REECE, Louise Goff

REECE, Louise Goff
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1898–1970

Biography

Louise G. Reece, an inseparable political companion during her husband Carroll Reece's long service as a Tennessee Representative, won a special election to succeed him after his death in 1961. Her brief career in Congress was a direct product of decades of experience in support of his busy schedule—running Carroll Reece's re–election campaigns, scouting key legislation, and, in his absence, making important contacts on his behalf. During her 19 months on Capitol Hill, Louise Reece followed her husband's example as a fiscal conservative and defender of business interests in eastern Tennessee.

Louise Despard Goff was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on November 6, 1898, the only child of Guy Despard Goff, a lawyer who had left his native Clarksburg, West Virginia, for Milwaukee, and Louise Van Nortwick Goff, a graduate of Wells College. In April 1905, her mother died of a paralytic stroke.1 Born to a wealthy family of bankers and lawyers, Louise Goff was educated at private schools in Milwaukee and at the prestigious Miss Spence's School in New York City. In 1912, her grandfather Nathan Goff, a former U.S. Representative from West Virginia and a U.S. circuit court judge, was elected to the U.S. Senate. In 1917, Louise Goff moved to Washington, D.C., with her family when her father was appointed a special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General. He worked in that capacity intermittently for six years, while also serving as the general counsel of the U.S. Shipping Board and, during the war, as a commissioned army colonel in the Judge Advocate General's Department. In 1924, Guy Goff won election to his father's old Senate seat from West Virginia. The Goff family lived in Washington, and Louise Goff became immersed in the capital's social life. She left the comforts of home in 1920, to volunteer for an American relief effort in France spearheaded by Anne Morgan, daughter of financier J.P. Morgan. While in France, Goff drove ambulances through areas of the country that had been ravaged by World War I.2

In 1923, Louise Goff married Brazilla Carroll Reece, initiating an almost–four–decade–long political union. Carroll Reece, then a second–term Republican Representative from Tennessee, had been a highly decorated World War I serviceman and university administrator. The couple settled into a home in Washington, D.C., and spent their summers and recess breaks in Johnson City, Tennessee, until World War II, when Louise Reece and the couple's only child, a daughter named Louise, moved back full–time to Tennessee. Carroll Reece served 18 total terms in the House (1921–1931; 1933–1947; 1951–1961). He represented the formerly Unionist, and safely Republican, upper–eastern section of the state. Reece was deeply conservative and an isolationist, and forged a close political alliance with Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio. He helped to shape and to amend such measures as the Food and Drug Act and the Federal Communications Act, opposed much of the New Deal, and was a fervent anti–communist during the early Cold War years.3 Reece also was the acknowledged leader of the Tennessee GOP and the most prominent of southern Republicans.4 In 1947, he relinquished his House seat to chair the Republican National Committee (RNC), supporting Taft at the 1948 Republican National Convention and resigning his seat after the nomination of Thomas Dewey. He returned to the House in 1951 to serve another decade.5

During her husband's lengthy service in the House, Louise Reece made regular appearances on the campaign trail and acted as his chauffeur during campaign swings. During several of his re–election campaigns, she later recalled, "he stayed in Washington and I came home and ran things. In those days he only had to show at just one county rally to clinch another term. But all I knew about politics, I learned from him."6 She also worked as Carroll Reece's eyes and ears in Washington, tracking legislation in caucus meetings or congressional committees, and as an observer and point of contact at GOP meetings, including the national conventions. Even after Louise Reece moved away from the capital in the early 1940s, she returned often to assist her husband while living out of a hotel. One congressional aide recalled that "most East Tennesseans thought of them as Mr. and Mrs. Republican." Their daughter, who, as a licensed pilot, also transported Carroll Reece around eastern Tennessee, recalled of her parents' political partnership, "They were a team."7

Following a long battle with cancer, Congressman Carroll Reece died on March 19, 1961.8 Less than a week after his death, Louise Reece announced her intention to seek the GOP nomination to fill out the remainder of his term.9 Two days later, local Republican committeemen unanimously chose her as their candidate to succeed Carroll Reece and simultaneously called for a nominating convention for April 15.10 Reece was opposed in the GOP convention by Leland Davis, a 38–year–old oilman with no previous experience in politics.11 Reece prevailed handily and, for the next five weeks, campaigned extensively throughout the district, much as she had nearly 20 years earlier on behalf of her husband. "I thought of a lot of back roads my husband had forgotten," she remarked.12 The first returns on the evening of the May 16, 1961, special election came from Carroll Reece's home county, Johnson County, where Louise won with 1,800 votes out of 2,000 cast. That trend carried over throughout the district. In the three–way race, Louise Reece defeated her nearest competitor, Democrat William Faw, who had been endorsed by Senator Estes Kefauver, by a two–to–one margin.13 Shortly after winning, she told a reporter, "I am a conservative. You can count on me to be on that side. I'm going with the Republican leaders." She noted that her interests would be in the areas of juvenile delinquency and school building projects. Reflecting on her victory further, Reece said that being a Member of Congress was "the last thing I ever thought of." From her earliest days, such aspirations had, apparently, been discouraged. She recalled her father's exclusionary practices as a Senator: "No woman ever got inside his office door."14

