the Democratic nomination for one of her state's two at-large congressional seats. She beat out six opponents in the primary and campaigned for election on a platform stressing improved educational facilities. "It's just as important for the Government to look over the business of education as it is to look over farming or railroading or anything else," she told an interviewer at the time. As it turned out, she was the leading vote-getter in the general election. True to her campaign promises, Lusk supported federal aid to education and worked for the improvement of school programs and the creation of a Cabinet-level department of education. Her congressional tenure was additionally marked by service as a member of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs. She supported many of the Truman administration's domestic programs, but voted to override Harry Truman's veto of the Taft-Hartley Act. She also backed the administration's foreign policy proposals and endorsed universal military training.

Lusk lost her bid for reelection to Congress in the June 1948 primary, and at the end of her term left public life for a short time. She was appointed to the War Claims Commission by President Truman in September 1949, and served until her dismissal by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953. Returning to New Mexico, she served as superintendent of public instruction for another four years before retiring in 1959. Her later political activity was limited to advising her son Eugene Lusk, who served in the New Mexico state senate for four years and made an unsuccessful run for governor in 1966. (He committed suicide in 1969.) Georgia Lusk died of thyroid cancer in 1971.

sources:

Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1947.

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

Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1980.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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