On this date, nine-term Arkansas Representative Otis Wingo
died, paving the way for the election of his wife, Effiegene Wingo
, to fill his vacancy in the House. Otis Wingo was born in Tennessee in 1877. Following his admission to the Arkansas bar in 1900, he practiced in De Queen where he met Effiegene Locke, who had been born in nearby Lockesburg in 1883. The two married on October 15, 1902. Otis Wingo embarked on his political career in the state senate before winning election to the U.S. House in 1912. His wife and two children—Janie Blanche and Otis Jr.—accompanied him to the nation’s capital. Effiegene was active in Washington social circles until her husband was injured in a car accident in 1926. With Otis on the mend, she took on a bigger political role, working as an unpaid assistant in his office. On October 21, 1930, Otis Wingo died while undergoing emergency gall bladder surgery in Baltimore, Maryland, just a few weeks before the general election to the 72nd Congress
(1931–1933). Before his death, Otis had written a political ally in Arkansas expressing his wish that his wife succeed him in Congress. With Arkansas Republicans and Democrats generally in agreement during this period—elections were frequently won on the strength of political connections, not party affiliation—Effiegene Wingo’s name recognition made for a relatively easy path to victory. On Election Day, she simultaneously won a seat in the remaining four months of the 71st Congress
(1929–1931) and to the full two-year term in the 72nd Congress. She took her seat on December 1, 1930. By the time of Wingo’s election, four other women had succeeded their late husbands since 1923. The pattern, alter dubbed the “widow’s mandate,”
did not go unnoticed. “It may be that [Wingo] was the mainspring behind her husband’s success, urging him on with her enthusiasm and placing at his disposal a splendid brain. Nothing of this sort, however, was hinted in the news reports,” one observer in the Richmond Times-Dispatch
protested. The editorialist concluded: “In this country public office is not a thing to be bequeathed to one’s next of kin or one’s best friend. Supposedly it is won on merit.” In spite of her skeptics, Wingo spent two tireless years helping her constituents navigate the onset of the Great Depression, made all the more difficult by a scorching drought one summer and record-breaking cold winters. Citing health reasons, she declined to run for re-election in 1932. Wingo spent her remaining 30 years encouraging young people to enter public service.