Louise Reece took the oath of office on May 23, 1961, and was assigned to the Committee on Public Works. In an effort to protect her district's glass industry, Reece paired with West Virginia Representative Cleveland Bailey in urging President John F. Kennedy to restore tariff rates on certain glass products.15 She joined the other Republicans on the Public Works Committee in issuing a report in opposition to the Public Works Acceleration and Coordination Act that they thought would needlessly increase federal spending and overburden the bureaucracy. Though she supported government aid to build schools, she opposed federal dollars going towards increasing teachers' pay. "If that comes, the next thing they will do is to tell us what to teach," she said.16 In a special order marking the 45th anniversary of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote, Reece dedicated one of her rare floor speeches to recalling the role of Tennessee in providing the final vote for ratification. "I feel highly honored to be a Member of the present delegation from the great Volunteer State that made this contribution to the progress of our country and to women in particular," Reece said, joining most of her women colleagues in a round of celebratory speeches.17

A severe arthritic condition cut her congressional career short.18 The 63–year–old Congresswoman announced in January 1962 that she would not be a candidate for re–election. "A younger person, who can start building up some seniority for the district, ought to be here in Washington," Reece told reporters.19 Her successor, Republican James Quillen, did just that, winning election in 1962 to the first of 17 consecutive terms in the House. Louise Reece returned to her business interests in Tennessee and West Virginia and succeeded her late husband on the RNC. She was still a member of the RNC when she died in Johnson City, Tennessee, on May 14, 1970.

Footnotes

1Gerald Wayne Smith, Nathan Goff, Jr.: A Biography; With Some Account of Guy Despard Goff and Brazilla Carroll Reece (Charleston, WV: Education Foundation, Inc., 1959): 304–305.

2Peggy Preston, "Political Pow–Wows Old Story to GOP Chairman's Wife," 5 April 1946, Washington Post: 14; Eugene L. Meyer, "Congressman Louise Reece, GOP National Chief's Widow," 16 May 1970, Washington Post: B4; "Still Helping France," 5 December 1920, New York Times: 98.

3"B. Carroll Reece," 21 March 1961, Washington Post: A12.

4Smith, Nathan Goff, Jr.: 341–347.

5Ibid., 342.

6Elizabeth Ford, "New Rep. Reece: First Returns Were Happy Ones for Her," 19 May 1961, Washington Post: C2.

7Hope Chamberlin, A Minority of Members: Women in the U.S. Congress (New York: Praeger, 1973): 290.

8"B. Carroll Reece, Legislator, Dead," 20 March 1961, New York Times: 29.

9"Reece's Widow Plans to Seek His House Seat," 25 March 1961, Washington Post: 49.

10"Mrs. Reece Endorsed," 26 March 1961, New York Times: 45.

11"Jobber Opposes Mrs. Reece," 6 April 1961, New York Times: 22.

12Meyer, "Congresswoman Louise Reece, GOP National Chief's Widow."

13"Reece's Widow Wins Election for His Seat," 17 May 1961, New York Times: 25; Michael J. Dubin et al., United States Congressional Elections, 1788–1997 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Publishing, Inc.): 629.

14Ford, "New Rep. Reece: First Returns Were Happy Ones for Her."

15Congressional Record, House, 87th Cong., 1st sess. (29 June 1961): 11918.

16Ford, "New Rep. Reece: First Returns Were Happy Ones for Her."

17Congressional Record, House, 87th Cong., 1st sess. (28 August 1961): 17264–17265.

18Meyer, "Congresswoman Louise Reece, GOP National Chief's Widow."

19"Mrs. Reece to Retire," 18 January 1962, New York Times: 13.

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

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External Research Collections

East Tennessee State University Library
Archives of Appalachia

Johnson City, TN
Papers: In the Guy Despard Goff Collection, 1919-1924, 0.5 linear foot. Persons represented include Louise Goff Reece.
Papers: In the James H. Quillen papers, ca. 1918-1999, 566 linear feet. The collection also includes some of the papers of James Quillen's predecessors, Brazilla Carroll and Louise Goff Reece.
Papers: In the B. Carroll Reece papers, 1865-1971, 61 boxes. Persons represented include Louise Goff Reece.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Louise G. Reece" 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
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