Dixie Bibb Graves

Dixie Bibb Graves Swearing In Dixie Bibb Graves (1882-1965) served in the U.S. Senate for five months from 1937 to 1938, a position to which she was appointed by her husband, Gov. Bibb Graves to fill the seat of Hugo Black. Known as “Miss Dixie” by most Alabamians, Graves was an early advocate for women’s rights who supported drafting women in times of war, participated in the Alabama suffrage movement, and was the first woman to have represented Alabama in the U.S. Senate.

Dixie Bibb was born on July 26, 1882, outside Montgomery to Peyton and Isabel Thorpe Bibb on the family plantation. She and her four sisters grew up in the family home on South McDonough Street in Montgomery. Peyton Bibb’s family was descended from Alabama’s first two governors, William Wyatt Bibb and Thomas Bibb. In 1900, at the age of 18, she married state legislator and first cousin David Bibb Graves, who was 10 years her senior and would be elected to his first term as governor in 1927.

Early in their marriage, Graves travelled to various political gatherings to hear her husband speak and later served as a guest speaker herself. Graves declared herself “a lifelong Democrat.” She was a member of the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association and had lobbied the state legislature in support of the Anthony Amendment to give women the right to vote. In addition, Graves served as president of the League of Women’s Voters and the United Daughters of the Confederacy and was a member of the Illiteracy Commission.

Young Dixie Bibb Dixie Graves stepped into the national spotlight in August 1937, during her husband’s second term as governor of Alabama. Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt had appointed Alabama U.S. senator Hugo L. Black to the Supreme Court that month, setting the stage for an historical event in Alabama, the appointment of a new junior senator. Following Black’s departure from the Senate, Governor Graves was empowered to appoint an interim senator until a special election could be held. Graves had numerous possible candidates, most of whom were political supporters from previous elections. But Graves was an astute politician and strategist and made a decision to favor none of the possible candidates over any other. He appointed his wife Dixie, thus solving his difficulties in choosing one ally over another, which could have led to a loss of support for his programs. Also, with the Democrat Graves in the Senate, the president would have a loyal supporter voting for his progressive New Deal legislation. After the appointment was announced, Alabama newspapers and citizens wasted no time in expressing their views. Some were very pleased and thought she would do a better job as senator than her husband was doing as governor. Others denounced the appointment as a political move by the governor to control events not only in the capitol building and the state legislature, but also the U.S. Senate.

During her first week in Washington, Graves proposed a “Peace Bill,” which called for drafting both women and men in time of war. Graves’s resolution stated that when war exists or is imminent, men, women, money, and materials should be available for unlimited use and service and without profit, but the bill was not approved. That same week, the Senate debated an anti-lynching bill, which southern senators filibustered in opposition, prompting an impassioned speech by Graves. Her response was notable because it was the first time that a woman gave a speech on the floor of the Senate and attracted much attention. Lawmakers returned to their seats and other attendees filled the gallery to listen intently to her words. Stating that she abhorred the practice, Graves nevertheless opposed the bill because it would force states to surrender some measure of their sovereignty, or rights. Newspapers related that at the conclusion of her speech, Senate rules were ignored as she was applauded by senators from both sides of the aisle, who congratulated her on the impressive extemporaneous speech.

In the following weeks, Vice Pres. John Nance Garner asked Graves to chair the Senate, apparently a first for women. During her term, she voted in support of New Deal programs directed at agriculture, crop control, and labor policy. Several months later, in a speech before a group of Washington women, Graves compared running the national government to housekeeping on a larger scale. She noted that with women moving into public affairs, the nation’s housekeeping should show improvement, encouraging more women to enter the political arena.

Alabama Governor’s Mansion On January 10, 1938, as she resigned her position following the election of Lister Hill to the seat, she made another speech on the Senate floor. She thanked everyone who helped during her term in office, and Senate members responded with glowing comments about her five-month tenure. Graves returned to Alabama and the governor’s mansion, where she enjoyed spending time in the gardens and working in and supervising the plantings at the mansion. She reverted back from senator to first lady with the greatest of ease; cutting ribbons at grand openings of pilgrimages and public gardens and speaking at various functions.

Graves’s public activities continued beyond her years in the mansion and her husband’s death in 1942. She was active in causes that were of interest to both of them, including public welfare, health, and education. During World War II, she recruited for the Women’s Army Corp (WACs) and worked for the Red Cross and the United Service Organizations (USO). Her efforts resulted in the designation of one WAC group as the Dixie Bibb Graves Unit. Following World War II, Graves fought to cure polio. She worked for the development of special hospitals for Alabama’s children to treat and cure the disease and became a very active member of the State Advisors on Women’s Activities of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, an organization later known as the National March of Dimes Association. In 1955, Graves lent her support to a constitutional amendment on education. She was also chair or honorary chair of the Women’s Division of the State Democratic Campaign in 1948, 1952, 1956, and 1960. At the time of her death on January 21, 1965, at the age of 83, she was a member of the Alabama Historical Association, the American Legion Auxiliary, the No Name Club, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy and a board member of Boys Industrial School and Bob Jones College in Cleveland, Tennessee. Graves was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Montgomery and named to the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 1972.

Further Reading

  • Yelverton, Mildred Griffin. They Also Served: Twenty-Five Remarkable Alabama Women. Dothan, Ala.: Ampersand Publishing, 1993.

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