U.S. Senator Hattie Caraway Gravesite
Located within the Oaklawn Cemetery, is a five-foot monument that marks the grave of United States Senator Hattie Wyatt Caraway (1878-1950), who was the first woman to ever be elected to the U.S. Senate. She was also the first woman to chair a committee in the U.S. Senate and preside over the U.S. Senate. Hattie was married to Thaddeus Caraway, a local politician who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1913-1921 and in the U.S. Senate from 1921-1931. When he died in 1931, Hattie took over the seat and won reelection in 1932 and 1938. She lost in 1944 to William Fulbright. The gravesite was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
Backstory and Context
Hattie Caraway was born on February 1, 1878 in Bakersville, Tennessee and moved with her family to Humphreys County when she was four. She grew up on a farm and her father also operated a store. Despite coming from a relatively poor family, when she was 14, she enrolled in college at Dickinson Normal College, which was a teaching-training school in Tennessee. Her mother's sister, who was wealthy, paid for her education (her sister, Mozella, also attended the school). Caraway graduated in 1896 with a bachelor's degree and a got a job as a teacher in Hickman County, Tennessee. While at college, she met and became engaged to Thaddeus, who studied law and was several years older than her. They got married on February 5, 1902 and eventually had three sons.
They settled in Jonesboro and Thaddeus opened a law practice. Thaddeus became a prominent figure in Arkansas, serving as the prosecuting attorney for the 2nd Judicial District of Arkansas from 1908 to 1912. As noted above, he would go on to serve in the U.S House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sadly, he died at a young age in November 1931 as a result of a blood clot. Governor Harvey Parnell appointed Caraway to finish Thaddeus' term in office, which was set to expire in December the next year. However, she surprised everyone by deciding to run for office in the upcoming general, well aware that she would be breaking ground for women if she won. She announced the decision on May 9, when she was asked to preside over the Senate—the first time a woman had done so—for the vice president who was resting that day.
She received support from her now three grown sons, many residents in Arkansas who were struggling during the Great Depression, and Louisiana Senator Huey Long, who had also served as the governor of the state. Caraway and Long developed a good relationship and he figured he could boost his political standing by supporting her (they campaigned in Arkansas together). Caraway won with more votes than all of the six male candidates combined.
In office, Caraway did not attract attention to herself—she rarely spoke on the Senate floor, which earned her the nickname "Silent Hattie"—but worked hard to support her constituents as best as she could. She was particularly effective in committee meetings, especially in the Agricultural Committee, and did not miss any committee meetings or senate votes. Caraway was a strong supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs and supported his reelection campaign in 1936. However, she did not agree with Roosevelt on everything, including voting against anti-poll tax and anti-lynching legislation in 1938.
Caraway did experience sexism. Other senators often ignored her, including fellow Arkansas Senator Joe T. Robinson. The press also focused their attention on her. Despite these issues, she proved herself a capable politician and won reelection in 1938. By the time she left office in 1945, she earned respect from her fellow male senators, who gave her a standing ovation on her last day.
After her term ended, Caraway served on the U.S. Employees' Compensation Commission from 1945 -1946 and the Employee's Compensation Appeals Board from 1946 until she suffered a stroke in January 1950. She died on December 21 of that year and was buried next to Thaddeus.
Crawford, Julienne. "Hattie Ophelia Wyatt Caraway (1878–1950)." Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Last Updated July 1, 2021. https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/hattie-ophelia-wyatt-caraway-1278.
"Hattie Wyatt Caraway Papers." University of Arkansas. Accessed August 5, 2021. https://uark.as.atlas-sys.com/repositories/2/resources/2276.
Hendricks, Nancy. "Hattie Caraway, the First Woman Elected to the U.S. Senate, Faced a Familiar Struggle With Gender Politics." January 2, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/meet-hattie-caraway-first-woman-elected-us-senate-180973888.
Wilkie, Jason. “U.S. Senator Hattie Caraway Gravesite.” National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. September 20, 2007. http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/!userfiles/CG0245.nr.pdf.
Thomas R Machnitzki, via Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oaklawn_Cemetery_Jonesboro_AR_012.jpg