Born to privilege, Katharine St. George became involved in the family business—politics. During her 18 years in the House, she rose into the GOP leadership because of her fiscal conservatism and commitment to limiting the size of government, two beliefs that distinguished her from her famous cousin, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Though she spurned the feminist label, St. George became an outspoken advocate for women's economic equality, coining the phrase "equal pay for equal work."
Katharine Delano Price Collier was born on July 12, 1894, in Bridgnorth, England, one of four children born to Price Collier, an Iowa–born Unitarian minister and later the European editor of Forum magazine, and Katharine Delano, an aunt of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. When she was just a toddler, her family moved to Tuxedo Park, New York, a posh haven for millionaires located northwest of the city. At age 11, Collier returned to Europe, where she was schooled in France, Switzerland, and Germany.1 In April 1917, Katharine Collier married George St. George who, by 1919, operated a wholesale coal brokerage on Wall Street. The couple had one daughter, Priscilla. Katharine St. George opened and managed a highly successful kennel business that bred setters and pointers.
St. George also was active in civic affairs as a longtime chair of the area's Red Cross chapter, a town board member from 1926 to 1949, and a member of the local education board from 1926 to 1946. St. George, who also had been a member of the Republican county committee in the 1920s, distanced herself from Republican politics during President Franklin Roosevelt's first two terms out of deference to her cousin. She opposed his third term in 1940, however, and that break marked her reentry into politics (in Congress, she would vote for the 22nd Amendment, which limited Presidents to a maximum of two terms in office).2 In 1942 she lost her bid for the Republican nomination to the state assembly, but that only seemed to provide motivation. St. George recalled that "a politician ought to know how it feels to be licked."3 That fall she chaired the Orange County campaign committee and worked for the successful re–election of longtime New York Representative Hamilton Fish.
Congressman Fish's political misfortune spurred St. George to run for a seat in the U.S. House. In 1944, the isolationist Congressman lost his seat, representing a vast district in the Hudson River Valley north of New York City, to Augustus W. Bennet, a Republican who had lost to Fish in the primary but then ran successfully on the Democratic and American Labor Party ticket in the general election. On April 1, 1945, St. George decided to face Bennet in the 1946 Republican primary. She campaigned for 14 months, giving speeches and courting the Republican establishment. She campaigned on a labor–oriented platform: promising jobs for returning veterans, meeting farmers' agricultural needs, and preserving labor's gains during the New Deal. The "ultimate goal" seemed to be to make the system so bountiful as to make, in St. George's words, "every union member a capitalist."4 With the strong support of Fish, St. George defeated Bennet in the primary and, with 60 percent of the vote in the general election, dispatched Democrat James K. Welsh.5 Though she faced significant primary opposition again in 1948, St. George won another eight terms without being seriously challenged, despite the fact that her district was twice redrawn, in 1952 and 1962.
During her 18–year tenure, she served on the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, the Committee on Government Operations, and the influential Committee on Armed Services. St. George later claimed that the Post Office and Civil Service assignment was a key one for her, because it allowed her to bring high–profile projects to her district that would benefit her constituents. She also served as president of the American delegation to the Inter–Parliamentary Union. In 1961, as a reward for her seniority and fidelity to the party, the Republican leadership made St. George the first woman to serve on the powerful House Rules Committee, which prioritizes bills that come to the floor and sets the conditions of debate.
Congresswoman St. George had a keen interest in foreign affairs and was more of an internationalist than her predecessor. But she realized that her district, with pockets of wealthy communities surrounded by dairy farming counties, had been isolationist for generations and had little interest in overseas policies. Therefore, as a junior Member she focused on local needs. Only later, after she had seniority, did she attend to national issues. In May 1953, as chair of a Post Office and Civil Service subcommittee, she proposed legislation to grant the Postmaster General, rather than Congress, authority to increase postal rates. In a legislative effort important to local dairy farmers, she authored bills to allow the Defense Department to use surplus butter in military food rations and to limit reductions in dairy price controls. St. George also wrote legislation to establish a federal safety division in the Labor Department, to supply a code of ethics for government service, and to prohibit payment of Veterans' Administration benefits to persons belonging to groups advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government.
Representative St. George's seniority gave her a prominent position in the party hierarchy: She earned seats on the Republican Policy Committee and the Committee on Committees, which determined assignments for Republicans. As her state's representative on the committee, St. George was responsible for committee assignments to Republican Members from New York. Once, when New York Representative John Lindsay requested a post on Foreign Affairs, St. George turned him down. Noting that he had little background for it, she instead placed him on the Judiciary Committee, where eventually he oversaw much of the civil rights legislation of the period. "You know what you'd be if you go on Foreign Affairs?" St. George told Lindsay. "You'd just be a cookie–pusher around Washington cocktail parties. You're a lawyer. Now go on a good committee where you can do something."6 After his service in the House, Lindsay was elected mayor of New York City. St. George also served as a regional whip, tracking votes for Republican legislation.7 She reveled in her congressional service, once telling a colleague, "It is the only place on earth where neither wealth nor parentage counts for anything… . You may inherit your father's seat … but you do not inherit his position in the House of Representatives. You earn it on your own."8
Though St. George did not embrace the feminist label, she became a champion of two decidedly reformist causes—equal rights and equal pay for women. Women's rights were the one area in which she dissented from her GOP colleagues. She was unable in 1950 to convince the Judiciary Committee to report out to the full House a proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). She also failed in her attempt to get 218 signatures from House Members on a discharge petition that would have brought the bill to the floor. At the core of her work on this issue was an abiding conviction that if women were to achieve equality and fully participate in American society, they needed a base of economic strength. St. George persevered, and her 1959 proposal to outlaw sex discrimination in the payment of wages became law in the form of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. "What you might mean by ‘equal rights' might be totally different to what I believe is ‘equal rights,'" St. George said. "I always felt … women were discriminated against in employment … I think women are quite capable of holding their own if they're given the opportunity. What I wanted them to have was the opportunity."9 In 1964, she joined ranks with other women lawmakers, led by Democrat Martha Griffiths of Michigan, to demand inclusion of a "sexual discrimination" clause in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. "We are entitled to this little crumb of equality," St. George told male colleagues in a floor speech. "The addition of that little, terrifying word ‘s–e–x' will not hurt this legislation in any way. In fact, it will improve it. It will make it comprehensive. It will make it logical. It will make it right."10
St. George's traditional notions about women's place at home became magnified as she witnessed the radicalization of the feminist movement of the 1960s. Her early work on legislation calling for an end to discrimination in the workplace and equality under the law appeared incongruous with her later statements about women's role in society. She once told a reporter, "A good mother at home is twice as effective as one at a meeting." She also discouraged women from running for federal office, noting that in any circumstance politics "should certainly not be undertaken until her children are grown."11
In her 1964 election bid for a 10th consecutive term, St. George ran into a problem that plagued many Republicans. GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater had a polarizing effect on the electorate with his pro–war, arch–conservative platform. Nevertheless, she campaigned actively for Goldwater in her district, more so than for her own re–election.12 President Lyndon B. Johnson crushed Goldwater in the general election winning by more than 15 million votes. The New York Republican Party suffered tremendously, losing eight incumbents in the state delegation.13 St. George was one of those political casualties, losing a narrow race to previously unknown liberal Democrat John G. Dow by about 6,000 votes out of 188,000 cast (52.5 percent to 48.5 percent). "I was under a mistaken idea that my situation was pretty well established," St. George recalled.14 At age 68 she returned to Tuxedo Park, where she remained active in local politics as chair of the Republican town committee. Katharine St. George died in Tuxedo Park on May 2, 1983.
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
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