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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lucy Somerville Howorth, June 20, 22, and 23, 1975. Interview G-0028. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Southern woman's role in the Mississippi state legislature

In this excerpt, Howorth describes her role in the Mississippi state legislature during the 1930s. After her election in 1932, Howorth became one of three women serving in the state legislature. During these years she was appointed to chair the Public Lands Committee and she describes how she used this leadership to push through various policies that would help alleviate some of the tension caused by the Great Depression.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lucy Somerville Howorth, June 20, 22, and 23, 1975. Interview G-0028. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

CONSTANCE MYERS:
So, you won the election?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Yes.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
How decidedly?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
It was not too flattering, if you mean that. It was decisive, it wasn't like this New Hampshire thing. I think that I won by about 200 votes, something like that. I've forgotten. 200 out of about 14,000. So, it was nip and tuck. There were some precincts that I carried overwhelmingly and some that the opposition carried.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Can you tell why you carried certain precincts?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Organization. No mystery. You get good workers and they get out and touch all the bases.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
What were the hardest fights that you had in the legislature?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
That is hard to say, because legislation is negotiation and compromising. Tom Bailey who was speaker of the house and later governor, he called me in and said that he wanted to appoint me chairman of a committee. Well, that was unusual, you know, for a first termer. He said, "I'm going to make the three women, each of you a chairman and I will give you first choice." So, I said that I wanted to reply later, I wanted to look over the committees.I went back and looked them over and went on and said, "I want the Public Lands Committee." So, the next day he called me and . . . (interruption on tape. Tape turned off.) You were asking about the legislature and I was explaining about the chairmanship of the committee that was handed to me. So, the next day, the speaker sent for me and he said that he had had the Public Lands Committee looked up in the Journal of the house for the two preceeding sessions and he said that they never did have any meetings. He said, "I don't want to give you a committee that doesn't function and doesn't have anything really to do." I said, "Give it to me, it will have plenty to do." So, it was after the major committees, the judiciary, appropriations, education, highways, those . . . it had more on the calendar than any other committee. We reorganized the public land office, we established the Mineral Lease Commission, oil had recently been discovered in the state and gas, oh, we just legislated right and left.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Did you cause any fireworks?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
Oh, yes. Sometimes, but mostly. . . .
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Did you step on any vulnerable political toes?
LUCY SOMERVILLE HOWORTH:
No. I tried to avoid that, everybody knew which ones they were and you knew to sidestep. I never hit the floor with a bill that I hadn't shown to many of the members and talked to the members about. I remember one bill that I thought might have some problems and I took a copy and went to a man. I said, "Look Mr. Bingham, you are a good Baptist aren't you?" He said, "Yes." "Well," I said, "the Baptists believe that no human being is perfect, don't they?" He said, "Yes." "Well," I said, "You have voted against every bill that has been brought to the floor this year and you shouldn't be allowed to have a perfect record and here is a bill that I want you to vote for." So, he said, "I'll study it." The next day, he came to me and said, "I'll vote for it." (laughter) Well, you know, it is just work if you are going to get something through. So, when I had a bill that I thought had potentialities of stepping on toes, I tried to work around. Now, the bill that really was the most controversial was the Mortgage Mortorium Bill. This was the Depression and in Mississippi when a deed of trust or a mortgage was foreclosed on the property and the property sold, there was no redemptive period. That was it. Many states had redemptive periods of from three to six months or more within which the owner could come back and tender the money and redeem the property. In a period of Depression where property sales were being held everyday and people were losing their ancestral homes, losing their livelihood and all, some of us thought that this was important and a lawyer in Jackson Mr. Robert Ricketts, who was a very fine man and was one of my major supporters, he did the ground work on this bill. You see, I couldn't do everything and we had no staff, the attorney general's office had no staff to assist members with the legislation. I wrote bills, I suppose, for a third of the members of the legislature who weren't lawyers. You know, they would come to me. Well, Mr. Ricketts worked up this bill, we got laws from different states and we got a bill up. Now, ordinarily, that bill would have gone to the judiciary committee and it would have been killed pronto. But the speaker, I had talked to him about it and he sent it to the public lands committee. So, getting that through was one of the major accomplishments of my year.