A controversial critic of busing to achieve racial desegregation in the Boston public schools, Louise Day Hicks won election in 1970 to fill the Massachusetts congressional seat of retiring Speaker John W. McCormack. Expectations were that Hicks would become a prominent opponent in Congress of federal efforts to enforce busing programs. But Congresswoman Hicks instead spent much of her single term in the House working to return to power in her home city.
Anna Louise Day was born on October 16, 1916, in South Boston, Massachusetts. Her parents, William J. Day and Anna McCarron Day, raised their four children in a three-story, 18-room house in the predominantly Irish-Catholic community. Louise Day lived there her entire life. William Day eventually became a popular Democratic district court judge. Anna Day died when Louise was just 14, leaving her husband as the principal role model for the children. Years later, Louise recalled that William Day was “the greatest influence in my life … my first and only hero. My father must have been the creator of women’s lib because he felt there were no limitations to what I could do or to the opportunities I should be exposed to.”1 Louise Day graduated from Wheelock Teachers’ College in 1938 and taught first grade for several years. On October 12, 1942, she married John Hicks, a design engineer. The couple raised two sons: William and John. As a young mother, Louise Day Hicks earned a BS in education in 1952 from Boston University. In 1955, as one of just nine women in a class of 232, Hicks graduated with a JD from Boston University’s School of Law. She was admitted to the Massachusetts bar the following year and, with her brother John, established the law firm of Hicks and Day in Boston. She served as counsel for the Boston juvenile court in 1960.
Hicks’s first foray into political office came when she won election to the Boston school committee, which she chaired from 1963 to 1965. At the time, she clashed with the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) over a proposal to integrate Boston schools by busing students to different districts to achieve racial balance. Hicks gained national attention as a stalwart opponent of busing and as the leading defender of “neighborhood schools.” Hicks’s position on busing brought her notoriety, including a Newsweek cover story and local and national condemnation. Under constant threat, she sought a permit to carry a handgun and was regularly accompanied by bodyguards. “No one in their right mind is against civil rights,” she remarked at the time. “Only, let it come naturally.”2 She criticized white liberals who lived outside the city but supported busing as a remedy for educational inequalities in urban neighborhoods. “Boston schools are a scapegoat for those who have failed to solve the housing, economic, and social problems of the black citizen,” she declared.3 Congress of Racial Equality leader James Farmer denounced Hicks as “the Bull Connor of Boston,” alluding to the police commissioner of Birmingham, Alabama, who turned fire hoses and police dogs on peaceful civil rights marchers.4 Despite the protestations of the NAACP and the Boston media, she was handily re-elected to the school committee in 1964. In 1967, armed with the slogan “You Know Where I Stand,” she ran against Kevin White for Boston mayor and drew 30 percent of the vote in a 10-candidate race, but ended up losing to White by 12,000 votes. In 1969 she won election to the Boston city council by an overwhelming majority.
When U.S. House Speaker John W. McCormack announced his plans to retire at the end of the 91st Congress (1969–1971), Hicks launched a campaign for his seat. The Massachusetts congressional district encompassed a sliver of Boston running north to south through ethnically diverse neighborhoods that included the Italian North End, Irish-dominated sections of South Boston, the African-American enclave of Roxbury, and the racially mixed Dorchester area. Hicks held a great name recognition advantage over the other chief candidates for the Democratic primary nomination—a prominent African-American attorney, David S. Nelson, and widely respected state senator John Joseph Moakley. Voters were so familiar with Hicks that she was able to avoid such racially divisive issues as busing to embrace a general platform of “law and order” and to campaign at a less frenetic pace than her opponents. She reprised her old slogan, “You Know Where I Stand,” skipped television ads, kept the press at arm’s length, and refused to appear in debates with Moakley or Nelson. The primary largely became a referendum on Hicks, supported by stalwarts on the busing issues and opposed by those who dismissed her as a bigot.5 Nelson’s appeal to Black constituents was “Get it together or Louise will.”6 But Moakley and Nelson split the anti-Hicks vote, allowing her to win the September 15 primary; she beat Moakley, the runner-up, by a margin of about 10 percent.7 Nomination in the heavily Democratic district was tantamount to certain election. During the fall campaign for the general election, Hicks ratcheted up her platform of law and order, attacking Mayor Kevin White for the city’s high crime rate. She promised to “do more for Boston on the federal level” and dominated a three-way race by capturing 59 percent of the vote against Republican Laurence Curtis and Independent Daniel J. Houton.8
In the 92nd Congress (1971–1973), Hicks was assigned to the Committee on Education and Labor and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Particularly interested in issues of education, she proposed a system of tax credits for parents of children in private schools, a precursor to the school voucher proposals of the late 1990s, and backed the Higher Education Act of 1971, which expanded federal aid to public universities and colleges.9 During her time in Congress, Hicks generally supported the Richard M. Nixon administration’s conservative agenda, which was based on the premise that a “silent majority” of Americans eschewed 1960s liberalism. She publicly defended the American incursion into Cambodia and, despite calling for the “orderly withdrawal” of troops from Vietnam, Hicks told an audience in Boston, “The disgrace of this war is not our being in Vietnam, but rather in those who oppose our boys while they are there.”10
Nevertheless, Hicks remained unusually aloof in her role as a U.S. Representative and evinced more interest in Boston political developments than in issues before the House. Her reticence to leave Boston politics was notable from the outset.11 She had kept her position on the Boston city council for several weeks after being sworn in to the House, hoping to manage both jobs.12 Five months after taking office she confided to the New York Times, “Some mornings, I wake up and I’m positive I’m going to run for mayor [of Boston] again. Then other times I’m not sure at all. If I could only take the Congress to Boston I’d be perfectly happy.”13 Colleagues who had expected her to be a counterpart to “Battling” Bella Savitzky Abzug, a fellow freshman Representative, were baffled by Hicks’s reticence to make floor speeches or join in debates. Her office staff in Washington totaled three—the smallest Hill operation of any Member—while her Boston office employed nine aides. Her efforts to impose a federal ban on busing were, at best, halfhearted. Hicks was not even present for a debate on whether to strike an anti-busing provision from an education appropriations bill. By June 1971, Hicks publicly declared her candidacy for the 1971 mayoral race, challenging incumbent Kevin White.14 This time, White overwhelmed Hicks by a margin of 40,000 votes. “Being mayor of Boston is the only job she’s ever wanted,” a friend confided to a writer profiling Hicks.15
In her 1972 bid for re-election to the House, Hicks confronted a district race in which reapportionment (based on 1970 Census figures) had reshaped her constituency. Her Boston district had been reconfigured to include more than 100,000 suburban constituents, while the Dorchester area, which included many Irish working-class voters loyal to Hicks, had been stripped out.16 Though she easily won the Democratic primary, she lost narrowly in a four-way general election to Joe Moakley, who ran this time on the Independent-Conservative ticket. Moakley edged Hicks out with 70,571 to 67,143 votes (43 percent to 41 percent of the total vote).17 In 1973 Moakley switched his affiliation to the Democratic Party and was re-elected to 14 consecutive terms.
Hicks returned to her law practice in Boston and headed an anti-busing group called “Return Our Alienated Rights” (ROAR) until a 1976 federal court instituted busing. In 1973 Hicks was re-elected to the Boston city council, describing it as her “sabbatical year for the people.” She promised to challenge Moakley for the 1974 Democratic nomination but later chose to stay in Boston politics.18 In 1976 she was elected the first woman president of the city council. After serving on the city council for four terms, Hicks retired from public life entirely in 1981. Louise Day Hicks died in her South Boston home on October 21, 2003.
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
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