Pfost, Gracie (1906–1965)
Pfost, Gracie (1906–1965)
U.S. congressional representative (January 3, 1953–January 3, 1963). Pronunciation: Post. Born Grace Bowers on March 12, 1906, in Harrison, Arkansas; died on August 11, 1965, in Baltimore, Maryland; daughter of William Lafayette Bowers and Lily Elizabeth (Wood) Bowers; educated at Links Business University, Boise, Idaho; married John Walter Pfost (a master mechanic), on August 4, 1923.
Served as Democratic congressional representative from Idaho (1953–63); best remembered for support of a federal dam project and her opposition to the private Snake River dam projects in Idaho (1950s).
Gracie Bowers Pfost was born in 1906 in humble circumstances on an Arkansas farm and moved at an early age to another farm near Boise, Idaho. After graduating from business school, she married John Walter Pfost while still a teenager. Pfost, an ambitious young woman, took a job as a chemical analyst for a milk products company, where she quickly became successful, despite a lack of training in chemistry.
At age 23, Pfost began a career in public service by becoming the deputy county clerk, auditor and recorder for Canyon County, Idaho. She remained in that position for ten years, after which she spent another ten years as the county's treasurer. She also became active in Democratic politics, and served as a delegate to every Democratic national convention from 1944 until the mid-1960s. She made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1950.
After setting up a real-estate business in Nampa, Idaho, in 1952, Pfost decided to run again for the House in Idaho's 1st District. This time she was successful, becoming the state's first female member of Congress despite the strong showing of Republican presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower in Idaho that year. As a member of the House, she supported Fair Deal legislation, the repeal of the Taft-Hartley act (which restricted some union activity), an increase in the minimum wage, better Social Security benefits, and federal aid to education. She was known as a strong proponent of a federal dam project proposed for the Snake River in Hell's Canyon, Idaho, and was often referred to as "Hell's Belle." A vocal opponent of private power concerns, which she felt would cost consumers
too much, she asserted, "I do not intend to be bluffed, bullied, or frightened by the private monopolies." Her motion to approve the federal dam project for the river failed to make it out of committee, however, and the Idaho Power Commission was permitted to construct the dams. Pfost was always a powerful advocate of the concerns of her Idaho district. In 1953, she supported a bill to stabilize the prices of domestic lead and zinc and another to promote the free marketing of newly mined gold.
In 1953, Pfost was appointed to a special committee to investigate and study educational and philanthropic foundations. Formed at a time when anti-communist sentiment was raging in the country, the committee was charged with rooting out "un-American" contributions by these foundations. Pfost and chair Wayne Hays of Ohio, however, objected to the committee's use of unreliable witnesses and testimony and walked out of the deliberations, precipitating the early demise of the committee itself. Disagreeing with the report written by the majority of the committee, she complained to the press that the "foundations have been indicted and convicted under procedures which can only be characterized as barbaric."
Some of the issues Pfost supported during her first term included statehood for Hawaii, an increase in airline subsidies, and Eisenhower's housing stimulation program. She handily defeated Republican Erwin Schwiebert for reelection in 1954, making passage of an Equal Rights Amendment part of her platform. In her second term, she backed such issues as the establishment of the U.S. Air Force Academy and the continuing of a reciprocal trade program. During her stint in Congress, Pfost served on the Committee on Public Works, the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, and the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, where she chaired the public lands subcommittee.
Pfost served a total of five terms in Congress, choosing not to run again in 1962 in order to seek a Senate seat. She was defeated in that race by Republican Len B. Jordan, after which she worked as a Special Assistant for Elderly Housing in the Federal Housing Administration until her death in 1965.
Current Biography 1955. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1955.
Office of the Historian. Women in Congress, 1917–1990. Commission on the Bicentenary of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1991.
Sally A. Myers , Ph.D., freelance writer and editor