Rebecca Latimer Felton, the first woman to serve in the United States Senate, was born on this day in 1835 in DeKalb County, Georgia.
Felton began her political career as the campaign manager for her husband, William Felton, who served in the United States Senate from 1875 to 1880. Following his retirement, she became a tireless advocate for reform in Georgia. She wrote and gave speeches in support of prohibition and against the inhumane treatment of prisoners in Georgia. She did not, however, support reform in regard to race and approved of lynching practices in the South. Felton most famously pushed for the passage of woman’s suffrage legislation, which became a reality in her lifetime.
In 1922, Governor Thomas E. Hardwick appointed Felton to fill Thomas E. Watson’s vacant Senate seat. She was sworn in on November 21 and served a 24 hour term, making her not only the first female senator, but also the senator with the shortest term of office. At the time of her swearing in, the eighty-seven-year-old Felton was also the oldest person ever to serve in the United States Senate.
Long before they gained national fame for their accomplishments, these Georgians were largely unknown members of society, waiting to take their place in history. Take a small peek into their lives back when they weren’t so well known:
Sidney Lanier gained attention in the late 19th century for writings and poetry about his home state. The photograph below from the Vanishing Georgia Collection captures him as a 15 year old boy in Macon, Georgia. In the years that followed, he graduated from Oglethorpe University and served in the Civil War before embarking on a successful writing career. As a result of this success, he would eventually have a lake, a bridge, and even a county named in his honor in Georgia.
Silent film actor Oliver Hardy spent most of his youth in Milledgeville, Georgia where his mother ran a hotel and he worked at a movie theater. The newspaper clipping below from the Jul. 21, 1908 issue of the Milledgeville Union Recorder lists him as a first basemen in a Married versus Singles baseball game. Note the roster refers to him as “Fatty,” which was one of his childhood nicknames. He eventually left Georgia for a movie career in California and became one of the most recognizable actors in the history of American film.