Georgia steadfastly opposed women’s suffrage, so no one ever expected the first woman in the U.S. Senate to be from Georgia. But that’s what happened on this day in 1922.
Rebecca Latimer was born in 1835 near Decatur. She married William Felton and was actively involved in his political career as a state legislator and congressman. Rebecca staunchly promoted progressive reforms like temperance, women’s rights, and ending the convict lease syste, but she was equally outspoken in her prejudice against blacks and Jews, and she supported child labor and lynching. She famously said in an 1897 speech that if it took lynching to protect white women from black men “then I say lynch a thousand a week.”
When Senator Tom Watson died in office, Gov. Thomas Hardwick, in a symbolic gesture, appointed the 87-year-old Rebecca Felton to fill Watson’s seat until a special election could be held. Walter George won, but allowed Felton to present her credentials before claiming his seat.
Felton served 24 historic hours as the first woman in the U.S. Senate on November 21, 1922, Today in Georgia History.
Today in Georgia History is a joint collaboration of the Georgia Historical Society & Georgia Public Broadcasting.