First Female U.S. Senator, Region 8 Native

January 12, 2007 - Posted at 6:29 p.m. CST

JONESBORO, AR -- She maintained a "housewife" image and made no speeches on the floor of the senate, earning the nickname "Silent Hattie."

Jonesboro resident Hattie Caraway became the first female U.S. Senator 75 years ago Friday...and she may have laid the groundwork for women in politics. Caraway was appointed to her husband's senate seat after his death in 1932...becoming the first woman elected to the United States Senate.

"After he died she was put in as a place holder, which was a very common thing, especially for politicians, southern politicians.  but then she decided rather then just holding the seat until a "better man" was essentially put up for the job, she decided to run in her own right," said Dr. Sarah Wilkerson-Freeman, associate professor of history at Arkansas State.

Fellow Senator Huey P. Long from Louisiana worked to get her elected.  From there - she built a reputation for integrity.

"I think she was looked at as the exception that proved the rule really for quiet some time," said Wilkerson-Freeman, "But historically, I think she had much  more of an impact than she has been given credit for because of the way she operated was different from how the men generally operated.  She was quieter about it but very effective, what I would call a sort of stealth politician."

Dr. Wilkerson-Freeman offers no predictions on the next presidential election but hopes prejudice won't outweigh performance...something caraway may have laid the groundwork for.

"Her job was not to aggrandize herself or get power for herself, for powers sake but for public service, for the sake of her constituents and I think if we return more to that emphasis in politics and government, I think we are more likely to see more advances for women," said Wilkerson-Freeman.

Caraway died in 1950 and is buried in the Oaklawn Cemetery here in Jonesboro.