Georgian was first female senator

Credit: Library of Congress

Credit: Library of Congress

Rebecca Latimer Felton spent a single day in the chamber, back in 1922

Just over two years after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1920, granting women the right to vote, the U.S. Senate saw its first female member. She wasn't there for long.

Rebecca Ann Latimer Felton, born in 1835 in DeKalb County, served for 24 hours.

She was appointed to the office as a political stunt. Georgia Gov. Thomas Hardwick named her after Sen. Thomas E. Watson died in office on Sept. 26, 1922. Hardwick sought the seat for himself and thought appointing the then-87-year-old Felton would endear him to newly enfranchised women voters. It didn't work out, though. Hardwick lost in a special election two weeks later to Walter F. George.

At the end of her one-day term, Felton -- a prolific author whose writings included a homemaking column called "The Country Home" in the Atlanta Journal -- gave a speech expressing gratitude for the opportunity. In the address, she added her certainty that the women coming after her would serve with "ability," "integrity of purpose" and "unstinted usefulness," according to the entry about her in the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Felton was more than just a senatorial seat warmer. A graduate of Madison Female College, she was a close adviser to and speech-writer for her husband, William Felton, during his career in the state Legislature and U.S. Congress. (They met when he gave the commencement address the year she graduated from college, as valedictorian).

While she did strike a chord in the history of women's rights, her views on race were anything but progressive. Born nearly 30 years before the start of the U.S. Civil War, she gave a speech in 1897 expressing virulent views. The biggest problem facing women on the farm was the danger of black rapists," the New Georgia Encyclopedia entry says.

“If it takes lynching to protect women's dearest possession from drunken, ravening beasts, then I say lynch a thousand a week," she said in the 1897 speech.

She is buried in Cartersville's Oak Hill Cemetery, and the Rose Lawn Museum in Cartersville holds a collection of her papers.

On Rebecca Latimer Felton: Senator for a Day