Not So "Silent" Hattie Caraway

Sep 13, 2017

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Sen. Caraway
Credit New York Times

On this episode of Arts & Letters, we talk with writer, academic and actor Dr. Nancy Hendricks, who sings the praises of the first elected U.S. female Senator, Hattie Caraway  (1878-1950). 

Dr. Nancy Hendricks is the author of Senator Hattie Caraway: An Arkansas Legacy, published by The History Press.  

Hendricks: 

"Hattie Caraway has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. My father knew her during World War II and shared stories of the first woman elected as a US senator, serving from 1932 to 1945. Caraway may have been called 'Silent Hattie' but I knew I wanted to sing her praises.” 

Based on her play, Miz Caraway and the Kingfish, Hendricks was inspired to do a one-woman show some of which is featured in this episode.

Credit The History Press

"Hattie Caraway was born in the rural South in the shadow of the Civil War. She was fifty-four years old when she entered the Senate. For more than a dozen years, she had been one of the most famous women in America. 

"While she famously wore black, she painted her long fingernails bright red. She rarely missed a vote or a committee meeting, did not take time away from the Senate to campaign and started each day reading every word of the Congressional Record." 

Nothing reveals Caraway's tireless and steadfast dedication to help her constituents more than her correspondence. A common saying in Arkansas during the 1930s and '40s was "Write Senator Caraway. She will help you, if she can." 

Hendricks explains Caraway sincerely wanted to help people in troubled times.  She celebrates Caraway as a tireless public servant, determined to learn quickly, who fought her way through the daunting Washington federal bureaucracy to serve the people of Arkansas. 

In 1993, a portrait of Caraway was commissioned for the Senate wing of the US Capitol. This portrait is featured as the cover for Hendrick's book.

The Senator was also featured on a US Postal stamp as part of the Postal Service's Distinguished American's Series in 2001.

Though many of Caraway's papers were not preserved, the legacy of "Silent Hattie" Caraway is celebrated in Hendrick's academic scholarship and her boisterous stage performance of Hattie.

Credit University of Arkansas Libraries

Most of all, The-Not-So “Silent Hattie” Caraway legacy lives on. 

Generous funding for this episode was provided by the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This episode features musicians and song writers Brian Nahlen, The Sisters of Harmony, Amy Jo Savannah, David Ramirez, and Willi Carlisle.

Some music featured in the episode:

Willi Carlisle

  Brian Nahlen


Not So "Silent" Hattie Caraway

Executive Producer & Host:  J. Bradley Minnick

Story Editor: Mary Ellen Kubit

Associate Producer: Adam Simon

Recorded by: Christopher Hickey

Archivist:  Shannon M. Lausch