HUCK, Winnifred Sprague Mason

HUCK, Winnifred Sprague Mason
Image courtesy of Library of Congress.
1882–1936

Biography

Winnifred S. Huck, the third woman elected to Congress, spent her short House career carrying on the legacy of her father, William E. Mason, as an ardent and articulate pacifist. As the first wife and mother elected to Congress, she vowed to look after the needs of married women and families and to promote world peace.

Winnifred Sprague Mason was born in Chicago, Illinois, on September 14, 1882. She was the daughter of William, an attorney and a former schoolteacher, and Edith Julia White Mason. Winnifred’s father served as a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1887 until 1891 and in the U.S. Senate from 1897 to 1903. He returned to the House in 1917 to fill an Illinois At–Large seat. During his congressional career, Mason consistently championed labor rights, took a strong antitrust position, and was an avowed pacifist. He was one of the first American politicians to advocate an independent Cuba following the Spanish–American War and to recognize an autonomous Irish Republic. Colleagues and the press denounced the pacifist Mason when he opposed American intervention in World War I, a conflict he shunned as a “dollar war.” Winnifred Huck attended public schools in Chicago until her father’s first election to the House took the family to Washington, D.C. She graduated from Washington’s Central High School. In 1904, she married her high school sweetheart, Robert W. Huck. The couple raised four children: Wallace, Edith, Donald, and Robert, Jr. Robert Huck, Sr., a civil engineer, became a steel company executive, moving the family to Colorado. Later he worked as a construction engineer for the deep waterways commission, relocating the family to Chicago, where Winnifred Huck became active in her hometown community.1

When Representative William Mason died in office on June 16, 1921, Winnifred Huck announced that she would be a candidate in the April 22nd primary to fill her father’s At–Large seat for the remainder of his term in the 67th Congress (1921–1923) and would also run for a full term in the 68th Congress (1923–1925). On her prospects, Huck commented, “I have come into the political world like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky,” but also cited a longtime interest in politics due to her father’s influence. Without spending any money on her campaign, and lacking the endorsement of the Illinois Republican Women’s Club, Huck narrowly won the nomination. In the primary for the full term, however, she lost the nomination to Henry R. Rathbone, who was later the runner–up in the general election to fellow Republican Richard Yates.2

In the special election on November 7, 1922, Huck defeated Democrat Allen D. Albert, amassing more than 850,000 votes and 53 percent of the total turnout. In declaring victory, Huck said “I am going to take my four children to Washington and get busy. I am for world peace, but against entangling alliances and I want to see the soldiers get a bonus.” When Huck arrived in Washington, state officials in Illinois had not provided her with credentials. She was concerned that she would not be able to take her seat, later writing, “A Congressman–elect might forget to wear his shoes on the day of his inauguration, but he would never forget to bring his credentials.” Illinois Representative James Mann vouched for her election, and the House unanimously agreed to swear Huck into the 67th Congress on November 20, 1922. She was the first woman to represent Illinois.3

During her brief fourteen–week tenure, she served on the Committee on Expenditures in the Department of Commerce, the Committee on Reform in the Civil Service, and the Committee on Woman Suffrage. She also was a member of the “Progressive Bloc,” a group of like–minded Senators and Representatives who gathered in informal committees to discuss the legislative agenda. Huck focused her energies on continuing her father’s legislative goals, including support for restrictions on child labor and separate citizenship rights for married women. Winnifred Huck most vocally carried on William Mason’s legacy, however, as a pacifist with the goal of creating lasting peace following the end of World War I.4

Huck disdained the custom which required new Members of Congress to remain silent and proceeded to offer her opinions on a variety of issues. Her most noteworthy address as a House Member was delivered on January 16, 1923, when she appealed to her colleagues to support a constitutional amendment to hold a direct popular vote for future United States’ involvement in any war requiring the armed forces to be sent overseas. Determined to demonstrate the lack of necessity for war, Huck declared, “In a country where the people control the government there is no opportunity for a war to originate.” One month later, Huck proposed further legislation which would have barred any American trade with or financial concessions to nations that did not permit citizens to participate in referendums on war declarations. Huck continued her antiwar stance by pleading for the release of 62 men imprisoned for what the Woodrow Wilson administration deemed to be seditious speeches and writing during the war.5 Huck also introduced a concurrent resolution declaring the people of the Philippine Islands to be free and independent, and she championed self–government for Cuba and Ireland.6 Critics assailed her legislation as an attack on the executive power to make war and an invitation for foreign aggression, but Huck’s passion for the idea of outlawing war came to fruition later in the decade with the 1928 Kellogg–Briand Pact, which was signed by several nations condemning war as a solution for international controversies. Though out of office, Huck enthusiastically supported the pact.

