HORN, Joan Kelly

HORN, Joan Kelly
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives


In her first attempt at elected office, Joan Kelly Horn earned a spot in the 102nd Congress (1991–1993) by securing an upset victory against a two-term incumbent. During her short tenure in the U.S. House, she focused on the needs of her district by channeling federal money into a series of local projects in her home state of Missouri. Representing an area once described as politically “the most unstable district in the state,” Horn became part of a pattern of party turnover when she lost her bid for re-election to her Republican opponent in 1992.1

The daughter of an advertising executive, Horn was born on October 18, 1936, in St. Louis, Missouri. After graduating from the Visitation High School in St. Louis in 1954, she attended St. Louis University. She left school in 1956 to marry after completing three semesters. Joan Kelly Horn worked part-time as a Montessori teacher while she raised her six children: Michael, Matthew, Kelly, Stephen, Mark, and Kara. She later resumed her education, earning a BA and an MA in political science from the University of Missouri at St. Louis, in 1973 and 1975, respectively.2 In 1987 Horn married her second husband, E. Terrence Jones, a dean at the University of Missouri at St. Louis who had one son from a previous marriage. The couple divorced in 1999.3

Upon the completion of her academic studies, Horn worked on a variety of local projects encompassing education, conservation, and community development. She also was active in the local Democratic Party and led both the Missouri Women’s Political Caucus and the Freedom of Choice Council. In 1987 Horn became committeewoman of the Clayton Township of Missouri. She also served as a political consultant in a firm she operated with her husband.4

Although she lacked extensive experience in elected office, Horn decided to run for Congress in 1990. In the Democratic primary for the congressional seat representing a suburban district northwest of St. Louis, she faced John Baine, a stockbroker. During the campaign, her opponent questioned her “family values,” after her decision to live with her second husband prior to marriage and to the public battle she waged with town officials in the affluent St. Louis suburb of Ladue concerning a town ordinance banning unmarried couples from occupying the same residence. She responded by reminding voters that she had a husband, six children, seven grandchildren, and the qualifications to go to Congress.5 After easily defeating Baine in the primary, Horn had a much tougher challenge in the general election. Realizing that few experts gave her a chance to succeed against the two-term incumbent Republican John William (Jack) Buechner, she adopted an aggressive campaign strategy that included a blitz of advertisements alleging that her opponent used his position in the House for personal gain.6 In an extraordinarily close election, Joan Kelly Horn pulled off an unexpected upset, defeating Buechner by 54 votes. After being sworn in on January 3, 1991, Horn told supporters, “It’s an awesome responsibility. The people of the Second District sent me here, and they deserve to know that I’ll work very hard for them.”7

In Congress, Horn served on three committees: Public Works and Transportation; Science, Space, and Technology; and Select Children, Youth, and Families. Interested in “bringing the federal government to the people,” Horn used her committee assignments to direct federal money to her district.8 In addition to helping obtain funding for a light-rail system in the region, she also played an important role in increasing federal appropriations for the aerospace manufacturer McDonnell Douglas, which employed thousands of people from her district. During her one term in the House, Horn promoted the expansion of the St. Louis airport, worked to protect the benefits of Trans World Airline employees in the St. Louis area when it became clear that the airline was in financial hardship, and succeeded in persuading the House to boost the amount of money earmarked for Pentagon programs created to assist the conversion of defense industries to civilian companies.9

Among the small number of women serving in the House during the 102nd Congress, Horn reflected upon her minority status when she commented, “There are just so few of us. Not that it’s deliberate; it’s just systematic to the institution. Since we aren’t going to get equity, we have to work with men.”10 As a Representative, Horn worked closely with Democratic Majority Leader Richard Andrew Gephardt, also from Missouri. She also used her position in Congress to address issues of interest to women, in particular abortion. Although she downplayed her record of abortion rights activism during her initial congressional bid for fear of alienating conservative voters in her district, Horn resumed her strong abortion rights stance in the House. Voting against the “gag rule” that barred physicians in government-funded clinics from advising patients on abortions, she also backed a controversial measure in 1991 that would have allowed American military women stationed overseas access to abortions in military hospitals.11

Horn quickly earned a reputation as “conscientious” and “diligent,” compelled to perform district work vital for freshmen Members seeking re-election.12 Making frequent trips to her district to ascertain the needs of her constituents, she continued to organize meetings, speaking appearances, and seminars to promote her message in the St. Louis area. Horn also earned credibility with many voters when she fulfilled two of her major campaign promises: her refusal to accept a pay raise and to travel at the expense of taxpayers. While she donated her share of a congressional pay hike to charity, she also funded her own official business trips, such as a tour of a McDonnell Douglas plant in California.13

One of Horn’s most controversial votes in Congress involved the balanced budget amendment, which aimed at reducing the federal deficit. Amid much criticism, Horn and 11 of her Democratic colleagues who originally cosponsored the measure later switched their position and voted against the bill; according to Horn, the budget cuts she supported derived from military spending, unlike the proposed amendment that took money from domestic programs. When President George H. W. Bush and other Republican leaders attacked Horn for her change of heart, the Missouri Congresswoman defended her position declaring, “I didn’t change, the amendment changed.”14 Despite being quick to defend her record, Horn’s decision to turn her back on the legislation she once supported haunted her re-election campaign.

