Ruth Sears Baker Pratt (1877-1965)
Born on August 24, 1877, to a wealthy family in Ware, Massachusetts, Ruth Baker attended prep school at Dana Hall and graduated from Wellesley College. She lived independently in Greenwich, Connecticut until age 27, when she married an oil executive and settled in Manhattan.
She was not active in the movement that won the vote for the state's women in 1917, but when the United States entered World War I that same year, she chaired the city's Woman’s Liberty Loan Committee that sold bonds to support the war. The following year, she was appointed vice-chair as of a major committee within the national Republican Party, and this established a strong base for her in a part of Manhattan so wealthy that it was known as the "Silk Stocking District." In 1925, these voters elected her as the first woman on New York City's Board of Aldermen, as the city council then was called. Pratt supported the creation of a parks commission, called for tunnels under the East River, and the building of the Triborough Bridge.
After three years as an alderman, she became New York's first congresswoman in the 1928 election, easily defeating the Democratic nominee. She also strongly supported Republican presidential candidate Herbert Hoover, even though New York Governor Al Smith was the Democratic nominee. She had known Hoover since his volunteer work during World War I, but although she was more liberal than he on several points, Pratt nonetheless choose to be closely associated him, even as he rapidly became a very unpopular president.
Pratt favored repeal of the 18th Amendment that banned alcohol, but she was unable to persuade other Republicans to join her on this, and prohibition still was in effect when the stock market crashed in 1929. The Great Depression was so serious by 1930 that she owed her reelection to a Socialist, who took enough support from the Democratic nominee that Pratt won by a mere 695 votes.
In her second term she praised Hoover for relying on private investment to solve the nation's economic problems. Heedless of the damage that her support of him did to her own career, Pratt seconded his re-nomination at the 1932 Republican National Convention. The Democratic presidential nominee was another New Yorker, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and even her wealthy district voted for his economy philosophy, the New Deal. Pratt only barely survived the Republican primary, in fact, and lost the general election by a landslide.
She spent the rest of her life as an urbane New Yorker who was active on a national level. She chaired the forerunner of the National Endowment for the Humanities and served on a committee to reshape the Republican Party after its major losses in 1932 and 1934; a decade later, during World War II, she was president of the Women's National Republican Club. Ruth Sears Pratt died in Glen Cove, New York, on August 23, 1965, at age 88.
Image credit: DC Public Library.