One Reporter's Ramblings: A first that seems a little late

One of Monday’s biggest headlines on the national scene was a history-making birth.

Tammy Duckworth of Illinois became the first senator to give birth while in office, prompting enough discussion for it to be the top trending story on Facebook in the early afternoon.

There were many celebrating the event while others down-played its significance. I was fascinated how it only just happened for the first time. 

As someone born in 1983 who only became aware of politics at all in the early 1990s, I honestly couldn’t remember a time when there weren’t women in that branch of government. This prompted a dip into the history of our Senate and the women who served there.

The senate was established in 1787 with its first session on March 4, 1789. At its inception, there were 26 members.

That number grew to 96 (in 1911) before the country would see its first lady sworn in to the group.

Rebecca Latimer Felton was 87 when she was sworn-in on Oct. 3, 1922. The U.S. Senate’s website describes her single day of service as largely symbolic, capping off a life-long career in Georgia politics and journalism.

She said in her only Senate speech: “When the women of the country come in and sit with you, ... you will get ability, you will get integrity of purpose, you will get exalted patriotism, and you will get unstinted usefulness.”

It would take another nine years before the next appointment of a female senator. That woman was Hattie Wyatt Caraway, who took office to fulfill her husband’s term. This would be a common theme of several women senators over the next few decades. Unlike many of them, Caraway was re-elected at the end of that first term, making her the first woman elected to the senate in U.S. history. She served that position until 1945. 

She was joined by Rose MConnell Long of Louisiana, Dixie Bibb Graves of Alaska and Gladys Pyle of South Dakota that decade, but only three women, including Caraway, served the Senate in the 1940s. One, Vera Callahan Bushfield, fulfilled her late husband’s term for three months while the other, Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, served for 24 years (1949 to 1973) and became the first woman to seek a presidential bid in 1964. 

At that time, only she and Maurine Brown Neuberger of Oregon were senators. It really wasn’t until 1992 when the U.S. started seeing several women serving at the same time in terms lasting more than one session.

This fact, coupled with the average age of women in the senate (Duckworth herself is 50), puts some perspective on how this event just now became broken.

I wouldn’t mind if it happened again soon as the Senate can always use some more integrity, patriotism and usefulness.

Paul Gaudette is a staff writer at the Dublin Citizen and can be reached at 445-2515 and report@dublincitizen.com.

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