Historic Milestone: Hattie Caraway 1st Woman Elected to the U.S. Senate

The United States reached a milestone on 12 January 1932 when Hattie W. Caraway became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate, representing the state of Arkansas. When her husband of 29 years – Senator Thaddeus H. Caraway – died in 1931, Arkansas Governor Harvey Parnell appointed her to the vacant seat, and she was sworn into office Dec. 9. Arkansas held a special election in January 1932 to fill the remainder of Senator Thaddeus Caraway’s term, and Hattie Caraway won easily.

portrait of U.S. Senator Hattie Caraway of Arkansas, by John Oliver Buckley

Portrait: Senator Hattie Caraway, by John Oliver Buckley. Source: U.S. Senate; Wikimedia Commons.

At the time, most observers expected her to retire quietly after her husband’s term expired in March 1933, but Hattie Caraway surprised them by running for election to win her own term. She won, and won again six years later, in total serving in the U.S. Senate from 9 December 1931 to 3 January 1945.

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Here are three newspaper articles reporting and commenting on her historic election in 1932. The first is a straightforward account of her election, pointing out how women’s clubs in Arkansas helped rally the vote, with hundreds of women staffing the voting stations without pay, to help Hattie Caraway achieve her milestone victory.

Mrs. Caraway Is Elected Senator by Big Majority, Plain Dealer newspaper article 13 January 1932

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 13 January 1932, page 17

The article reports:

Feminine hands, for the most part, wrote and counted the light vote cast in today’s special election.

All through a cold, drizzling day, women trudged to the relatively few polling places in the state to place their ballots in the hands of hundreds of women volunteers who served without pay as election officials. Reports indicated probably more women than men voted.

The next two articles are commentaries, the first (probably written by a man) critical of the practice of letting a widow fill her husband’s position, and the second (identifiably written by a man – Charles Stewart) insisting Hattie Caraway is no feminist standard-bearer.

editorial about Hattie Caraway being elected the nation's first female U.S. senator, Plain Dealer newspaper article 14 January 1932

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 14 January 1932, page 8

This editorial concludes:

Making a public position a sort of insurance policy is neither logical nor sound.

commentary about Hattie Caraway being elected the nation's first female U.S. senator, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 6 February 1932

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 6 February 1932, page 3

Stewart begins his commentary:

The Senate seat which so many women envy her plainly is only a constant reminder of bereavement to black-gowned, sad-faced little Mrs. Hattie W. Caraway.

He concludes:

The feminist lobby is mightily desirous to exploit the presence of one of their sex as a real voting, debating senator. It is difficult to imagine anyone more indifferent to the honor than Mrs. Hattie W. Caraway.

Historical newspapers are not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors – they also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers.

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What do you have for my town?

Sometimes genealogists look at GenealogyBank‘s 3,700+ newspapers and only focus on newspapers published in their home town.

Beginning researchers often concentrate on their local newspaper or other newspapers published in their state and don’t think they need the rest of the content in GenealogyBank.

When I first began researching 43 years ago – I found an obituary about Edward Kemp (1863-1926) published in the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s Register (NEHGS Memoirs. January 1928. pp. 103-104).

The obituary said that he was born in County Cavan, Ireland. That would have been crucial information for my Kemp research at that time. But the article also said that he was born in New York City so I erroneously concluded this was not my relative. I thought our family was “only” from Stamford, Connecticut.

It would be years later that I would again find Edward’s obituary in the Register. The second time I recognized him immediately as my cousin. By then I knew that the family was from County Cavan – but I stared at that information and wondered – how was it I didn’t find this earlier? And, then I recalled that I had tossed it aside because he was from New York City.

Tip: Families move to other parts of the country. Use GenealogyBank to find your family obituaries; articles, and documents – no matter where in the country these items were published. Don’t assume you only want your hometown newspaper.

Let me give you an example – framed on the basic question researchers often ask – What do you have on Stamford, CT?

The question should be more precise. What do you have on Grace Stewart – who was born and married in Stamford, CT?

What was known?
Her name: Grace Toms
Approximate year/place of birth: born about 1896 in Stamford, CT
Spouse: She married “Charles Stewart”
Other: The rest of the “Toms” family lived/died in the Stamford area.

Initial searches found nothing on them.
Charles Stewart and Grace Stewart are common names.

A search of GenealogyBank for Grace Stewart yielded 1,238 results – that is just too many to sort through to find her.

I narrowed the search to just the more recent America’s Obituaries section to see if I could locate her obituary notice.

That resulted in 143 hits – I could sift through those – but I first limited the search again by state – for just obituaries published in Connecticut newspapers. This time I got zero hits.

So I turned to search for her husband: Charles Stewart.

A search for him in the America’s Obituaries section for all newspapers produced 632 hits. When I limited the search to just CT newspapers I found one hit, but it was not him

I then repeated the America’s Obituaries section search for Grace Stewart but this time I added her middle name “Toms” to the extra search terms in “Include keywords” box.


One more try. I repeated the America’s Obituaries section search for Grace Stewart but this time I added “Stamford” to the extra search terms “Include keywords” box.


Grace Stewart
Washington Post, The (DC) – February 4, 1992
Grace M. Stewart, 93, an associate judge of the Municipal Court in Washington in 1952 and 1953, died of pneumonia Feb. 1 at the Collingswood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rockville, where she was a patient for five years. She was a Washington resident off and on for 74 years.

Mrs. Stewart was appointed to the court after serving as executive assistant in the attorney general’s office. She worked for the Justice Department for 24 years.
After she left Municipal Court, she was on the staff of the Senate District Committee and later became administrative director of the Washington office of Executive Manpower Corp, a recruitment firm. She retired in 1973.

A native of Stamford, Conn., Mrs. Stewart attended American University and its law school. She was a typist with the Veterans Administration before she became a lawyer at Justice.

She belonged to the Federal and Women’s Bar associations and Phi Delta Delta legal fraternity.

Her husband, Charles Stewart, died in 1920. Survivors include two daughters, Barbara S. Eskey of Rockville and Patricia S. de Hoffman of La Jolla, Calif.; four grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Copyright (c) 1992 The Washington Post

Tip: Don’t only concentrate on your home town newspaper. You can find articles about your family published in out of state newspapers – in this case the Washington Post.

Tip: Be sure to be creative in adding/removing search terms to fine tune your search.
Tip: Search GenealogyBank now.
What will you find?