Huck deviated from her antiwar stance on only two occasions. First, she voted in favor of the December 1922 Ship Subsidy Bill, legislation resulting from President Warren Harding’s plan to increase American international trade presence by subsidizing the merchant marine—which, in the event of war, would transport troops and weapons.7 Huck justified her position by noting that President Harding had not urged its passage as a necessary preparation for war.8 Second, she appointed her son, Wallace, to the United States Naval Academy, forcing the academy to waive its height requirement in accepting the 5–foot– 2–inch youth. She defended her actions by claiming that until her legislation outlawing war passed, the nation would need a “splendid army and an efficient navy.”9

Before the conclusion of her short term in March 1923, Huck entered another Illinois primary. She sought to fill the vacancy created by the death of Illinois Representative James Mann, who died on November 30, 1922—defending Huck’s right to her seat was the last action he took on the House Floor. Huck was defeated in the February 1923 primary by former state senator Morton D. Hull. Following the primary, Huck alleged that Hull had spent $100,000 on his campaign, far exceeding the $5,000 expenditure limit imposed by Congress at the time. The House denied her request to investigate Hull’s campaign. Deciding that protesting the outcome would prove futile, Huck did not contest the election.10

After her term expired, Huck served as the chair of the Political Council of the National Woman’s Party and made her living as a writer, authoring a syndicated newspaper column and working as an investigative reporter. In 1925, posing undercover as a convict in a women’s prison, she wrote a series of articles for the Chicago Evening Post on the criminal justice system, prison conditions, and the rehabilitation of convicts, creating a national sensation. In 1928 and 1929, Huck worked as a staff writer on the Chicago Evening Sun, and she also gave lectures. Suffering failing health during the last five years of her life, Huck lived in Chicago with her family until her death there on August 24, 1936, from complications following abdominal surgery.11

Footnotes

1“Mason Stirs House” 4 October 1917, New York Times: 12; Leonard Schulp, “Huck, Winnifred Sprague Mason,” American National Biography (ANB) 11 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999): 402.

2“Mrs. Huck Planning To Work for Peace,” 19 November 1922, Washington Post: 3; Hope Chamberlin, A Minority of Members: Women in the U.S. Congress (New York: Praeger, 1973): 44.

3“Congresswoman Is To Succeed Father,” 9 November 1922, Washington Post: 9; Winnifred Huck, “What Happened to Me in Congress,” July 1923, Woman’s Home Companion: 4; “First Mother in Congress Will Work for World Peace,” 11 May 1922, Christian Science Monitor: 5.

4Schulp, “Huck, Winnifred Sprague Mason,” ANB; David T. Canon et al., Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1789–1946 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2002); “Mrs. Huck Planning To Work for Peace,” 19 November 1922, Washington Post: 3; “Six Committees Named for ‘Progressive Bloc,’” 30 December 1922, Washington Post: 4; “‘Miss Alice’ and Mrs. Huck Chum and Chat, But Differ at Polls,” 3 December 1922, Washington Post: 18.

5Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, Women in Congress,1917–1990 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1991): 109; “Mrs. Huck Pleads for Prisoners,” Christian Science Monitor, 11 December 1922: 2.

6Chamberlin, A Minority of Members: 44; Congressional Record, House, 67th Cong., 4th sess. (16 January 1923): 1828; Congressional Record, House, 67th Cong., 4th sess. (16 February1923): 3817; “Points to Lesson in Irish Struggle,” 1 August 1921, Washington Post: 2; Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, Women in Congress, 1917–1990: 6.

7Schulp, “Huck, Winnifred Sprague Mason,” ANB: 402.

8Constance Drexel, “Mrs. Huck For Ship Subsidy,” 26 November 1922, Los Angeles Times: 13.

9“Mother, Congresswoman Sends Son to Annapolis,” 24 July 1923, Washington Post: 2; Quoted in Schulp, “Huck, Winnifred Sprague Mason,” ANB.

10Huck, “What Happened to Me in Congress”: 4; “Mrs. Huck Will Not Contest Hull’s Seat,” 4 March 1923, Washington Post: 1; Whitehead, Frank Insco, “Swan Songs, Tributes,” 5 March 1924, Washington Post: 1.

11Schulp, “Huck, Winnifred Sprague Mason,” ANB: 403.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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Bibliography / Further Reading

Dean, David, and Martha Dean. "Moma Went to Congress and Then to Jail." American History Illustrated 12 (November 1977): 37-43.

Huck, Winifred Sprague Mason. "What Happened to Me in Congress." Woman's Home Companion 50 (July 1923): 4.

"Winnifred Sprague Mason Huck" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Expenditures in the Department of Commerce
  • House Committee - Reform in the Civil Service
  • House Committee - Woman Suffrage
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