Rebecca Ann Latimer was born June 10, 1835 in Decatur, Georgia.
She graduated from the Madison Female College in 1852.
In 1854, Rebecca moved to Cass County (now Bartow County), Georgia to teach school.
She married Doctor William Harrell Felton, a member of the Georgia House of Representatives. He also became ordained as a Methodist minister in 1857.
During the American Civil War, her husband served as a Confederate surgeon.
Then in March of 1875, her husband became a Member of the United States House of Representatives and served as his secretary in Washington, D.C.
After his unsuccessful re-election in 1880, the couple returned to Georgia where she wrote and lectured on women’s issues.
Rebecca Felton went on to become the most prominent woman in Georgia leading the women’s suffrage movement.
She wrote in 1915, that women were denied fair political participation “except in the States which have been franchised by the good sense and common honesty of the men of those States—after due consideration, and with the chivalric instinct that differentiates the coarse brutal male from the gentlemen of our nation. Shall the men of the South be less generous, less chivalrous? They have given the Southern women more praise than the man of the West—but judged by their actions Southern men have been less sincere. Honeyed phrases are pleasant to listen to, but the sensible women of our country would prefer more substantial gifts….”
In 1919, Georgia became the first state to reject the Nineteenth Amendment, not allowing women to vote in the 1920 presidential election.
Unfortunately, Rebecca was also a white supremacist. She claimed, for instance, that the more money that Georgia spent on black education, the more crimes blacks committed.
She considered “young blacks” who sought equal treatment “half-civilized gorillas,” and ascribed to them a “brutal lust” for white women.
While seeking suffrage for women, she decried voting rights for blacks, arguing that it led directly to the rape of white women.
Then on September 26, 1922 Georgia Senator Thomas E. Watson died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 66.
Ironically, Georgia Governor Thomas Hardwick was a candidate for the next general election to the Senate.
Governor Hardwick felt he needed to appoint someone to serve temporarily as a Senator that would not become a competitor of his in a special election to permanently fill the vacant senate seat. The Governor also wanted to secure the vote of new female voters that he had alienated by his opposition to the 19th Amendment.
Thus, on October 3, 1922 Governor Hardwick selected 87 year old Rebecca Felton to serve as senator only until the special election. Congress was not expected to reconvene until after the special election, so chances were slim that she would ever be sworn in anyway.
Then Governor Hardwick was defeated in the special election by Walter George despite the Governor’s political ploy.
Rebecca may not have ever been sworn in as a Senator had she not reached out to Senator elect George, reminding him that the women of Georgia had supported him.
Senator for 24 hours
On November 21, 1922, Rebecca Latimer Felton was sworn in as a United States Senator.
She served for 24 hours, until Walter George took office on November 22, 1922.
This meant that Rebecca became the first woman seated in the Senate.
She died January 24, 1930 and is interred in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Cartersville, Georgia.
As of 2013, Rebecca is also the only woman to have served as a Senator from Georgia.
Now WE know em