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In Brief

Hattie Caraway: First Woman Elected to U.S. Senate

26 January 2012

Studio portrait of Hattie Caraway in 1914 (Library of Congress)

In 1932, Hattie Caraway became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. She was appointed to fill a seat vacated by her late husband, Senator Thaddeus Caraway of Arkansas, and then won a special election. She also ran for re-election and won two more terms.

In the first half of the 20th century, American women made breakthroughs in fields outside their traditional roles as wives and mothers. One was Hattie Caraway (1878–1950), the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. Her husband, Thaddeus, had been a senator from Arkansas for 11 years, but when he died unexpectedly in 1931, the governor appointed Hattie to the seat. She won a special election for the remaining months of the term.

Hattie surprised everyone by running for re-election. She served two terms. She was the first female senator to preside over the Senate and to chair a committee.

Nicknamed "Silent Hattie," she built a reputation for integrity. A Democrat, she supported President Franklin Roosevelt and New Deal legislation on behalf of veterans and organized labor. In the 1940s, she co-sponsored the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. She left the Senate in 1945, after being defeated by William Fulbright.