Helen Gahagan
Helen Gahagan was an American actress and (under the name Helen Gahagan Douglas) politician
A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

. She was the third woman and first Democratic woman elected to Congress from California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

; her election made California one of the first two states (the other was Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

) to have elected female members of the House from both parties.

Early life and acting career

Gahagan was born in Boonton, New Jersey
Boonton, New Jersey
Boonton is a town in Morris County, New Jersey that was chartered in 1867. As of the 2010 United States Census, the town population was 8,347. The town was originally called "Boone-Towne" in 1761 in honor of the Colonial Governor Thomas Boone....

 of Scotch-Irish descent, and reared Episcopalian
Episcopal Church (United States)
The Episcopal Church is a mainline Anglican Christian church found mainly in the United States , but also in Honduras, Taiwan, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, the British Virgin Islands and parts of Europe...

. She graduated from the Berkeley Institute
Berkeley Carroll School
The Berkeley Carroll School is an independent, nonsectarian, coed day school, enrolling about 800 students from pre-kindergarten through high school...

 in 1920, and from Barnard College
Barnard College
Barnard College is a private women's liberal arts college and a member of the Seven Sisters. Founded in 1889, Barnard has been affiliated with Columbia University since 1900. The campus stretches along Broadway between 116th and 120th Streets in the Morningside Heights neighborhood in the borough...

 in 1924. Gahagan became a well-known star on Broadway in the 1920s. In 1931, she married actor Melvyn Douglas
Melvyn Douglas
Melvyn Edouard Hesselberg , better known as Melvyn Douglas, was an American actor.Coming to prominence in the 1930s as a suave leading man , Douglas later transitioned into more mature and fatherly roles as in his Academy Award-winning performances in Hud...

. Gahagan starred in only one Hollywood movie
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

, She
She (1935 film)
She is a 1935 film produced by Merian C. Cooper. The film is based on H. Rider Haggard's novel of the same name. It stars Helen Gahagan, Randolph Scott and Nigel Bruce, with music by Max Steiner...

in 1935, playing Hash-a-Motep, queen of a lost city. The movie, based on H. Rider Haggard
H. Rider Haggard
Sir Henry Rider Haggard, KBE was an English writer of adventure novels set in exotic locations, predominantly Africa, and a founder of the Lost World literary genre. He was also involved in agricultural reform around the British Empire...

's novel of the same name
She (novel)
She, subtitled A History of Adventure, is a novel by Henry Rider Haggard, first serialized in The Graphic magazine from October 1886 to January 1887. She is one of the classics of imaginative literature, and with over 83 million copies sold in 44 different languages, one of the best-selling books...

, is perhaps best known for popularizing a phrase from the novel, "She who must be obeyed." Her character in She served as the inspiration for the appearance of the Evil Queen in Walt Disney's 1937 animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Political career

In the 1940s, Gahagan Douglas entered politics. She was elected to the United States House of Representatives
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

 from California's 14th congressional district
California's 14th congressional district
California's 14th congressional district is a congressional district in the U.S. state of California. It is located between San Francisco and San Jose. The district includes portions of San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties and most notably contains part of Silicon Valley. Major cities in...

 as a liberal Democrat
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

 in 1944, and served three full terms as "a principled advocate of women's rights, civil liberties and world disarmament". During this time she openly had an enduring love affair with then Congressman (and afterwards U.S. President) Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson , often referred to as LBJ, was the 36th President of the United States after his service as the 37th Vice President of the United States...

. Ms. Douglas was mentioned in the song "George Murphy" by satirist Tom Lehrer
Tom Lehrer
Thomas Andrew "Tom" Lehrer is an American singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, mathematician and polymath. He has lectured on mathematics and musical theater...

. The song begins, "Hollywood's often tried to mix-show business with politics-from Helen Gahagan-to Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....


Appointments and activities

"Democratic National committeewoman for California 1940-1944; vice chairman of the Democratic State central committee and chairman of the women’s division 1940-1944; member of the national advisory committee of the Works Progress Administration and of the State committee of the National Youth Administration in 1939 and 1940; member of the board of governors of the California Housing and Planning Association in 1942 and 1943; appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a member of the Voluntary Participation Committee, Office of Civilian Defense; appointed by President Harry S. Truman as alternate United States Delegate to the United Nations Assembly; elected as a Democrat to the Seventy-ninth, Eightieth, and Eighty-first Congresses (January 3, 1945-January 3, 1951);... lecturer and author;..." Excerpted from Bioguide Congress

1950 campaign

In 1950, Gahagan Douglas ran for the United States Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 even though the incumbent
The incumbent, in politics, is the existing holder of a political office. This term is usually used in reference to elections, in which races can often be defined as being between an incumbent and non-incumbent. For example, in the 2004 United States presidential election, George W...

 Democrat Sheridan H. Downey
Sheridan Downey
Sheridan Downey was a lawyer and a Democratic U.S. Senator from California from 1939 to 1950.-Early life:...

 was seeking a third term. William Malone, the Democratic state chairman in California, had advised Douglas to wait until 1952 to run for the Senate, rather than split the party in a fight with Downey. Gahagan Douglas, however, told Malone that Downey had neglected veterans and small growers and must be unseated. Downey withdrew from the race in the primary campaign and supported a third candidate, Manchester Boddy, the owner and publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News
Los Angeles Daily News (historic)
The Los Angeles Daily News , often referred to simply as the Daily News, was a newspaper published from 1923 to 1954. It was operated through most of its existence by Manchester Boddy...

