In 1932, the campaign called a “circus hitched to a tornado” roared across Arkansas led by Huey Long and Arkansas’ own Hattie Caraway, the first woman elected to the United States Senate. More than 80 years later, “Hattie” will appear in The Mirror Room at McAlister Hall on the University of Central Arkansas campus on Thursday, March 6, from noon to 2 p.m. The event is free and open to all faculty, staff, students and community members, with ‘brown bag’ lunches welcome.
Hattie will be portrayed by Caraway scholar and writer Dr. Nancy Hendricks in her signature role. Along with appearing nationwide in character as Hattie, Hendricks is the author of a new book, “Senator Hattie Caraway: An Arkansas Legacy,” which takes a fresh look at Caraway. The book is based on previously unseen letters and photographs as well as newspaper accounts from the 1930s and 40s. It is published by The History Press in print, e-book and audio book editions. Hendricks, who divides her time between Hot Springs and Washington D.C., will hold a book signing after the program.
The colorful, controversial “Kingfish” of Louisiana, Huey Long, barnstormed Arkansas to campaign for Hattie Caraway of Jonesboro who was running for a full term in office in 1932. No one gave her much of a chance until the Kingfish thundered into Arkansas with what a reporter called a “circus hitched to a tornado,” a phrase that went on to gain notoriety as a metaphor for Arkansas politics in general.
Singing Caraway’s praises
Says Hendricks, “Hattie Caraway has been part of my life as long as I can remember. My father knew her during World War II and shared stories of the first woman elected as a U.S. Senator, serving from 1932 to 1945. But I never truly understood the enormity of her achievement until entering public service myself with Texas Governor Ann Richards more than a half century later. Even then, a woman in politics was not an easy role. Caraway may have been called ‘Silent Hattie,’ but I knew I wanted to help sing her praises.” Hendricks calls her new book a revisionist look at Caraway which refutes many of the myths that have circulated about the senator, including a modern perception that she was ineffectual. The author says she is looking forward to speaking at UCA and pointing out its Caraway connections.
“UCA and Conway played an important part of Caraway’s story, especially in showing clearly that she was far from ineffectual and that her achievements still stand proudly today” says Hendricks. She notes a collection of letters in the UCA Archives between Caraway and UCA’s third president, Heber McAlister.
Hendricks adds, “Jimmy Bryant, director of UCA’s Archives and Special Collections, has been an invaluable source of information about Caraway’s connection to UCA. He has just been great to work with, and I appreciate him so much.” She says that as with other state colleges and universities, in those days the State of Arkansas did not contribute funds for the construction of buildings at UCA. Caraway’s efforts tripled the size of the UCA campus, with many of those buildings still being used today. Hendricks quotes Bryant in saying, “Senator Caraway assisted UCA (Arkansas State Teachers College at the time) in navigating through the system and receiving the proper financing.”
Bryant says, “The buildings at UCA constructed between 1933 to 1940, during Caraway’s term in office, include Bernard Hall and McAlister Hall, which were built to be women’s dormitories; McCastlain Hall, originally called Commons and the first stand-alone cafeteria on campus; the National Youth Administration Building, later called Baridon Hall; the President’s Home; Prince Center, originally known as the Gym; Ida Waldran Auditorium, called the first true auditorium on campus with a capacity of more than a thousand; Wingo Hall, originally built to house married students, and the Home Management House, built to teach women who took home economics. A Heating Plant for UCA was also built thanks to Caraway’s efforts.”
Hendricks says, “That speaks volumes about UCA and its commitment to honoring its heritage. I’ve always loved UCA and this is just one more reason it’s one of my favorite places.”
Conway connections continue
Caraway’s connection to UCA did not stop there. Bryant says that UCA’s fourth president Nolen Irby worked closely with Caraway in obtaining funds to keep the college running during the Second World War. Because of this, he says, “we were able to play a big role in World War II.”
“The Log Cabin Democrat has also been a tremendous source of material about Caraway’s connection to Conway, for which I am very grateful,” says Hendricks. “It’s nice to know that Hattie was recognized, both then and now. Back in 2008, staff writer Joe Lamb credited Hattie by writing, ‘During her time in the Senate, Caraway was instrumental in tripling the size of the Arkansas State Teacher’s College (now the University of Central Arkansas), from five major buildings to fifteen.’ And in 2009, there was wonderful information in a Log Cabin Democrat article by Jenny Oliver about an event that took place on May 24, 1934: ‘Colorful ceremonies and auspicious circumstances marked the dedication by the only woman member of the United States Senate, Mrs. Hattie W. Caraway, of McAlister Hall, the new women’s building of the Arkansas State Teachers College. A crowd of 2,000 persons witnessed a program of unusual interest and attractiveness. Concerts were given before and after the ceremony by the official band of the 153rd Infantry, Arkansas National Guard, of which Col. H.L. McAlister, president of the college, was commanding officer. Gov. Marion Futrell introduced Senator Hattie Caraway by saying it would not have been possible to have the building without the help of Mrs. Caraway. Sen. Caraway said, ‘It is fitting that this building should be named for a man whose patriotism, loyalty and devotion to the cause of education and to the nation is so well known and widely recognized.’ That’s the kind of thing that brings our history to life, and I thank the Log Cabin Democrat for spotlighting it,” Hendricks says.
Hendricks says she saved the best for last in thanking the Log Cabin Democrat: “In the interest of his privacy, I won’t mention his name right now but an article in the Log Cabin Democrat spotlighted a notable Conway resident who, in 1932, actually met Huey Long and passed out flyers during the Caraway campaign. I have sent him a special invitation to the March 6 program at UCA and hope to recognize him at that time. He was actually there for the 1932 Caraway campaign. Until they invent time travel, this is a pretty remarkable way to feel connected to Caraway’s historic campaign. Without the Log Cabin Democrat article, I would probably have never known.”
Hendricks holds a doctorate in education, a master’s degree in English and a bachelor’s in English and theatre. Formerly a professional actor, Hendricks is also an award-winning writer and author of the book, Dear Mrs. Caraway, Dear Mr. Kays. Hendricks appeared in her signature role as Caraway in the film, Hattie Caraway: the Silent Woman, which was shown on Arkansas Educational Television (AETN), and also performs a one-person program nationwide titled Hattie to Hillary: Women in Politics.
She wrote and directed the play, Second to None, which was performed to sold-out crowds at Fayetteville’s Walton Arts Center. Her most recent play is Boy Hero: The Story of David O. Dodd, and her screenplay, Terrible Swift Sword, about the Sultana disaster, is being perused in Hollywood. A member of the Dramatists Guild of America, she has chaired a national playwriting competition. She has been a columnist for The Jonesboro Sun, Northwest Arkansas Times, and Citiscapes magazine, and is the contributing author with the largest number of entries in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Her work can also be seen in the books Disasters & Tragic Events and How They Changed America; Music Around the World; Historic Sites and National Landmarks; and Women in American History. She is a member of the Southern Association of Women Historians and is a charter member of the National Women’s History Museum in Washington, D.C. Hendricks is the recipient of the Pryor Award for Arkansas Women’s History, the Arkansas Governor’s Arts Award, and the White House Millennium Award for her writing.