Hattie Ophelia Wyatt Caraway (February 1, 1878 – December 21, 1950) was an American political figure who became the first woman elected to serve a full term as a United States Senator. Caraway represented Arkansas. She was the first woman to preside over the Senate. She won reelection to a full term in 1932 with the active support of fellow Senator Huey Long, of neighboring Louisiana.
|Hattie Wyatt Caraway|
|United States Senator
November 13, 1931 – January 3, 1945
|Preceded by||Thaddeus Caraway|
|Succeeded by||William Fulbright|
|Born||Hattie Ophelia Wyatt
February 1, 1878
Bakerville, Tennessee, U.S.
|Died||December 21, 1950 (aged 72)
Falls Church, Virginia, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Thaddeus H. Caraway (1902–1931)|
|Children||3 including Paul|
Dickson Normal College
Hattie Wyatt was born near rural Bakerville in Humphreys County in west central Tennessee, the daughter of William Carroll Wyatt, a farmer and shopkeeper, and the former Lucy Mildred Burch. At the age of four, she moved with her family to Hustburg in Humphreys County. After briefly attending Ebenezer College in Hustburg, she transferred to Dickson (Tennessee) Normal College, where in 1896 she received her Bachelor of Arts degree. She taught school for a time before in 1902 marrying Thaddeus Caraway, whom she had met in college. They had three children: Paul, Forrest, and Robert; Paul and Forrest became generals in the United States Army. The couple settled in Jonesboro, Arkansas, where he established a legal practice while she cared for the children, tended the household and kitchen garden, and helped to oversee the family's cotton farm.
The Caraways established a second home Riversdale at Riverdale Park, Maryland. Husband Thaddeus was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1912, and he served in that office until 1921, when he became a U.S. senator. He held that position until he died in office in 1931. Following the precedent of appointing widows to temporarily take their husbands' places, Arkansas governor Harvey Parnell appointed Hattie Caraway to the vacant seat, and she was sworn into office on December 9. With the Arkansas Democratic party's backing, she easily won a special election in January 1932 for the remaining months of the term, becoming the first woman elected to the Senate. Although she took an interest in her husband's political career, Hattie Caraway avoided the capital's social and political life as well as the campaign for women's suffrage. She recalled that "after equal suffrage I just added voting to cooking and sewing and other household duties."
In May 1932, Caraway surprised Arkansas politicians by announcing that she would run for a full term in the upcoming election, joining a field already crowded with prominent candidates who had assumed she would step aside. She told reporters, "The time has passed when a woman should be placed in a position and kept there only while someone else is being groomed for the job." When she was invited by Vice President Charles Curtis to preside over the Senate she took advantage of the situation to announce that she would run for reelection. Populist former Governor and Senator Huey Long of neighboring Louisiana traveled to Arkansas on a seven-day campaign swing on her behalf. She was the first female senator to preside over the body as well as the first to chair a committee (Senate Committee on Enrolled Bills). Lacking any significant political backing, Caraway accepted the offer of help from Long, whose efforts to limit incomes of the wealthy and increase aid to the poor she had supported. Long was also motivated by sympathy for the widow and his ambition to extend his influence into the home state of his party rival, Senator Joseph Robinson, who had been Al Smith's vice-presidential candidate in 1928. Bringing his colorful and flamboyant campaign style to Arkansas, Long stumped the state with Caraway for a week just before the Democratic primary. He helped her to amass nearly twice as many votes as her closest opponent.
Long effectively used a method to quiet crying babies at campaign stops in Arkansas to encourage voter interest:
Mrs. Caraway would never forget nor cease to laugh over the plans we made for caring for obstreperous infants in the audience so that their mothers might listen to the speeches without the crowds being disturbed. I remember when I saw her notice one of our campaigners take charge of the first baby. The child began fretting and then began to cry. One of the young men accompanying us immediately gave it a drink of water. The child quieted for a bit and resumed a whimper, whereupon the same campaign worker handed the baby an all-day sucker, which it immediately grasped and soon fell asleep. Mrs. Caraway did not understand that it was a matter of design until it had been repeated several times.
