Arkansas House of Representatives
In 1980, when President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week, he wrote “The achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.”
Today our country dedicates the entire month of March to celebrate women’s history. That history would not be the same without the women from Arkansas who broke barriers at home and on the national level. Arkansas was home to trailblazers like Hattie Caraway who was the first woman elected to the United States Senate and Hester Davis who championed national legislation to protect archeological sites.
In 1917, the Arkansas General assembly gave women the right to vote in primary elections. In 1919, Arkansas became the twelfth state in the nation and the second in the South to approve the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote in all elections.
Frances Hunt of Pine Bluff was the first women to serve in the Arkansas legislature. She was appointed by Governor Thomas McRae to fill a vacancy in the House. Later that same year, she and Erle Chamber of Little Rock successfully ran for their respective House seats and won. The two served the next two years together.
Historical documents tell us Rep. Hunt took the lead in Arkansas’s vote to ratify the Child Labor Amendment. Arkansas was the first state to vote for ratification of the amendment which would have allowed Congress to regulate working condition for those under the age of 18.
History also notes Rep. Chambers was the first woman to graduate from the Law Department of the University of Arkansas in 1912. However, women were not allowed to practice law in Arkansas until 1917. Rep. Chambers never practiced law but she did serve two terms in the House where she helped to create a commission to care for the blind and co-sponsored legislation with Rep. Hunt to improve conditions for women and children.
Only 8 other women served in the Arkansas House over the course of the next 30 years.
Today 20 women serve in the Arkansas House. Nationwide, approximately 1,800 women serve in the 50 state legislatures, making up 24.4 % of all state legislators nationwide.
To learn more about the women who made history in our state, follow us this month of March on our social media. You can find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/arkansashouse, on Instagram @arkansashouse and on Twitter @arkansashouse.