. When Gahagan Douglas defeated Boddy for the nomination, Downey endorsed the Republican
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

 U.S. Representative Richard M. Nixon.

In the race against Nixon, Gahagan Douglas was considered by many Democrats to have been the victim of a smear campaign
Smear campaign
A smear campaign, smear tactic or simply smear is a metaphor for activity that can harm an individual or group's reputation by conflation with a stigmatized group...

. It is not widely known, however, that the personal and political attacks between the opponents began when Douglas stated that Nixon had cast votes contrary to national security. Alluding to her alleged Communist (or "Red") sympathies, Nixon hinted that she was a fellow traveler, citing as evidence her supposed Communist-leaning votes in Congress. Boddy had referred to her as "the Pink Lady" and said that she was "pink
Pinko is a term for a person regarded as being sympathetic to communism, though not necessarily a Communist Party member.The term has its origins in the notion that pink is a lighter shade of red, the color associated with communism...

 right down to her underwear." Nixon reprised this line of attack during the general election. His campaign manager
Campaign manager
A campaign manager is a paid or volunteer individual, whose role is to coordinate the campaign's operations such as fundraising, advertising, polling, getting out the vote , and other activities supporting the effort, directly.Apart from the candidate, they are often a campaign's most visible leader...

, Murray Chotiner
Murray Chotiner
Murray M Chotiner was an American political strategist, attorney, government official, and close associate and friend of President Richard Nixon during much of the 37th President's political career...

, even had flyers printed up on sheets of pink paper, to underline the point.

Gahagan Douglas, in return, popularized a nickname for Nixon which became one of the most enduring nicknames in American politics: "Tricky Dick". Nonetheless, Nixon won the election, with over 59 percent of the vote. Gahagan Douglas' political career hence came to an end. The conservative Democrat Samuel W. Yorty (later a Republican convert) succeeded her in Congress.

Later life and death

It was rumored that Douglas would be given a political appointment in the Truman administration, but the Nixon-Douglas race had made such an appointment too controversial for the President. According to Democratic National Committee
Democratic National Committee
The Democratic National Committee is the principal organization governing the United States Democratic Party on a day to day basis. While it is responsible for overseeing the process of writing a platform every four years, the DNC's central focus is on campaign and political activity in support...

 vice-chair India Edwards
India Edwards
India Edwards was a United States Democratic politician and Vice Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. She was an advocate for women in politics. Edwards died at the Fircrest Convalescent Hospital in Sebastopol; at the time of her death the 94-year-old lived in Greenbrae, California...

, a Douglas supporter, the former congresswoman could not have been appointed dogcatcher. In 1952, she returned to acting, and eight years later campaigned for John F. Kennedy during Nixon's first, unsuccessful presidential run. She also campaigned for George McGovern
George McGovern
George Stanley McGovern is an historian, author, and former U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, and the Democratic Party nominee in the 1972 presidential election....

 in his unsuccessful bid to prevent Nixon's 1972 reelection, and called for his ouster from office during the Watergate scandal
Watergate scandal
The Watergate scandal was a political scandal during the 1970s in the United States resulting from the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon administration's attempted cover-up of its involvement...


At its 1979 commencement ceremonies, Barnard College
Barnard College
Barnard College is a private women's liberal arts college and a member of the Seven Sisters. Founded in 1889, Barnard has been affiliated with Columbia University since 1900. The campus stretches along Broadway between 116th and 120th Streets in the Morningside Heights neighborhood in the borough...

 awarded Gahagan Douglas its highest honor, the Barnard Medal of Distinction.

She died on June 28, 1980, at the age of seventy-nine, from breast
Breast cancer
Breast cancer is cancer originating from breast tissue, most commonly from the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply the ducts with milk. Cancers originating from ducts are known as ductal carcinomas; those originating from lobules are known as lobular carcinomas...

 and lung cancer
Lung cancer
Lung cancer is a disease characterized by uncontrolled cell growth in tissues of the lung. If left untreated, this growth can spread beyond the lung in a process called metastasis into nearby tissue and, eventually, into other parts of the body. Most cancers that start in lung, known as primary...

. Senator Alan Cranston
Alan Cranston
Alan MacGregor Cranston was an American journalist and Democratic Senator from California.-Education:Cranston earned his high school diploma from the old Mountain View High School, where among other things, he was a track star...

 of California eulogized her on the floor of the Senate, on August 5, 1980, saying: "I believe Helen Gahagan Douglas was one of the grandest, most eloquent, deepest thinking people we have had in American politics. She stands among the best of our 20th century leaders, rivaling even Eleanor Roosevelt in stature, compassion and simple greatness."

Further reading

  • Douglas, Helen Gahagan. A Full Life, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, (1982), autobiography
  • Mitchell, Greg.Tricky Dick & the Pink Lady: Richard Nixon vs Helen Gahagan Douglas-Sexual Politics & the Red Scare, 1950,(1998)
  • Scobie, Ingrid Winther. Center Stage: Helen Gahagan Douglas, (1995), by a history professor

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.