Harriett Woods

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Harriett Woods
Harriett Woods.jpg
42nd Lieutenant Governor of Missouri
In office
January 14, 1985 – January 9, 1989
GovernorJohn Ashcroft
Preceded byKen Rothman
Succeeded byMel Carnahan
Personal details
Ruth Harriett Friedman

(1927-06-02)June 2, 1927
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
DiedFebruary 8, 2007(2007-02-08) (aged 79)
University City, Missouri, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationUniversity of Michigan (BA)

Ruth Harriett Woods (June 2, 1927 – February 8, 2007) was an American politician and activist, a two-time Democratic nominee for the United States Senate from Missouri, who served as the 42nd Lieutenant Governor of Missouri. She was the first woman elected to statewide office when she was elected Missouri's first, and thus far only, woman Lieutenant Governor.

Life and career[edit]

Born Ruth Harriett Friedman in Cleveland, Ohio, she received her Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from the University of Michigan where she was the first woman to serve as Senior Editor of the Michigan Daily during peacetime.

She married Jim Woods on January 2, 1953 and had three sons. Beginning in the early 1960s, Woods began working as a writer, moderator, producer, and talk show host on local television stations. Her programs covered serious topics such as child abuse, women's issues, civil rights, and the Vietnam War. Her political career began as a member of the University City Council in 1967, where she served for seven years, before being appointed to the Missouri Highway Commission in 1974 by then-Governor Kit Bond.

Woods was first elected to the Missouri State Senate in 1976, becoming the second woman ever elected, and was re-elected in 1980. In 1982, she made a strong bid for the US Senate, running against moderate incumbent Republican John Danforth. Aided by a strong grassroots base that rallied under the slogan, "Give them hell, Harriett!" (a play on a similar slogan used by supporters of another Missourian, Harry S. Truman), Woods built a political presence in the state. Danforth defeated Woods by a mere 26,000 votes, a margin of less than two percent, the closest election of the 1982 election year. Some[who?] have argued that the deciding margin in the campaign was Woods' strong support for abortion rights in a state where many rural voters, and the large Catholic population in the St. Louis area, generally opposed abortion.[1]

In that 1982 election, Harriett Woods carried the rural areas of the state including every county in the southeast part of the state.[2]:659 She also carried the "Little Dixie" area of the state, an area of mid-Missouri traditionally linked to southern, more conservative, political views, along with the heavily Democratic Kansas City area.[2]:656, 659

However, she had problems in some traditionally Democratic areas as she lost St. Louis County to Danforth, despite the fact that she lived and worked as a television producer and newspaper reporter in University City, a suburb of St. Louis.[2]:659 Danforth was also from the St. Louis area.[2]:661 Using her skills as a journalist and former television producer and personality, Harriett Woods was able to communicate her message effectively over television.[2]:661 After trailing Danforth in some polls by more than fifty points after the primary, by mid-October, she was running dead even in the polls with the more widely known, and heavily financed incumbent—Danforth (grandson of William Danforth, the founder of Ralston-Purina and the Danforth Foundation). Her narrow loss, by a mere 26,000 votes, was the closest of the 1982 election year.

Another important reason for Hariett Woods' narrow loss was the fact that she was outspent ($1,849,025 for Danforth and $1,193,966 for Woods) with almost half of her total coming in the last few weeks of the campaign, too late to allow for the purchase of substantial media. As a result, Woods ran out of money during the latter stages of the campaign, forcing her to pull her very effective television ads for an entire week.[2]:659–662 Nationwide, publicity over the narrow loss of a candidate who, with a little more money might have been the first woman ever elected Senator from the State of Missouri, led to the creation of the political action committee called Emily's List in 1985 ("Early Money is Like Yeast") [3]

In 1984, Woods ran for the office of Lieutenant Governor. She succeeded in her bid, even as voters elected Republican John Ashcroft as Governor and as Ronald Reagan carried Missouri on his way to a 49-state re-election victory. Woods thus became the first woman elected to statewide office in Missouri.

In 1986, she once again was chosen as the Democratic nominee for the Senate, this time running against former Governor Kit Bond for the seat being vacated by retiring Senator Thomas A. Eagleton. In another tight race, Woods lost by a three-point margin. She continued to serve as Lieutenant Governor until 1989.

After her retirement she remained prominent, especially as an activist for women in politics. From 1991 to 1995, she was president of the National Women's Political Caucus. In 1999, she was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[4] She also taught classes on gender and politics at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, Pace University, and Hunter College. Woods was inducted into the St. Louis Hall of Fame in 1999. In January 2001, she joined other Missouri Democrats to oppose the nomination of John Ashcroft for U.S. Attorney General.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "St. Louis Research Center - The State Historical Society of Missouri". www.umsl.edu. Retrieved 4 August 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Michael Barone & Grant Ujifusa Almanac of American Politics 1984 (National Journal: Washington, District of Columbia, 1983) p. 659.
  3. ^ Patricia Sullivan, "Harriet Woods: Inspired Creation of Emily's List" (Washington Post, February 10, 2007).
  4. ^ St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". stlouiswalkoffame.org. Archived from the original on 2 February 2013. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2006-06-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Warren Hearnes
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Missouri
(Class 1)

Succeeded by
Jay Nixon
Preceded by
Bill Clinton
Bob Graham
Tip O'Neill
Response to the State of the Union address
Served alongside: Tom Daschle, Bill Gray, George Mitchell, Chuck Robb
Succeeded by
Robert Byrd
Jim Wright
Preceded by
Thomas Eagleton
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Missouri
(Class 3)

Succeeded by
Geri Rothman-Serot
Political offices
Preceded by
Ken Rothman
Lieutenant Governor of Missouri
Succeeded by
Mel Carnahan