For the record, it was Ruth Sears Baker Pratt. And she was a Junior Leaguer.
We realize that the shock and awe of having a woman as a member of Congress is long gone – and that’s a good thing! There are now 82 women in the House of Representatives, including three Delegates, and 20 women in the Senate. Not exactly even, but still substantial.
It wasn’t anything like that in 1928, when Ruth Pratt was elected to serve two terms in the House from the wealthy “Silk Stocking District” in Manhattan.
And even then, Ruth was – as she candidly admitted – an unlikely candidate to be one of the first women in Congress. Elected in 1928 (less than a decade after women received the right to vote in the U.S.) to the first of two terms, she was, by her own definition, a wife and mother first. But she was also a volunteer, committed to the public good, starting with the Junior League of the City of New York.
The result was a legacy of public service.
In 1917, when the U.S. entered World War I, Ruth chaired the city’s Woman’s Liberty Loan Committee, which sold bonds to support the war effort.
In 1918, through an appointment as Vice-chair to a major committee within the Republican Party, Ruth made her first appearance on the national scene.
In 1925, she was elected as the first woman on New York City’s Board of Aldermen (now called the City Council), where she supported major infrastructure projects to support the city’s growth, including a parks commission, tunnels under the East River, and the building of the Triborough Bridge.
In 1928, as a new member of Congress, Ruth was soon in the midst of tumultuous change. She favored repeal of the 18th Amendment and its ban on alcohol, but was not able to persuade her Republican colleagues to back the initiative. As the Depression deepened, she continued to support Republican Herbert Hoover, an unpopular President increasingly overwhelmed by a worsening economy, and even seconded his re-nomination at the 1932 Republican National Convention. Her political career, like Hoover’s, didn’t survive that election.
Even so, Ruth remained active. She was a force in the effort to reshape the Republican Party after its losses in the 1932 Presidential election and the Congressional elections that followed in 1934. She also served as the chair of the organization now known as the National Endowment for the Humanities and later was elected president of the Women’s National Republican Club.
And all of that started with her time as a member of The Junior League!