Norrell, Catherine Dorris (1901–1981)

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Norrell, Catherine Dorris (1901–1981)

American congressional representative (April 1961–January 1963). Born on March 30, 1901, in Camden, Arkansas; died on August 26, 1981, in Warren, Arkansas; daughter of William and Rose Dorris; attended high school in Monticello; attended Ouachita Baptist College, Arkadelphia; graduated from University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; married William Norrell (1896–1961, a U.S. congressional representative), in 1922; children: one daughter, Julia Norrell.

Taught music in public schools, Arkansas; was director of music department at Arkansas A&M College; elected as a Democrat to the 87th Congress (1961), taking husband's seat after his death; served until January 3, 1963; was deputy assistant secretary of state for Educational and Cultural Affairs (1963–65); served as director, U.S. Department of State Reception Center, Honolulu, Hawaii (1965–69).

Catherine Dorris Norrell was born on March 30, 1901, in Camden, Arkansas, the daughter of William Dorris, a Baptist preacher, and Rose Dorris . The family moved around Texas, Tennessee, and Arkansas during Catherine's childhood. She graduated from Monticello High School in her home state, attending Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia and then the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Trained as a pianist and organist, she taught music in public schools and served as director of the music department of Arkansas A&M College in Monticello.

She married William Norrell in 1922, and they had one daughter, Julia. When her husband entered Congress in 1939, Catherine Dorris Norrell worked as his staff assistant. She was also an active member of various women's organizations, and in 1959–60 served as president of the Congressional Club of Congressmen's Wives.

Partly paralyzed after a stroke in 1954, William Norrell died after a second stroke in

February 1961. When a special election for his congressional seat was held in April that year, Catherine Dorris Norrell stood against four other candidates and won election as a Democrat to the House of Representatives from the 6th District of Arkansas. Hers was a commanding victory, out-polling the second-place opponent by a 2–1 margin, but her career in Congress was short-lived: her district was already slated for absorption into two other districts in 1962.

Norrell took the oath of office on April 25, 1961, and sat on the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service. She had campaigned promising to continue her husband's work, and her focus in Congress was on the economic prosperity of her district. She worked to protect the area's clay, textile, and lumber industries through tariffs and other government regulations, and sponsored legislation prohibiting interstate and foreign commerce in goods imported from Cuba. Concerned with the status of women, she was also a sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment.

In April 1962, Norrell announced she would not be a candidate for reelection. Following her retirement, she was appointed by President John F. Kennedy as deputy assistant secretary of state for Educational and Cultural Affairs, serving from 1963 to 1965. From 1965 to 1969, she was director of the State Department's reception center in Honolulu, Hawaii. Norrell lived the final years of her life in Monticello, Arkansas, and died in Warren, Arkansas, in 1981. She was buried in Oakland Cemetery in Monticello.


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

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York

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