Caraway's Senate committee assignments included Agriculture and Forestry, Commerce, and Enrolled Bills and Library, which she chaired. She sustained a special interest in relief for farmers, flood control, and veterans' benefits, all of direct concern to her constituents, and cast her votes for nearly every New Deal measure. Her loyalty to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, did not extend to racial issues, and in 1938, she joined fellow Southerners in a filibuster against the administration's anti-lynching bill. Although she carefully prepared herself for Senate work, Caraway spoke infrequently and rarely made speeches on the floor but built a reputation as an honest and sincere senator. She was sometimes portrayed by patronizing reporters as "Silent Hattie" or "the quiet grandmother who never said anything or did anything." She explained her reticence as unwillingness "to take a minute away from the men. The poor dears love it so."
In 1938, Caraway entered a tough fight for reelection, challenged by Representative John Little McClellan, who argued that a man could more effectively promote the state's interests. With backing from government employees, women's groups, and unions, Caraway won a narrow victory in the primary and took the general election with 89.4 percent of the vote over the Republican C. D. Atkinson of Fayetteville in Washington County.
During her tenure in the Senate, three other women - Long's widow, Rose McConnell Long, Dixie Bibb Graves, and Gladys Pyle - held brief tenures of two years or less in the Senate, but none of them overlapped, and so there were never more than two women in the body. She supported Roosevelt's foreign policy, arguing for his Lend-Lease bill from her perspective as a mother with two sons in the United States Army. While encouraging women to contribute to the war effort, Caraway insisted that caring for the home and family was a woman's primary task. Yet her consciousness of women's disadvantages was evident as early as 1931, when, upon being assigned the same Senate desk that had been briefly occupied by the first widow ever appointed to take her husband's place, she commented privately, "I guess they wanted as few of them contaminated as possible." Moreover, in 1943, Caraway became the first woman legislator to cosponsor the Equal Rights Amendment.
In her bid for reelection in 1944, Caraway placed a poor fourth in the Democratic primary and lost to freshman U.S. Representative J. William Fulbright of Arkansas' 3rd congressional district. He was the young, dynamic former president of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville who had already gained a national reputation. To claim the seat, Fulbright defeated sitting Governor Homer Martin Adkins and then the Republican Victor Wade of Batesville. The lack of visibility with her constituents may have been the primary reason that Caraway lost the 1944 nomination. Roosevelt then appointed her to the Employees' Compensation Commission, and in 1946, President Harry S. Truman gave her a post on the Employees' Compensation Appeals Board, on which she served until suffering a stroke in January 1950. She died on December 21 of the same year in Falls Church, Virginia, and was buried in Oaklawn Cemetery in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
Caraway was a prohibitionist and voted against anti-lynching legislation along with other Southern Democratic senators. She was generally a supporter of the New Deal. Caraway's defiance of the Arkansas establishment in insisting that she was more than a temporary stand-in for her husband enabled her to set a valuable precedent for women in politics. Although she remained at the margins of power, Caraway's diligent and capable attention to Senate responsibilities won the respect of her colleagues, encouraged advocates of wider public roles for women, and demonstrated that political skills were not the exclusive property of men.
She loved her family and paid her debts; in the 1930s, one of her sons was visiting a relative in West Tennessee, in the little town of Newbern. The child was thrown from a horse, mortally wounded, in front of the house of local banker Bush Crenshaw, who had tried to save the farmers from foreclosure during the Great Depression. However, Crenshaw's manipulation with papers to do so had incurred a sentence in the federal penitentiary. In gratitude for Crenshaw's kindness to her son, Senator Caraway intervened with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to get Crenshaw a presidential pardon.
On February 21, 2001, the United States Postal Service issued a 76-cent Distinguished Americans series postage stamp in her honor. Her gravesite at Oaklawn Cemetery in Jonesboro, Arkansas, was listed in 2007 on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2013, a biography based on previously-unseen letters was published by Dr. Nancy Hendricks, and was titled "Senator Hattie Caraway: An Arkansas Legacy."
Thaddeus H. Caraway
|United States Senator (Class 3) from Arkansas
Served alongside: Joseph Taylor Robinson, John E. Miller, G. Lloyd Spencer, John McClellan
J. William Fulbright
|Chair of the Senate Enrolled Bills Committee
|Party political offices|
Thaddeus H. Caraway
|Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Arkansas
1932 (special), 1932 (general), 1938
J. William Fulbright