Hattie Caraway's legacy as the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate has roots in her former residence at Riversdale, which has turned from a private manor that housed notable former members of Congress into Riversdale House Museum.
To commemorate the 70th anniversary of Caraway's election to the Senate, the museum has created an exhibit, "A Woman's Place Is in the Senate," open tomorrow through Nov. 3.
"The exhibit features a number of photographs and the story of how Hattie Caraway came to be in the Senate," said Ann Wass, history and museum specialist. The one-room exhibit displays two dozen photos of Caraway culled from various sources, including the Library of Congress, the National Archives and newspapers from the early 1900s. One pictures her in the gardens at her Riversdale abode, which she owned for a short time.
Wass spent the summer learning about Caraway by talking to scholars and researching documents about Caraway's life at Riversdale House, on the campaign trail and in office.
"I knew the basic story of the campaign but didn't really know a lot about her Senate career until this summer," Wass said. "I've beaten the bushes to find information and photographs."
The text accompanying the photographs and map of Arkansas tracing Caraway's campaign trail through cities there comes from Wass's research and includes quotes from Caraway's personal diary.
One of the most interesting parts of Caraway's story, Wass said, is that "she kept a journal and was very frank in her observations of what she said about her fellow Senate members."
Known among her peers as "Silent Hattie," for speaking seldom during congressional sessions, Caraway wrote in her diary that her male colleagues talked too much.
The diary is on display along with her dressing table, donated by her son, Paul.
Caraway (1878-1950) and her husband, Thaddeus Horatius Caraway, moved into Riversdale House in the late 1920s, when Thaddeus Caraway was a Democratic senator from Arkansas. In 1931, he died unexpectedly after being reelected.
In December 1931, Arkansas Gov. Harvey Parnell appointed Caraway to her husband's seat, and she won a special election on Jan. 12, 1932.
Because she couldn't afford to keep up payments, Caraway sold Riversdale House in June 1932 to Abraham W. Lafferty, a former U.S. representative from Oregon.
Lafferty was the last private owner of the house. He sold it to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which later turned the five-part, stucco-covered brick plantation home into a National Historic Landmark. Hiram W. Johnson, a former senator from California, lived in the house before Lafferty and Caraway.
Arkansans elected Hattie Caraway to the Senate twice more after 1932, and she served until January 1945, a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. Caraway's work in the Senate is represented at the museum exhibit through newspaper articles and historical summaries accompanying photos.
"The most outstanding thing about Caraway is that several people in Arkansas wanted her husband's seat, and nobody thought she'd run again," Wass said. "Meanwhile, Huey Long was elected to the Senate, took an interest in Hattie Caraway and helped her campaign. We have great quotes from Long next to great photos of them rolling into cities with their big entourage."
"A Woman's Place Is in the Senate" is open from noon to 4 p.m. Fridays and Sundays at Riversdale House Museum, 4811 Riverdale Rd., Riverdale. Admission includes a guided tour. $3; senior citizens and students, $2; children, $1; 4 and younger, free. 301-864-0420.