LONG, Catherine Small

LONG, Catherine Small
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives


Catherine (Cathy) S. Long married into Louisiana’s legendary political family and spent nearly four decades immersed in state and national politics as a politician’s wife. When her influential husband, Gillis William Long, died suddenly in 1985, Democratic Party leaders believed Cathy Long was a logical choice to succeed him, having served as his campaign surrogate and close advisor. She easily won the special election to his seat. “The biggest change in my life is not Congress,” Congresswoman Long told a reporter shortly after taking office. “It was the death of my husband.”1

Cathy Small was born in Dayton, Ohio, on February 7, 1924. She graduated from high school in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, and studied at Louisiana State University where she received a BA in 1948. In 1947 Cathy Small married Gillis Long, a decorated World War II veteran and member of one of Louisiana’s most powerful political families. He was a distant cousin of the flamboyant Louisiana political boss Huey Pierce Long and longtime U.S. Senator Russell Billiu Long. In 1962 Gillis Long won election to the U.S. House of Representatives from a central Louisiana district encompassing Baton Rouge. A supporter of civil rights, he was targeted in 1964 by his cousin, Speedy Oteria Long, who defeated him for renomination by charging that Gillis Long had aided the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.2 Long had voted with the House leadership to expand the membership of the House Rules Committee, effectively giving a majority to civil rights advocates and unleashing a logjam of reforms. After his defeat, Long served in the Lyndon B. Johnson administration for two years before returning to private law practice. Gillis Long won re-election to the U.S. House in 1972 to the first of seven consecutive terms in his old district. He became one of the most respected figures in the Democratic Party as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus in the early 1980s, a high-ranking member of the Rules Committee, and a close ally of Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill Jr. of Massachusetts.

While raising their two children, George and Janis, Cathy Long’s early career included nonelective political work. After college, she had worked as a pharmacist’s mate in the United States Navy. She subsequently was a staff assistant to Oregon Senator Wayne Lyman Morse and Ohio Representative James G. Polk. She also served as a delegate to Democratic National Conventions and was a member of the Louisiana Democratic Finance Council and the state party’s central committee. She put that experience to work on behalf of her husband’s career—campaigning, canvassing the district to hear constituent issues, and acting as an informal adviser to Gillis Long. “You couldn’t have found a wife that was more active than I was,” she recalled. A heart condition slowed her husband in his later years in the House, leaving Cathy Long to make the frequent trips back to the district for the “physical campaigning.”3 Throughout her husband’s political career, Cathy Long recalled, she campaigned more than the candidate. “I feel thoroughly at home with campaigning, I’ve done it so much,” she said.4

When Gillis Long died on January 20, 1985, the party turned immediately to his widow to run for his vacant seat. “From the very minute Gillis died, I was under terrific strain to run,” Cathy Long recalled. “One person called me at 3 a.m. that morning and said, ‘You have to run.’ At the wake I had two people give me checks for $1000 each.”5 On February 4, 1985, she declared her intention to seek the nomination.6 Long ran on her name recognition with a central campaign pledge to fulfill her husband’s legislative interests without offering many specific policy positions of her own. She also noted her familiarity with the institution: “I don’t have to start from scratch. I already know the way Congress works.”7 The Baton Rouge-centered district contained a cross-section of the Louisiana economy, with rice, soybean, and sugar farmers, as well as labor union interests. African Americans made up 33 percent of the constituency.8 Unemployment, which had eclipsed 12 percent in the district, emerged as the primary issue in the campaign. Long’s principal competitor, Louisiana state legislator John (Jock) Scott, challenged her refusal to commit to positions on the issues: “If Cathy Long can’t talk to us here, how can she talk for us in Washington?”9 Cathy Long defeated Scott by a more than a two-to-one margin with 56 percent of the vote (in a field with three other candidates) and carried all but one of 15 parishes in a special election on March 30, 1985.10 Sworn in on April 4, 1985, Cathy Long was appointed to the Committee on Public Works and Transportation and the Committee on Small Business. Among her chief allies were two longtime friends and Members of the state delegation: Representatives John Berlinger Breaux and Corinne Claiborne (Lindy) Boggs who, in 1973, succeeded her late husband, Majority Leader Thomas Hale Boggs Sr.

