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Hattie Wyatt Caraway

AKA Hattie Ophelia Wyatt

Born: 1-Feb-1878
Birthplace: Bakerville, TN
Died: 21-Dec-1950
Location of death: Falls Church, VA
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, West Lawn Cemetery, Jonesboro, AR

Gender: Female
Religion: Christian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Politician
Party Affiliation: Democratic

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: First female elected to US Senate

Hattie Wyatt worked for several years as a teacher before marrying her high school sweetheart, Thaddeus Horatius Caraway. He became a lawyer and a US Congressman from 1913-21, then ran for the US Senate, where he served until his death from a blood clot in his heart on 6 November 1931. One week later she was appointed to her husband's seat, and taking office nine years after one-day Senator Rebecca Latimer Felton, she became the first woman to seriously serve in the US Senate. A special election was scheduled for January 1932 to fulfill the remaining months of her husband's term, but the state's Democratic Party was unable to agree on a nominee, and turned to Mrs Caraway as a compromise candidate, on the condition that she agree not to run for the Senate in the November regular election. Pledging to vote in the Senate as her husband would have voted, she won the special election and became the first elected female Senator.

In her first few months in office, she rarely spoke on the Senate floor, earning the nickname "Silent Hattie" and often knitting during debate. As she became more comfortable in the traditionally all-male Senate, she occasionally spoke up, but remained true to her husband's political positions. In several key votes she sided with powerful Louisiana Senator Huey Long against her own state's other Senator and the Democratic Party's ranking member, Joseph T. Robinson. Breaking her promise to party insiders, Caraway decided to run for her seat in the regular election of November 1932, filing her candidacy by special delivery just hours before the deadline, and infuriating Governor Harvey Parnell -- who had appointed her to the Senate, and who planned to run for the Senate seat himself. She toured the state with the widely-loved Senator Long, and with his enthusiastic endorsement she won re-election by a 2-1 margin.

In the Senate she supported Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, and was a reliable vote for what she called "the have-nots and have-littles". On 9 May 1932 she became the first woman to act as the Senate's presiding officer in session, though her authority was brief and informal. In 1933 she chaired the Senate Committee on Enrolled Bills, becoming the first woman to hold the gavel in hearings. She worked to pass the Equal Nationality Treaty of 1934, which gave women certain nationality rights that had been limited previously to men. She opposed the repeal of prohibition, and with virtually all other Southern Senators she voted against anti-poll tax and anti-lynching legislation. In 1938 she was re-elected to a second full term, and on 19 October 1943 she again acted as the Senate's acting president pro tempore, but this time with an official transfer of authority. In 1944 she was defeated by fellow Democrat J. William Fulbright in the primary, and after leaving the Senate she was appointed to a bureaucratic post with the US Employees’ Compensation Commission. In 2001, five decades after her death, she became the first person from Arkansas to appear on a US postage stamp.

Father: William Carroll Wyatt
Mother: Lucy Burch Wyatt
Husband: Thaddeus H. Caraway (US Senator, b. 17-Oct-1871, m. 5-Feb-1902, d. 6-Nov-1931, three sons)
Son: Paul Wyatt Caraway (US Army General, b. 1905, d. 1984)
Son: Forrest Caraway (US Army General, b. 1909)
Son: Robert Easley Caraway

    University: Ebenezer College (attended)
    University: BA, Dickson Normal College, Dickson, TN (1896)

    US Official Employees' Compensation Appeals Board (1946-50)
    US Official United States Employees' Compensation Commission (1945-46)
    US Senator, Arkansas (8-Dec-1931 to 2-Jan-1945)
    Stroke (Jan-1950)
    Paralyzed partially (Jan-1950)

Author of books:
Silent Hattie Speaks: The Personal Journal of Senator Hattie Caraway (1979, memoir)

Appears on postage stamps:
USA, Scott #3431 (76¢, portrait, issued 21-Feb-2001)

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