Gracie Pfost

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Gracie Pfost
Graciepfost.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Idaho's 1st district
In office
January 3, 1953 – January 3, 1963
Preceded by John T. Wood
Succeeded by Compton White, Jr.
Personal details
Born Grace Bowers
(1906-03-12)March 12, 1906
Harrison, Arkansas
Died August 11, 1965(1965-08-11) (aged 59)
Baltimore, Maryland
Resting place Meridian Cemetery
Meridian, Idaho
Nationality United States
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) John Walter "Jack" Pfost
(1883–1961)
(m. 1923–1961, his death)[1]
Children none
Residence Nampa
Profession Realtor
Religion Methodist

Gracie Bowers Pfost (March 12, 1906 – August 11, 1965) was the first woman to represent Idaho in the United States Congress, serving five terms as a Democrat in the House of Representatives. Pfost represented the state's 1st district from 1953 to 1963.[2][3]

Early years[edit]

Born in an Ozark Mountain log cabin in Harrison, Arkansas, Pfost was five when her parents moved to a farm near Boise, Idaho, in 1911. One of five siblings, she quit Meridian High School at 16 in 1922 and worked as a milk analyst at a dairy in Nampa. The next year she married her supervisor, Jack Pfost, who was more than twice her age. She later graduated from Link's Business College[4] in Boise in 1929.

Pfost entered politics in Canyon County; she held several positions in county government between 1929 and 1951, including deputy county clerk, auditor, recorder of deeds, and county treasurer. She also served as an Idaho delegate to all Democratic National Conventions between 1944 and 1960. The Pfosts ran a real estate business in the 1940s and into the 1950s.

Congress[edit]

In 1950, Pfost ran for Congress and won the Democratic nomination over Harry Wall of Lewiston, but narrowly lost to Republican John Travers Wood, a physician from Coeur d'Alene. In 1952, she defeated former eight-term Congressman Compton White, Sr. of Clark Fork in the Democratic primary[5] and unseated Wood in another close general election. Pfost was reelected in 1954, 1956, 1958, and 1960. The "Hell's Belle" of Congress, she was a moderately liberal Democrat, who earned her nickname in her first year, fighting for a large federal dam on the Snake River in Hells Canyon. After years of debate,[6] the single high dam was ultimately defeated and built as a three-dam complex (Brownlee, Oxbow, Hells Canyon) by the local private utility, Idaho Power.[3][7][8]

U.S. House elections (Idaho's 1st district): Results 1950–1960
Year Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct
1950 Gracie Pfost 41,040 49.5% John T. Wood 41,823 50.5%
1952 Gracie Pfost 54,725 50.3% John T. Wood (inc.) 54,134 49.7%
1954 Gracie Pfost (inc.) 50,214 54.9% Erwin Schwiebert 41,293 45.1%
1956 Gracie Pfost (inc.) 60,170 55.1% Louise Shadduck 48,974 44.9%
1958 Gracie Pfost (inc.) 60,083 62.4% A.B. Curtis 36,178 37.6%
1960 Gracie Pfost (inc.) 68,863 60.4% Thomas A. Leupp 45,166 39.6%

Source:[9]

Run for Senate[edit]

Though her House seat was considered secure, the death of Henry Dworshak in July 1962 prompted Pfost to run for his seat in the U.S. Senate.[10] She was the Democratic nominee in the special election,[11] but was narrowly defeated 51%-49% by the appointed Republican incumbent, former Governor Len Jordan.[12] The election took place shortly after the Cuban missile crisis of late October. Pfost's congressional seat was won by six points by Democrat Compton White, Jr. of Clark Fork, the 31-year old namesake son of the late eight-term congressman. Idaho's other House seat also went to young Democrat, as Ralph Harding of Blackfoot, age 33, won a second term. Idaho's other U.S. Senate seat (class 3) was also on the ballot, with 38-year old Democrat Frank Church of Boise re-elected to the second of four terms. Through 2012, Dworshak's seat (class 2), earlier held by William Borah, has been continuously held by Republicans for over sixty years, since 1949. Idaho has yet to elect a woman to the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Senate elections in Idaho (Class II): Results 1962 (special)
Year Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct
1962 Gracie Prost 126,398 49.1% Len B. Jordan 131,279 50.9%

Source:[9]

Death[edit]

After leaving the House in 1963, Pfost remained in Washington and worked in the Federal Housing Administration as a special assistant on housing for the elderly. She was hospitalized in Washington with pneumonia in October[13] and a few months later at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.[14] Later diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, Pfost was admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital several times in 1965,[15] and died there on August 11 at age 59.[2][16]

Pfost's husband Jack (1883–1961) died of a heart attack four years earlier, at her Washington office during her last term in Congress.[1] They did not have children and are buried at Meridian Cemetery in Meridian, Idaho,[17] near her parents, William L. and Lily E. Wood Bowers, and other family members.[18]

References[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

  1. ^ a b "John W. Pfost dead at Capital". Lewiston Morning Tribune. July 7, 1961. p. 1. 
  2. ^ a b Hewlett, Frank (August 12, 1965). "Ex-legislator Mrs. Pfost dead at 59". Spokesman-Review. p. 1. 
  3. ^ a b Hamilton, Ladd (July 3, 1990). "The Hell's Belle of Congress took care of the folks at home". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (reprinted editorial from 1965). p. 10-centennial. 
  4. ^ "Link's Business College". Gem of the Mountains, University of Idaho yearbook. advertisement. 1929. p. 433. 
  5. ^ Leeright, Bob (August 13, 1952). "Gracie Pfost and John Wood win nominations". Lewiston Morning Tribune. p. 1. 
  6. ^ "Tax writeoff for Idaho Power stirs protest". Modesto Bee. Associated Press. Apr 30, 1957. p. 9. 
  7. ^ Coffey, George (July 23, 1957). "Hells Canyon Dam dead, mourners delaying funeral". Bend Bulletin. UPI. p. 8. 
  8. ^ "Idaho Power - About Us - Our Company". Retrieved December 2, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b "Office of the Clerk: Election statistics". U.S. House of Representatives. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Pfost candidate for vacant seat in Senate". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press. August 2, 1962. p. 1. 
  11. ^ Day, Sam (August 19, 1962). "Demos pick Pfost, White for Senate, House races". Lewiston Morning Tribune. p. 1. 
  12. ^ "Gracie Pfost still has ambitions in politics". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. November 10, 1962. p. 6. 
  13. ^ "Ex-Rep. Pfost still improving". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. November 12, 1963. p. 2. 
  14. ^ "Grace Pfost in hospital". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press. January 14, 1964. p. 1. 
  15. ^ "Gracie resting". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Associated Press. March 15, 1965. p. 7. 
  16. ^ "Mrs Gracie Pfost, ex-Idaho solon, dies". Deseret News. August 11, 1965. p. 2A. 
  17. ^ "Rites held for husband of Mrs. Pfost". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. July 11, 1961. p. 6. 
  18. ^ "William Layfette "Fate" Bowers". Find a Grave. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John T. Wood
United States House of Representatives, Idaho First Congressional District
January 5, 1953–January 3, 1963
Succeeded by
Compton White, Jr.
Party political offices
Preceded by
R. F. Bob McLaughlin
Democratic Party nominee, U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Idaho
1962 special (lost)
Succeeded by
Ralph R. Harding