Hattie Wyatt Caraway, 1878-1950

  • Hattie-Wyatt-Caraway-WWP

Woman Category: Politics & LeadersWoman Tags: Senator

  • HerStory

    The first woman elected to serve a full term as a US Senator, representing Arkansas, and the first woman to chair a Senate committee.

    Hattie Wyatt was born and raised in rural Tennessee. As a kid, she worked on the family farm and general store. Though her family did not have the means, she received higher education with the help of her aunt’s fortune. She attended Ebenezer College, and at 14, she transferred to Dickson Normal College, receiving her B.A degree at 18. After graduation, she worked as a teacher for several years until she married Thaddeus Caraway, and the couple moved to Jonesboro, Arkansas. There, Caraway took care of the household and children while her husband practiced law and became involved in politics.
    In 1912, her husband was elected to the United States House of Representatives and then as Senator for Arkansas. When he died unexpectedly in 1931, 53 years old Caraway was appointed to fill his seat, becoming the second woman seated in the US Senate. In the following month, when she won the special elections, she became the first woman elected to the Senate. Within a few months in Senate, she achieved another “first” – the first woman to preside over the Senate. Upon the 1932 elections, she announced her intentions of running for a full term. She won the general elections, becoming the first woman elected to serve a full term as a US Senator.
    In Senate, Caraway supported Roosevelt’s New Deal, including veterans and organized labor, she apposed isolationism, and was a member of various committees, including Commerce, Agriculture, and Forestry, and Enrolled Bills and Library, in which she served as the chair. In the 1938 election, she became the first woman re-elected to the Senate. During WW2, she encouraged women to contribute to the war effort.
    In 1944, she lost the re-election at the age of 66 and vacated her seat after 14 years in Senate. Afterward, she was appointed by Roosevelt to the Employees’ Compensation Commission, and two years later, she was assigned by President Truman to the Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board, on which she served until 1950 after suffering a stroke. She passed away that year, at the age of 72.

    “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.”

    “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.”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She had three children, her eldest son, Paul Wyatt Caraway, was a general in the US Army.
    • Her 1932 primary campaign forged the creation of the Arkansas Women’s Democratic Club.
    • In Senate, she got the nickname “Silent Hattie” because she spoke on the floor only 15 times in her 14 years of service.
    • She used to sit in the Senate chamber reading or knitting while she is listening to the speeches.
    • In 1938 she joined a filibuster against the administration’s anti-lynching bill.
    • In 1943, she was the first woman legislator to cosponsor the Equal Rights Amendment.
    • During her tenure in Senate, there were never more than two women in position at the same time.
    • On her last day in Senate, she received a standing ovation from her all-male colleagues.
    • Her gravesite at Oaklawn Cemetery in Jonesboro, Arkansas, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2007.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * Inducted into Arkansas Women's Hall of Fame (2015)

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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Woman Tags: Senator

    Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame: Hattie Caraway

    Her nickname may have been “Silent Hattie,” but when Sen. Caraway spoke, her voice was loud and clear.

    Find out how Hattie Caraway became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate — as well as the first to preside over the Senate, chair a Senate committee and preside over a Senate hearing — in this Arkansas Women's Hall of Fame #WinningWomenWednesday feature.

    AETN’s digital-first series highlights the outstanding inductees of the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame every Wednesday afternoon. Learn more about the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame at arwomenshalloffame.com.

  • Caraway in 1940. Photo credit - Harris & Ewing, photographer @ LOC