SIMPSON, Edna Oakes

SIMPSON, Edna Oakes
Copyright Washington Post; reprinted by permission of the DC Public Library.
1891–1984

Biography

Edna O. Simpson, the wife of Congressman Sid Simpson of Illinois, was unexpectedly thrust into public life when her husband collapsed and died less than two weeks before the 1958 midterm elections. A day after Sid Simpson’s death, Edna Simpson agreed to replace him as the GOP nominee in the western Illinois congressional district. Virtually unknown in Washington prior to her election, Simpson remained an outsider during her single term in the House. In 1960, she declined to stand for renomination.

She was born Edna Borman, daughter of John and Emily Armstrong Borman, in Fieldon, Illinois, on October 26, 1891. On February 1, 1920, Edna Borman married Sidney E. Simpson, an automobile dealer and longtime GOP chairman of Greene County, in western Illinois. The Simpsons raised two daughters, Martha and Janet. In 1942, Sid Simpson was elected as a Republican to the House of Representatives for a seat encompassing Greene County and 13 other counties situated between the Mississippi River and the capital of Springfield in the central part of the state. He went on to serve a total of eight terms in Congress and, from 1953 to 1955, chaired the District of Columbia Committee when Republicans controlled the House. As chair and later as Ranking Republican Member, Simpson helped to create a long–range public works program for the capital.1 He also rose to the third–ranking spot on the Agriculture Committee. Simpson was re–elected by sizeable majorities and, in his final four elections, carried each county in his district.2 During her husband’s 16 years in the House, Edna Simpson and her daughters resided primarily in Carrollton, Illinois, Sid Simpson’s hometown.

Ten days before the November 4, 1958, election, Sid Simpson collapsed and died while presiding over the dedication of a new hospital wing in Pittsfield, Illinois. Edna Simpson was seated beside him and watched as doctors tried unsuccessfully to revive him. Only a day later, on October 27, the congressional district’s GOP committee convinced Edna Simpson to put her name on the ballot in place of her husband’s.3 With congressional redistricting looming on the horizon—Illinois eventually lost a House seat with the reapportionment that transpired after the 1960 Census—party leaders may have found it difficult to recruit a seasoned politician to replace Sid Simpson in the House. Additionally, Edna Simpson’s candidacy most likely held appeal for the GOP due to potential voter sympathy for the grieving widow and the significance of name recognition in such an abridged election campaign.4 Her opponent was Democratic nominee Henry W. Pollack, an attorney from Quincy, Illinois, whom Congressman Simpson had defeated by a wide margin in 1956. Edna Simpson did not campaign or make a single speech, but won a seat to the 86th Congress (1959–1961) by easily defeating Pollack with 55 percent of the vote.5

In Washington, Edna Simpson chose to remain an obscure figure. She brought her daughter, Janet, who had worked in Sid Simpson’s office and for Dwight D. Eisenhower’s adviser Sherman Adams, to act as her principal legislative aide. During her two years in the House, Edna Simpson never made a speech on the floor, remaining virtually unknown to her colleagues. Nevertheless, her Illinois colleague Marguerite Stitt Church observed that during her single term, Simpson compiled “an admirable record of service” on the House Administration Committee and the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee.6 The reclusive Congresswoman proposed an amendment to the Railroad Retirement Act that allowed retirees who received veterans’ benefits to collect their full annuities. Apparently, one of the only times she wielded her official prerogative was in a dispute with the Office of the Clerk of the House about the name that would appear on her congressional stationery. The Clerk planned to print “Edna Oakes Simpson” (Oakes was the name of her first husband, who died less than a year after they were married). Over the Clerk’s objection, the Congresswoman received her preference: “Edna (Mrs. Sid) Simpson.”7 In serving as a “Mrs.”, she set a precedent, since previous women, both married and single, served under their given names without a salutatory title.8

In December 1959, Edna Simpson announced she would not seek re–election in 1960, choosing instead to retire to a quiet private life in Illinois. She died in Alton, Illinois, on May 15, 1984.

Footnotes

1“Rep. Simpson Dead at 64,” 27 October 1964, Washington Post: A1.

2“Sid Simpson Dead; House Member, 64,” 27 October 1958, New York Times: 27.

3“Simpson’s Widow Put on Illinois G.O.P. Ballot,” 28 October 1958, New York Times: 29.

4“Illinoisan Plans Race,” 27 December 1961, New York Times: 23; Joseph D. Mathewson, “Two Incumbents Fight Each Other in Unusual Illinois House Battle,” 18 October 1962, Wall Street Journal: 1.

5“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/electionInfo/index.aspx.

6Hope Chamberlin, A Minority of Members: Women in the U.S. Congress (New York: Praeger, 1973): 279.

7Chamberlin, A Minority of Members: 279.

8Marie Smith, “86th Congress Finds There’s a ‘Mrs.’ in the House,” 6 January 1959, Washington Post: B3.

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

[ Top ]

Bibliography / Further Reading

"Edna O. Simpson" 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.

[ Top ]

Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - House Administration
  • House Committee - Interior and Insular Affairs
[ Top ]