Winifred Sprague Mason Huck (R-Chicago), First Illinois Woman to Serve in Congress

U.S. Rep. Winifred Sprague Mason Huck was the first wife and mother elected to Congress.
She was also the first Illinois woman to serve as a U.S. Representative. 
In the years following the “War to End All Wars,” hopes for a genuine and lasting world peace prevailed throughout America and the world. During the “Return to Normalcy” years of the Harding Administration, America turned inward, eager to put behind it the horrors of the recent war that had so devastated Europe. While political leaders sought to make progress toward a lasting peace abroad, a leading domestic political movement was the continuing drive for women’s equality. It was these two causes which would converge in 1922 with the election of Winnifred Sprague Mason Huck (R-Chicago) as Illinois’ first female Member of Congress.

U.S. Rep. Winnifred Sprague Mason Huck was the first wife and the first mother elected to Congress, and was only the third woman elected to Congress in the entire nation. With the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote in all elections, the stage was set for her to, “come into the political world like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky,” as she would later explain.

An avowed pacifist, Rep. Huck followed her father, U.S. Rep. William E. Mason (R-Chicago) into the House in the wake of his death in 1921. She announced that she would be a candidate in the April 1922 special election to replace him and; without spending any money on her campaign; she won the nomination in a tight contest. In the special general election, Rep. Huck took 53 percent of the vote to become Illinois’ first female Member of Congress.

“I am going to take my four children to Washington and get busy,” Huck said. “I am for world peace, but against entangling alliances and I want to see the soldiers get a bonus.”

Get busy she did, refusing to bow to the traditional practice of freshmen representatives keeping quiet on the floor. She advocated for civil service reform, for constraints on child labor and for a Constitutional amendment requiring that any declaration of war be subject to a referendum of the people, not just the Congress. She was ahead of her time not only in insisting that World War I veterans be paid a bonus (an issue which would famously explode into national prominence with the march of the “Bonus Army” a decade later) but in her contention that the Philippines, Ireland and Cuba should be independent.

Foreshadowing another famous occurrence in Illinois politics, Rep. Huck almost didn’t get to take the oath of office when she arrived in Washington because state officials had not granted her the proper credentials testifying to her election; though not for the same reasons as those which made headlines in the 21st century. Luckily, U.S. Rep. James Mann (R-Chicago) confirmed her election, and she was able to join the House of Representatives.

Rep. Huck continued her activism after her term in the House ended in 1923. It turned out that defending her right to take her seat in the House would be Rep. Mann’s last action as a Congressman, as he passed away just ten days later. Rep. Huck ran in the election to fill his vacant seat, but was defeated. She went on to chair the Political Council of the National Woman’s Party and to write a series of articles for the Chicago Evening Post in which she went undercover as an inmate in a women’s prison to offer a unique perspective on the criminal justice system.

U.S. Rep. Winnifred Sprague Mason Huck died on August 24, 1936, and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Waukegan. Since 1917, 297 women have served in the U.S. Congress. Today, there are 101 women in Congress, including four from Illinois. In total, 17 women have served Illinois in Congress, starting with the trailblazer, U.S. Rep. Winnifred Sprague Mason Huck.