Lindy Boggs, 1916–2013

The House member who legislated with charm

Lindy Boggs had only been a member of Congress for a year when, in 1974, she had her first legislative victory. As a junior Democrat on the House Banking Committee, she noticed something missing from the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, written to bar lenders from discriminating on the basis of race, age, or veteran status. She scribbled in the additional words “sex or marital status” and passed out new copies to all the other members. “I’m sure it was just an oversight,” Boggs said. “I’ve taken care of that, and I trust it meets with the committee’s approval.” No one dared object.

Boggs hadn’t acquired her politesse and legislative savvy in a single year, said The Washington Post. She was born Marie Corinne Morrison Claiborne “to a family that traced its roots to colonial Jamestown and was one of the country’s early political dynasties.” Raised on a 5,000-acre cotton plantation in Louisiana, she attended the women’s division of Tulane University in New Orleans, where she met her future husband, a politically ambitious fellow editor of the college paper named Hale Boggs. By age 24, as the “wife of the youngest freshman in the House,” she was learning the Capitol’s ways “as a Democratic hostess, campaign manager, and adviser to her husband and scores of other politicians.”

By the mid-1960s, “the Boggses were considered among Washington’s first ‘power couples,’” said The Wall Street Journal. They opposed other white Southerners by actively supporting civil rights legislation, and Hale Boggs rose to Democratic majority leader. But in late 1972, his airplane vanished over Alaska, and the following year, his wife ran for his seat and won.

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In her 18 years in the House, Boggs became “the most influential of trailblazing women in Congress,” said The American Spectator. She could bend Speaker Tip O’Neill to her will “by whispering in his ear,” and despite being both strongly anti-abortion and a loyal Democrat, she “always worked to bridge partisan divides.” President Bill Clinton named her, at age 81, as the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, saying she was “maybe the only person on earth who could convince the pope I am worth dealing with.”

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