A Brief History
On January 3, 1933, history was made in North Dakota when Minnie D. Craig became the Speaker of the State House of Representatives. As such, Craig became the first female speaker of any House of Representatives in the United States, an entire 74 years before Nancy Pelosi was selected for that position at the national level!
As Speaker during the time of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, she had a difficult 2 years. An activist, she encouraged women to participate in the political process. In all, Craig served six consecutive sessions in the North Dakota state legislature from 1923 til the end of her term as Speaker in 1935. Following her stint in the House of Representatives, she became the area administrator for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal plan to help the nation recover from drought and the Great Depression. She later moved to California and then back to her birth state of Maine where she died in 1966.
Another milestone reached by a female politician on January 3 was in 1953 when Frances P. Bolton and Oliver Bolton, both of Ohio, became the first ever mother and son to both serve in the U.S. House of Representatives at the same time. Preceded in her district by her husband who had died midterm in 1939, Frances served in Congress from 1940 to 1969. Representing the eastern suburbs of Cleveland, she served 14 terms, whereas her son Oliver only served 3. Together mother and son appeared on the television show What’s My Line.
Born in Cleveland, Frances Bolton was a feisty Republican and an isolationist who opposed the military draft and Lend-Lease, the program in which the U.S. supplied the Allies with food and materials, and advocated that the U.S. stay out of World War II. During that war, she supported the desegregation of the military nursing corps.
Frances is also significant for other firsts for female politicians: she was the first woman ever to be elected to Congress from Ohio; and she was also the first woman in Congress to lead an international delegation. In her case it was to Africa where she traveled to extensively, meeting not just with the great and powerful but with the common people as well. Her visits and research led her to advocate for a Bureau of African Affairs to be created in the State Department.
H&H Facts: Frances was the oldest woman to serve in Congress until that record was broken in 2012. Her family home was named “Franchester” after her and her husband Chester. Her foundation, The Bolton Fellowship, supports research into parapsychology. The nursing school at Case-Western Reserve University bears her name.
These accomplished women moved out from the shadow of men to take a leading role in the politics of their day and helped blaze the trail for the active and socially conscious women who followed them. Today, we are on the eve of the realistic possibility that a woman may be elected president of the United States. If that happens, I predict History and Headlines will feature an article about it!
Question for students (and subscribers): Who is your favorite female politician? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Loth, David. A Long Way Forward: The Biography of Congresswoman Frances P. Bolton. Literary Licensing, LLC, 2013.