As a Representative, Cathy Long hewed to the same agenda as her husband, who often criticized the Ronald Reagan administration.11 Her first major vote was against aid to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. For the most part, however, she focused on Louisiana’s economic needs. She sought to preserve price supports for sugar and opposed an amendment to the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project Bill that would have required local governments in the lower Mississippi Valley to share the costs of flood control. It was a program that the federal government had for decades recognized as an issue of national concern. Long also joined her colleagues in the Louisiana delegation in introducing legislation to authorize the Legal Services Corporation to make a grant to the Gillis W. Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University in New Orleans.

Additionally, Representative Long worked on issues impacting women and other minorities. She cosponsored the 1985 Economic Equity Act, which secured pension and health benefits for women and sought to restrict racial and sex discrimination in insurance practices. In foreign affairs, the Louisiana Representative voted for economic sanctions against South Africa for its apartheid system and worked to provide aid for Nicaraguan refugees.

Shortly after taking office, Long sought to dispel notions that she was a one-term caretaker. “I would not have run if I didn’t want to stay,” she told a reporter. “Of course I’m going to run again. It was part of the decision I made at the time.”12 Yet, several months later, citing the burden of remaining campaign debts from her special election and a year in which she lost nearly a half dozen close friends and family members, Long declined to run for re-election in 1986. “The decision was not an easy one,” she told reporters on October 15, 1985. “I sought this seat to carry on my husband’s work. I would love to continue the job, but the weight of my current debt jeopardizes the possibility of a credible campaign in 1986. I believe it better for me to step aside now to give all others the opportunity to pursue this job.”13

After Congress, Long worked as a volunteer in Washington, DC, area homeless shelters and as a reading tutor. She also spent time with her grandchildren, who grew up near the capital. At the age of 95, Cathy Long died on November 23, 2019, in Chevy Chase, Maryland.14


1Will Scheltema, “Cathy Long: She Carries On,” 16 May 1985, Roll Call: 8.

2Joan Cook; “Rep. Gillis Long, 61, Louisiana Liberal, Dies,” 22 January 1985, New York Times: A22; Richard Pearson, “Rep. Gillis Long, 61, Influential Democrat,” 22 January 1985, Washington Post: D4.

3Suzanne Nelson, “Remembering Her Husband: Louisiana Member Willingly Took Her Spouse’s Seat, But She’s Glad To Be Out,” 5 October 2000, Roll Call: 46.

4Scheltema, “Cathy Long: She Carries On.”

5Nelson, “Remembering Her Husband.”

6“Mrs. Long To Seek Office,” 5 February 1985, New York Times: B5.

7“Catherine S. Long,” Associated Press Candidate Biographies, 1986.

8Paul Taylor, “Political Nonpositions: Louisiana’s Cathy Long Runs on Artfully Vague Race,” 30 March 1985, Washington Post: A2.

9Taylor, “Political Nonpositions: Louisiana’s Cathy Long Runs on Artfully Vague Race.”

10“Mrs. Long Goes to Washington,” 1 April 1985, Associated Press; Michael J. Dubin, United States Congressional Elections, 1788–1997 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1998): 745. A legacy of French colonial rule in the region, Louisiana counties still are referred to as parishes.

11Scheltema, “Cathy Long: She Carries On.”

12Scheltema, “Cathy Long: She Carries On.”

13“Rep. Cathy Long Says She Won’t Seek Another Term,” 18 October 1985, Associated Press.

14“Cathy Long, Louisiana Democrat Who Served One Term in U.S. House, Dies at 95,” 24 November 2019, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/cathy-long-louisiana-democrat-whoserved-one-term-in-us-house-dies-at-95/2019/11/24/3e6ce4f0-0ecb-11eabf62-eadd5d11f559_story.html.

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

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External Research Collections

Louisiana State University
Special Collections

Baton Rouge, LA
Papers: 1985-1986, 15 linear feet. The collection of Catherine Long contains office files from her term as a Representative from the Eighth Congressional District. A finding aid is available in the repository.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Catherine S. Long" 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
  • House Committee - Small Business
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