“You know she’s in her fifties though, right?” – Sen. Arthur Vandenberg to an overly optimistic Sen. Edwin Broussard, as the two discussed the arrival of the newly elected Hattie Caraway, the country’s first female senator.
Edwin S. Broussard had been involved in politics since he was a boy, where he participated enthusiastically in school government for the same reason anyone does: to meet and impress girls. In his day, as in ours, the so-called student leaders were simply powerless overachievers looking to pass off weak social lives as a passion for “extracurricular activities.” And true to form, Broussard met his female counterpart, a pretty but rather prudish young woman named Marie Patout, and married her at the age of 29. However, being the overachiever that he was, the handsome Broussard continued to engage in widespread “gerrymandering” with a variety of young ladies about the spirited town of New Orleans. So it was for several years until his philandering came to a brief halt when, in 1930, the charismatic son of Louisiana was elected in a special vote to finish the term of his departed brother Robert. After being sworn in, the surprisingly naïve Broussard discovered, much to his chagrin, that there were no women in the Senate. “They’ve had the vote for ten years…what the hell are they doing with it?” he wrote in his journal, which has remained largely unpublished by his heirs due to the lascivious accounts of the Senator’s extensive “pork barreling.”
Close friend, confidante, and crossword puzzle enthusiast Arthur Vandenberg, an upstanding senator from Michigan, knew that there were no women present in the senate. However, in keeping with his strict isolationist views, he had not told Broussard in the hope that serving a term in Washington, away from the temptations of New Orleans, would help rehabilitate his friend.
However, as we know from the great John Steinbeck (who when it came to the ladies was himself quite the “bindlestiff”), even “the best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry.”* Few people, and certainly not the conservative-minded Vandenberg, foresaw the entry of “Foxy” Hattie Caraway into the Senate, even though it was known that her husband struggled with the perpetual and hilarious affliction known as “rickets.” Indeed, it seemed that while the rest of the esteemed Senators saw her as this, the impassioned Broussard saw only this. Even after the newspapers dubbed her “Silent Hattie” and wrote that she was akin to “an old grandmother”, Broussard would often entertain the smoke-filled backrooms of the Senate with lewd fantasies of “riding her coattails” to the White House. (These same unpleasantly vivid stories would ultimately prompt Vandenberg’s inquiry above.)
As for Caraway, very little light has been shed on her opinion of Broussard, or even on whether or not the two ever met in private. However, it is known that they often ate lunch together at the Senate cafeteria, where Caraway also worked part-time as a waitress in keeping with her obligations as a woman. And though there are no descriptions of their conversations, the personal correspondence of the cafeteria manager reveals that Broussard was “ever the gentlemen” around Caraway, always pulling out her chair for her and even spoon-feeding her the “various gelatins and puddings that were suitable for a woman of her advanced age”, presumably as they posed little risk of choking.
It remains unknown whether or not the old boy ever managed to “win her seat”, as he died very shortly thereafter in 1933 at the age of 59.
*Steinbeck borrowed the title for his novella from a verse in a poem by Robert Burns, whose fanciful ideas about rodents and human beings would later nebulously adapted into the popular children’s series Redwall, by author Brian Jacques.
History may repeat itself, but that doesn’t mean I have to, although I did say that last week. Tune in next week for an all-new “This Day in Revisionist History!”