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Gracie Pfost




Illustrating the career of
Gracie Bowers Pfost,
the first woman elected to Congress from the State of Idaho



Born in Arkansas in 1906, Gracie Bowers Pfost grew up in the Boise Valley, was first elected treasurer of Canyon County in 1940, and then to Congress  in 1952, representing Idaho's First District in Washington for ten years.  She gave up her seat in Congress to wage an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1962. Gracie Pfost died in 1965.

Photo 54019 from the Gracie Pfost Collection at Boise State University

In 1998, Gracie Pfost's sister, Pearl Mabe, gave Boise State University Library three boxes of memorabilia documenting Representative Pfost's political career.  The collection was organized and cataloged by the Special Collections Department, where it is housed as MSS 175 in Albertsons Library.  A finding aid with a brief biographical sketch can be found elsewhere on the Special Collections website. The photos and memorabilia below come from the Gracie Pfost collection at Boise State University. 

Click on the images or photo numbers for larger reproductions

With more than a decade's worth of experience working in the Canyon County courthouse, Pfost successfully ran as a Democrat for the post of County Treasurer in 1940.  She served in that position until 1950.  This is one of her campaign cards from the 1940 campaign. A strong supporter of the miners' and loggers' labor unions that were a vital part of the Democratic coalition in Idaho, she featured the union label on her campaign literature. (Box 1, Folder 1)

To familiarize voters of the First District with the pronunciation of her name, Gracie Pfost featured a drawing of a fence post on this campaign card from her first Congressional campaign in 1950.  She was unsuccessful in her initial bid for Congress, but in a rematch, defeated the incumbent in 1952. One of the largest districts in the nation, the First District covered all of Western Idaho, from Owyhee County to the Canadian border. (Box 1, Folder 11)

Gracie Pfost, Member of Congress (she eschewed the term Congresswoman), is pictured here with the Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, in 1953, on the occasion of her maiden speech before the House of Representatives. (Photo 53028)

Among Gracie Pfost's constituents in the sprawling First Congressional District were the Native American tribes of North Idaho.  She is pictured here in 1954 with a delegation of tribal leaders. Seated left to right are Joseph Blackeagle (Nez Perce), Joseph R. Garry (Coeur d'Alene), and Representative Pfost; standing are Harrison Lott, Sam Slickapoo, and Frank Penney (Nez Perce).  (Photo 54015)

The construction of a high dam on the Snake River in Hell's Canyon was one of the most contentious issues in Idaho politics during the 1950s.  The question was not whether the dam should be built, but who was to own and operate it: the federal government or Idaho Power Company.  Gracie Pfost was a strong proponent of a federally-built dam, so much so that she earned the nickname, "Hell's Belle."  She is pictured here with H.T. Nelson of the Bureau of Reclamation and Congressmen Wayne Aspinall and George P. Miller at Eagle Bar in Hell's Canyon in 1955. (Photo 55017)

During her first reelection campaign in 1954, Gracie Pfost participated in a log rolling contest in Orofino, Idaho.  She touted her reelection and support of the Hell's Canyon project with the slogan "For a good dam job!" (Photo 54010)

Addressing the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, 1956.  Gracie Pfost was a delegate to the every Democratic national convention from 1944 through 1960.  (Photo 56012)

Gracie Pfost on the stump in 1956.  Democratic Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson looks on.  Pfost's Republican opponent in the 1956 campaign was Louise Shadduck of Coeur d'Alene, marking the first time two women faced each other in a Congressional election in Idaho. (Photo 56007)

Gracie Pfost (third from left) and other women members of Congress pose before a statue of early women's suffrage leaders in the U.S. Capitol in 1961.  Kept for seventy-six years on the lower level of the Capitol, the statue of Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was moved up to the Rotunda in 1997. (Photo 61016)

Cub Scout Den 614 from Alexandria, Virginia, meets Gracie Pfost in her office on Capitol Hill, 1959.  (Photo 59053)

In 1962, Gracie Pfost decided to run for the U.S. Senate. She is pictured here with Senator Frank Church, one of her ardent supporters.  She lost that campaign to former Governor Len B. Jordan, who had recently been appointed to the vacant Senate seat. The Senatorial records of both Republican Len Jordan and Democrat Frank Church are preserved in Albertsons Library at Boise State University. (Photo 62051

The cover of Gracie Pfost's 1962 Senatorial campaign brochure. Among the issues she advocated were a strong national defense, more access roads in Idaho's timber lands, building of the lower Snake River dams, school milk programs, and a hike in the minimum wage. (Box 2, Folder 6)

A delegate to every Democratic National Convention between 1944 and 1960, Gracie Pfost was invited to Washington for one of the dinners celebrating the inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945.  The cover of her dinner program bears the autographs of entertainer Bob Hope, his sidekick Jerry Colonna, and actress Frances Langford, as well as U.S. Senator Glen Taylor of Idaho. (Box 1, Folder 7)

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