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
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
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
||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.
|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).
||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.
|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!"
||Addressing the Democratic National
Convention in Chicago, 1956. Gracie Pfost was a delegate to the
every Democratic national convention from 1944 through 1960. (Photo
|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.
||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.
|Cub Scout Den 614 from Alexandria, Virginia,
meets Gracie Pfost in her office on Capitol Hill, 1959. (Photo
||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)