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Widow's succession

Widow's succession was a political practice prominent in some countries in the early part of the 20th century, by which a politician who died in office was succeeded by his widow, either through election or direct appointment to the seat.[1] Many of the earliest women to hold political office in the modern era attained their positions through this practice.

Contents

  • Overview 1
  • Notable widow's successions 2
    • Australia 2.1
    • Canada 2.2
    • Japan 2.3
    • New Zealand 2.4
    • United Kingdom 2.5
    • United States 2.6
  • References 3

Overview

In earlier years, women who held office through widow's succession rarely became prominent as politicians in their own right, but were regarded merely as placeholders whose primary role was to retain a seat and a vote for the party rather than risk a protracted fight for the nomination between elections.[1] The practice was also sometimes seen as a way to provide the woman with financial support due to the loss of her family's primary income.[2]

The expectation was that a widow would serve only until the next election, at which time she would step down and allow her party to select a new candidate. Upon the retirement of Effiegene Wingo from the United States House of Representatives in 1932, the New York Sun wrote,

In one unusual Canadian instance, Katherine Langley was elected to her still-living husband John W. Langley's former congressional seat after he was convicted of selling alcohol during Prohibition.

With the evolving role of women in politics, however, a number of women who first took office under widow's succession went on to build long and distinguished careers in their own right. These included Margaret Chase Smith, who became the longest-serving woman in the history of the United States Senate and the first woman ever to have her name placed in nomination for the Presidency of the United States at a major party's convention,[1] Edith Nourse Rogers, who became the longest-serving woman in the history of the United States House of Representatives, and Mary Ellen Smith, who earned the distinction of becoming the first woman ever appointed to a cabinet position, as well as the first woman ever to become speaker of a legislature, in both Canada and the entire British Empire.

In Sri Lanka Sirimavo Bandaranaike who succeeded her assassinated husband was a long-serving Prime Minister and party leader.

While widows are occasionally still appointed or elected to political positions following their husbands' deaths, the practice is not as common in the modern era, in which women have been able to take on increasingly prominent roles in politics based on their own talents and experience rather than as "placeholders". Additionally, some figures, such as Sonia Gandhi in India and Grace MacInnis in Canada, have happened to hold political office and to be the widow of an earlier officeholder, but are not true "widow's successions" as they were not immediately appointed to their late husband's office.

Notable widow's successions

Australia

Canada

Japan

New Zealand

United Kingdom

United States

A list of the women in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives who have succeeded their husbands in Congress.[4]

References

  1. ^ a b c Melville Currell, Political Woman.
  2. ^ Sarah Ramsland profile at the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan.
  3. ^ "I'm No Lady; I'm a Member of Congress".
  4. ^
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