Historical Highlights

The Career of Ruth Pratt of New York

August 23, 1965
The Career of Ruth Pratt of New York Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Ruth Pratt was involved in politics from the 1910s until the 1940s. This button from the early 1930s reminded voters that she was not a newcomer but an incumbent Representative.
On this date, a day shy of her 88th birthday, Ruth Pratt, one of the pioneering women in Congress, died at her home in Glen Cove, New York. Ruth Sears Baker was born in Ware, Massachusetts, into a well-to-do family. She attended Wellesley College where she studied mathematics, and married John Teele Pratt, a lawyer and the son of a Standard Oil Company executive. During World War I she entered New York City Republican politics and served on the mayor’s wartime food commission where she first met Herbert Hoover, then head of the National Food Administration. She remained an unwavering Hoover ally for the rest of her political life. Initially, Pratt resisted electoral politics. When a local GOP official first asked her to seek a seat on the city’s board of aldermen in 1925, she laughed it off, telling him, “You couldn’t buy my services.” She ended up running any way, becoming the first woman ever elected to New York City’s governing body where she sponsored bills for major infrastructure projects such as the Triborough Bridge and several East River tunnels. In 1928, she ran for an open U.S. House seat that encompassed much of her constituency in upper-midtown Manhattan’s wealthy “Silk Stocking District.” She won the general election with 50 percent of the vote, becoming the first woman from New York elected to Congress; she was re-elected in 1930 by a scant 695 votes. Serving in the House majority during her first term, Pratt sat on the Banking and Currency Committee, but after Democrats reclaimed the House in 1931, she was assigned to the Education Committee in her second term. Her crowning bill in Congress was a measure that authorized an annual appropriation of $100,000 to the Library of Congress to procure books in Braille for the visually impaired. Throughout her House career, she was a loyal defender of President Hoover’s hands-off approach toward the deepening economic depression spawned by the stock market crash in 1929. As the crisis intensified, Pratt faced strong electoral headwinds. In the 1932 elections, the narrow Democratic majority in the House ballooned on the strength of presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt. Meanwhile, Republicans hemorrhaged more than 100 House seats—including Pratt’s, ending her time in elected office having championed issues ranging from eradicating tenements and providing better housing to balancing budgets. She remained a GOP committeewoman until 1943 and was active in the promotion of arts in New York City for many years. “I like people. I love going about and meeting them this way,” Pratt once said of her enthusiasm for public service. “It is a great satisfaction for me to wade in and fight, fight, fight.”

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