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Kathryn O'Loughlin McCarthy

Kathryn O'Loughlin McCarthy

First Kansas Congresswoman.  Democrat. Born: April 24, 1894, Ellis County, Kansas.  Married: Daniel McCarthy, February 4, 1933.  Died: January 16, 1952, Hays, Kansas. Served in U.S. House of Representatives, 6th District: March 4, 1933, to January 3, 1935.

When Kathryn O'Loughlin of Hays entered the Democratic primary for Sixth District Kansas U.S. House of Representatives in 1932, she had three strikes against her. She was a single woman, a Catholic, and a Democrat in a primarily Republican district that encompassed 26 counties in northwest Kansas. She overcame these obstacles to win by approximately 143,000 votes in the election landslide that put Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the White House. She was the first woman from Kansas to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Kathryn Ellen O'Loughlin was born in 1894 on a farm in Ellis County. Her Irish-American family was Roman Catholic and belonged to the Democratic Party. She was educated in Hays and graduated from Fort Hays Kansas Normal School in 1917. She obtained a law degree from the University of Chicago in 1920 and passed the Kansas Bar examination. While her father, John O'Loughlin, was serving in the Kansas House in 1921, she was employed as a clerk of the House Judiciary Committee. She practiced law in Chicago for several years, and was involved in legal aid work in Illinois politics. She returned to Kansas in 1929 and was elected to the state legislature in 1930.

During her campaign for Congress in 1932 she defeated eight men in the Democratic primary, traveled approximately 30,000 miles, gave as many as 12 speeches per day, and dealt with "whisper" campaigns about her marital status, religion, and stand on prohibition. In the midst of the campaign, she met Daniel McCarthy of Mankato, a lawyer and state senator, whom she married in February 1933.

As congresswoman, McCarthy was active in influencing New Deal agricultural policy. Growing discontent with the regulatory aspects of Roosevelt's farm policy and the traditional Republican leanings of her constituency contributed to her 2,000 vote defeat by Frank Carlson in her re-election bid in 1934.

O'Loughlin continued to help others after her political career ended. She paid tuition at Fort Hays State University for many low-income students, including several African American students to whom she provided free room and board in her home because they had been discriminated against. She also advocated for better treatment of women in the state's prisons.

Though her elected political career was brief, Kathryn O'Loughlin McCarthy ably demonstrated that women could withstand the hardships of a political campaign and could be a positive influence for our state at the national level. She led the way for other Kansas women to enter political careers.

Kathryn O'Loughlin McCarthy died on January 16, 1952, in Hays.

Entry: McCarthy, Kathryn O'Loughlin

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: March 2009

Date Modified: January 2016

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.