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The First Woman Senator for the New York State Legislature

Rhoda Fox Graves

Rhoda Fox Graves

From school teacher to farmer, to Assemblywoman, to Senator - Rhoda Fox Graves was the first women to be elected to both houses of the New York State Legislature. During her first bid for a seat in the Assembly, Graves' opponent in the primary, prominent lawyer Frank L. Scott, had reportedly boasted that 'Anybody can beat a woman', and used the campaign slogan: "There is no sentiment for a woman". Her subsequent win seemed all the more victorious, particularly because St. Lawrence County was the last county in the state to accept women's suffrage.

The following information was gathered from these sources:

--"Senate Biographies: Rhoda Fox Graves" New York Red Book (1935): 38-39.
--"Assembly Biographies: Rhoda Fox Graves" New York Red Book (1930): 61-62.
--http://www.northnet.org/stlawrenceaauw/graves.htm

Background:
Born in Fowler, New York in 1877. At the age of 2, she was adopted by the Fox family who had raised her since birth when her mother died. Politics was in her blood: she was a descendant of Sir Roger Conant, who was Governor of Massachusetts and the leader of a company of fisherman who founded Salem (then called Naumkeag) in 1626.

Education: District School at Fowler, Gouverneur High School, and Wesleyan Seminary.

Career Highlights:
Early Career - Rhoda Fox worked as a school teacher in rural and public schools, and owned and operated a farm in the Gouverneur area in New York, where she met and married prominent businessman Perle Atwell Graves in 1905. They had two sons: Mark Graves, a graduate of Colgate University, and Paul Graves, a graduate of Harvard Law School.

Political Start - Graves worked for the women's suffrage movement. After the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, she became active in St. Lawrence County politics.

She was the Regent of the Gouverneur Morris Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, during which she was appointed chair of the resolutions committee at the Albany D.A.R. conference in 1923. She also served as state director of the D.A.R.

1920-1935 - Graves served as the Vice President of the St. Lawrence County Republican Committee.

1924-1932 - She was elected to the New York State Assembly, to represent the first assembly district.

Graves was
twice a delegate to the Republican National Convention: once in Kansas City (1928), and again in Chicago (1932).

1934-1948
- After an unsuccessful attempt to gain a seat in the New York State Senate, she won in 1934 as a 'clean candidtate' following a scandal regarding the incumbent's connection with a large power utility.

Graves' career was a collection of women's 'firsts':
she was the first woman...
...to preside in the State Senate
...to head a State Senate Standing Committee (Agriculture)
...to be elected from a northern county to the State Legislature
...to become vice president of the St . Lawrence County Republican Committee.

Before the passage of the Livermore bill, which created a place for two committeemen in each election district, she organized St. Lawrence county's 32 towns, City of Ogden, and 113 election districts by appointing a woman chairman for each town and a woman representative for each election disctrict.

Though firmly a Republican, Graves was concerned with how best to serve all of her consituents. "Naturally, I am interested in anything affecting women and children, but I never forget that I also represent the men of my district", she said. Despite this open attitude, Graves was forced to struggle against an all-male legislature which refused to cooperate with a female intruder. Through persistence and loyalty to her constituents, Graves was able to win over her colleagues and gain their support.

Graves supported legislation regarding dairyman's interests, helped pass four bills concerning an international bridge between the US and Canada, worked for the induction of women jurors, and for the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project. She sponsored the junior operator license law and a provision to clear snow from state highways.

Graves retired from the Senate in 1948, and was honored by St. Lawrence University for accomlishments and work on behalf of the North Country when the North Country Citations were formally awarded in 1949. She passed away in 1950.