Rebecca Latimer Felton

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Rebecca Latimer Felton
United States Senator
from Georgia
In office
November 21, 1922 – November 22, 1922
Appointed byThomas W. Hardwick
Preceded byThomas E. Watson
Succeeded byWalter F. George
Personal details
Born(1835-06-10)June 10, 1835
Decatur, Georgia, U.S.
DiedJanuary 24, 1930(1930-01-24) (aged 94)
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
NationalityAmerican
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)William H. Felton
Alma materMadison Collegiate Institute and Methodist Female College
 
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Rebecca Latimer Felton
United States Senator
from Georgia
In office
November 21, 1922 – November 22, 1922
Appointed byThomas W. Hardwick
Preceded byThomas E. Watson
Succeeded byWalter F. George
Personal details
Born(1835-06-10)June 10, 1835
Decatur, Georgia, U.S.
DiedJanuary 24, 1930(1930-01-24) (aged 94)
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
NationalityAmerican
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)William H. Felton
Alma materMadison Collegiate Institute and Methodist Female College

Rebecca Ann Latimer Felton (June 10, 1835 – January 24, 1930) was an American writer, lecturer, reformer, and politician who became the first woman to serve in the United States Senate. She was the most prominent woman in Georgia in the Progressive Era, and was honored by appointment to the Senate; she was sworn in on November 21, 1922, and served one day, the shortest serving Senator in U.S. history. At 87 years old, 9 months and 22 days, she was also the oldest freshman senator to enter the Senate. As of 2012, she is also the only woman to have served as a Senator from Georgia. She was a prominent society woman; an advocate of prison reform, women's suffrage and educational modernization; and one of the few prominent women who spoke in favor of lynching.

Contents

Political views and actions

White supremacy

Felton was a white supremacist. She claimed, for instance, that the more money that Georgia spent on black education, the more crimes blacks committed.[1] For the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition, she "proposed a southern exhibit 'illustrating the slave period,' with a cabin and 'real colored folks making mats, shuck collars, and baskets—a woman to spin and card cotton—and another to play banjo and show the actual life of [the] slave—not the Uncle Tom sort.'" She wanted to display "the ignorant contented darky—as distinguished from [Harriet Beecher] Stowe's monstrosities."[2]

Felton considered "young blacks" who sought equal treatment "half-civilized gorillas," and ascribed to them a "brutal lust" for white women.[3] While seeking suffrage for women, she decried voting rights for blacks, arguing that it led directly to the rape of white women.[4]

In 1899, after a massive crowd of white Georgians tortured, mutilated and burned a black man, Sam Hose—who purportedly had killed a white man in self-defense, but had not committed the rape of the white woman whites accused him of—and divided and sold his physical remains as souvenirs, Felton said that any "true-hearted husband or father" would have killed "the beast," and that Hose was due less sympathy than a rabid dog.[5]

Felton also advocated the lynching of black men more generally, saying that such was "elysian" compared to the rape of white women.[6] On at least one occasion, she stated that white Southerners should "lynch a thousand [black men] a week if it becomes necessary" to "protect woman's dearest possession."[7]

Women's suffrage movement

A respected leader in the women's suffrage movement in Georgia, Felton found many opponents in anti-suffragist Georgians such as Mildred Lewis Rutherford. During a 1915 debate with Rutherford and other anti-suffragists before the Georgia legislative committee, the chairman allowed each of the anti-suffragists to speak for forty five minutes, but demanded Felton stop speaking after the alloted half hour. Felton ignored him and spoke for an extra fifteen minutes, at one point making fun of Rutherford and implicitly accusing her of hypocrisy. However, the Georgia legislative committee did not pass the debated women's suffrage bill.[1] Georgia was later the first state to reject the Nineteenth Amendment when it was proposed in 1919, and unlike most states in the Union, Georgia did not allow women to vote in the 1920 presidential election.[2]

Felton criticized what she saw as the hypocrisy of Southern men who boasted of superior Southern "chivalry" but opposed women's rights, and she expressed her dislike of the fact that Southern states resisted women's suffrage longer than other regions of the U.S. She wrote in 1915 that women were denied fair political participation "except in the States which have been franchised by the good sense and common honesty of the men of those States—after due consideration, and with the chivalric instinct that differentiates the coarse brutal male from the gentlemen of our nation. Shall the men of the South be less generous, less chivalrous? They have given the Southern women more praise than the man of the West—but judged by their actions Southern men have been less sincere. Honeyed phrases are pleasant to listen to, but the sensible women of our country would prefer more substantial gifts..."[3]

Senator

Rebecca Felton - desk.jpg

In 1922, Governor Thomas W. Hardwick was a candidate for the next general election to the Senate, when Senator Thomas E. Watson died prematurely. Seeking an appointee who would not be a competitor in the coming special election to fill the vacant seat, and a way to secure the vote of the new women voters alienated by his opposition to the 19th Amendment, Hardwick chose Felton to serve as Senator on October 3, 1922.

Congress was not expected to reconvene until after the election, so the chances were slim that Felton would be formally sworn in as Senator. However, Walter F. George won the special election despite Hardwick's ploy. Rather than take his seat immediately when the Senate reconvened on November 21, 1922, George allowed Felton to be officially sworn in. This was due in part to persuasion by Felton [4][5] and a supportive campaign launched by the women of Georgia.[6] Felton thus became the first woman seated in the Senate, and served until George took office on November 22, 1922, one day later.

Her tenure was the shortest for any Senator in history. She was also the last former slaveowner to serve in the U.S. Senate.[8]

Final years

Felton was engaged as a writer and lecturer and resided in Cartersville, Georgia. She died in Atlanta, Georgia in 1930. She was interred in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Cartersville.[9]

Quotes

See also

References

  1. ^ Leon F. Litwack, Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow, at 100 (Vintage Books 1999).
  2. ^ Id.
  3. ^ Id. at 213.
  4. ^ Id. at 221.
  5. ^ Id. at 282–83.
  6. ^ Id. at 304, 313.
  7. ^ Philip Dray, At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America, at 125 (Modern Library 2003).
  8. ^ http://www.nndb.com/people/329/000112990/
  9. ^ "Mrs . Felton Dies. Appointed for One-Day Term From Georgia, She Said She Hoped to See Women in Senate. Active Almost to the Last, She Had Gone to Atlanta at 94 to Attend to School Business.". New York Times. January 25, 1930. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F40E11F93C5D157A93C7AB178AD85F448385F9. Retrieved February 3, 2009. "Mrs. Rebecca Latimer Felton of Cartersville, a pioneer in the fight for woman's suffrage, for many years a leader in State and national activities and the only woman who ever held a seat in the United States Senate, died at 11:45 o'clock tonight at a local hospital." 

External links

United States Senate
Preceded by
Thomas E. Watson
United States Senator (Class 3) from Georgia
1922
Served alongside: William J. Harris
Succeeded by
Walter F. George
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Chauncey Depew
Oldest living U.S. Senator
April 5, 1928 – January 24, 1930
Succeeded by
Adelbert Ames