The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

November 21, 2013

November 21, 1922

The last slaveholder, and the first woman, to serve as Senator in the US Congress was one and the same: Rebecca Latimer Felton (June 10, 1835 to January 24, 1930).  When the senator from Georgia, Tom Watson, died unexpectedly in 1922, his office was filled by an appointment that was meant to be symbolic rather than effective. This is because Watson died when Congress was out of session, and there was time for an election to fill his seat before the next session started. That appointment was Felton.

Rebecca Latimer Felton's views reflected her class and historical era. Her book Country Life in Georgia in the Days of My Youth (1919) makes for painful reading today. She was however a suffragette, and was a dynamic and articulate spokesperson for her times.

Here is Felton on prohibition. She was living in Cartersville, Georgia at the time, and we quote from a letter to the newspaper, dated, Oct. 27, 1898.
"Is it right for a church member to sell whisky in a dispensary, under the conditions existing at Athens?"....[As a] humble member of the Methodist church, and an old fashioned temperance woman, I do not think I could be induced to sell intoxicants to anybody, were the salary much larger than such a traffic affords in the city of Athens [Georgia]..... a traffic that makes madmen of those who drink intoxicants—women-beaters and child-starvers, I feel safe in saying is an unenviable profession...

My astonishment was great when I read of the united action of the churches in Athens in favor of an open liquor shop, ....But a cold chill of apprehension passed over me when Manager Johnson declared that the "best ladies" in the city were his patrons, and said they called in person to purchase..... Perhaps Manager Johnson was misrepresented in this strange declaration, for Senator Turner disclaims the Athens dispensary bill, and says his bill no more resembled the Athens affair "than a house cat does a Bengal tiger."

I am a true, loyal friend to the university, but I think the hardest blow ever leveled at its progress was this open legalized dispensary in the public streets of Athens. Newton county voted out barrooms for the sake of Emory college. Bibb is now struggling in behalf of Mercer; but Athens with fatuous indifference to public sentiment, has opened a liquor shop with a new name right under the shadow of the time-honored State University, and forsooth, brings it forward as chaperoned by preachers and church members!.....

[Elsewhere Felton writes, from a state which would  soon vote against amending the constitution for prohibition OR women's suffrage:] The "New Woman" is often criticised.... [But we] belong to a womanhood like our mothers did, which was never bought and sold for a European title, or made a millionaire's plaything to be treated like a pet cat—fed on cream and [to] purr in idleness. We come of a race who shirked no danger, nor cowered in fear. These women of our blood stood side by side with their mates when it was considered treason to the King to sign the oath of Allegiance to Independance in 1776-78. It can never be dishonorable to unfurl the banner of freedom in a free country....

Rebecca Felton wrote the above in 1915. Her husband had been a Congressman and died in 1909.  There is a touching tribute to her collies in the book we reference.  The first woman sworn into the United States Senate -- and the last slaveholder -- Rebecca Felton, swore her oath in Washington on November 21, 1922. Her term lasted one day. 

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