In 1992 Horn’s campaign platform included promises to reduce the federal deficit, to strengthen the local economy by increasing employment opportunities, and to promote “family-friendly policies.” Already facing a difficult race against the experienced Missouri state representative and minority floor leader James Matthes Talent, Horn also had to contend with a reapportioned district that lost several Democratic neighborhoods.15 In the November 1992 general election, Horn narrowly failed to retain her congressional seat for the 103rd Congress (1993–1995), capturing 47 percent of the vote to Talent’s 50 percent.16

After leaving Congress, Horn served in the Department of Commerce and resumed her local service commitment as director of the St. Louis community development agency. In 1996 she attempted a political comeback when she announced her candidacy for her old district. Declaring herself “the voice of moderation,” she defeated her four opponents in the Democratic primary but lost once again to Talent in the general election, garnering just 37 percent of the vote.17


1Mark Schlinkmann, “2nd District Competition Tough Reapportionment, Unaligned Voters, 11 Debates; Challenge Candidates,” 31 October 1992, St. Louis–Dispatch: 1B.

2Mark Schlinkmann, “Woman Behind the Upset: Horn Is Called Calm, Focused,” 11 November 1990, St. Louis Post–Dispatch: 1A.

3Jerry Berger, “Joan Kelly Horn Loses Ruling as Marriage Ends,” 4 June 1999, St. Louis Post–Dispatch: A2.

4Schlinkmann, “Woman Behind the Upset: Horn Is Called Calm, Focused”; Karen Foerstel, Biographical Dictionary of Congressional Women (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999): 126.

5Politics In America, 1992 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1991): 844; “Democrat Starts Campaign for Congress,” 2 April 1990, St. Louis Post–Dispatch: 6A.

6Foerstel, Biographical Dictionary of Congressional Women: 126; Schlinkmann, “Woman Behind the Upset: Horn Is Called Calm, Focused.”

7“Rep. Horn Sworn in to House Pledges to ‘Work Hard’ for People of the 2nd District,” 4 January 1991, St. Louis Post–Dispatch: 1A.

8Charlotte Grimes, “Horn Shows She’s Learned Art of Rough–and–Tumble; Congresswoman Finds Footing Among Washington Politicians,” 3 October 1992, St. Louis Post–Dispatch: 1B.

9Grimes, “Horn Shows She’s Learned Art of Rough–and–Tumble”; Jon Sawyer, “Congress’ Appropriation Delights McDonnell Douglas,” 28 November 1991, St. Louis Post–Dispatch: 14A.

10“31 Women, 31 Voices on Capitol Hill,” 1 April 1992, USA Today: A4.

11Foerstel, Biographical Dictionary of Congressional Women: 127; Mark Schlinkmann, “Democratic Rivals Split on Abortion,” 8 July 1990, St. Louis Post–Dispatch: 1B; Schlinkmann, “Woman Behind the Upset: Horn Is Called Calm, Focused.”

12Grimes, “Horn Shows She’s Learned Art of Rough–and–Tumble.”

13Grimes, “Horn Shows She’s Learned Art of Rough-and-Tumble”; Schlinkmann, “2nd District Competition Tough Reapportionment, Unaligned Voters, 11 Debates.”

14Grimes, “Horn Shows She’s Learned Art of Rough–and–Tumble”; Adam Clymer, “Balanced–Budget Amendment Fails to Gain House Approval,” 12 June 1992, New York Times: 1A.

15Schlinkmann, “2nd District Competition Tough Reapportionment, Unaligned Voters, 11 Debates”; “2nd District Battle Highlights House Races,” 1 November 1992, St. Louis Post–Dispatch: 3; Grimes, “Horn Shows She’s Learned Art of Rough–and–Tumble.”

16Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

17Jo Mannies, “Joan Horn To File for Congress,” 24 March 1996, St. Louis Post–Dispatch: 3C; “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present."

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

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External Research Collections

State Historical Society of Missouri

St. Louis, MO
Papers: 1991-1993, 65 boxes. The papers of former Congresswoman Joan Horn include photographs, newspaper clippings, subject files, schedules and appointments, videotapes, legislation, and committee files. An inventory is available in the repository and online.

University of Oklahoma
The Julian P. Kanter Political Commercial Archive, Department of Communication

Norman, OK
Videocassette: 1990, 4 commercials on 1 videocassette. The commercials were used during Joan Horn's campaign for the 1990 U.S. congressional election in District 2 of Missouri, Democratic Party.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Joan Kelly Horn" 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 - Public Works and Transportation
  • House Committee - Science, Space and Technology
  • House Committee - Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families
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