In 1917, during the height of World War I, Edith Nourse Rogers accompanied her husband, Fifth District Congressman John Jacob Rogers, a member of the house Foreign Affairs Committee, to England and France on a fact-finding mission
She was deeply affected by what she saw in the military hospitals and on the front lines.
Upon returning to Washington, Mrs. Rogers began volunteering with the American Red Cross and working seven days a week as a Grey Lady at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. President Warren G. Harding appointed her, at $1 a year, as an inspector for the newly-created government veterans hospital system.
In 1925, Mrs. Rogers, a Lowell Republican, ran in a special election to fill the vacancy created by the death her husband. She earned 72 percent of the vote, becoming the first woman from New England to serve in Congress.
“I hope everyone will forget that I am a woman as soon as possible,” Mrs. Rogers remarked.
She did, however, always wear an orchid or gardenia pinned to her shoulder, a demonstrative sign of her femininity.
On Capitol Hill, Congresswoman Rogers used her position to file and support legislation to better the conditions of soldiers as well as the lives of veterans post-service.
She sponsored and helped draft the G.I. Bill of Rights in 1944, secured pensions for Army nurses and paved the way for a permanent Nurse Corps in the Veterans Administration, as ell as supported appropriations to build VA hospitals. Congresswoman Rogers also sponsored the legislation creating the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAC) and the Navy Waves.
In addition to her work in supporting the military and fearlessness as an amateur pilot, Congresswoman Rogers is credited with bringing more than $1 billion in contracts to Massachusetts and was a staunch champion for the textile and leather industries in her home district.
She died 52 years ago today at the age of 80, just three days before the primary for her 19th election, having served 35 years in Congress.
Monday night, a small group gathered in the Mayor’s Reception Room to remember the Republican lawmaker, who until recently surpassed by Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, was the longest-serving woman in Congressional history.
Maria St. Catherine Sharpe of the Massachusetts Association of Women Veterans brought the proclamation signed by Gov. Deval Patrick declaring June 30, 2012 Edith Nourse Rogers Day in the Commonwealth. She was first elected to Congress on June 30, 1925. The proclamation was presented to Mayor Patrick Murphy and will be displayed in the Pollard Memorial Library.
“The fact that we are here assembled in Lowell City Hall remembering her life and Congressional legacy is a reflection that her spirit lives on,” said Maria St. Catherine Sharpe.
Mayor Murphy said the city is proud to be able to call Congresswoman Rogers one of their own, especially considering her track record on military and veterans issues, “a legacy that has been carried on by our current Congresswoman (Niki Tsongas).”
The text of the Governor’s Proclamation was as follows:
A Proclamation by His Excellency Governor Deval L. Patrick
Whereas Edith Nourse Rogers’ involvement with veterans’ rights and issues began when she was appointed by President Warren G. Harding as the inspector of new veterans’ hospitals from 1922 to 1923, where she reported on conditions; and
Whereas upon the death of her husband, Congressman John Jacob Rogers while in office in 1925, and following a subsequent state election, Edith Nourse Rogers (R-Lowell) was elected by popular vote to serve as a Republican Congresswoman from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts representing the 5th District in the United States House of Representatives; and
Whereas Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers became the first woman from New England to serve in United States Congress; and
Whereas Veterans’ issues defined Edith Nourse Rogers’ career; she secured pensions for army nurses, helped create a permanent nurses corps in the Veterans’ Administration, and inserted a $15 million provision for the development of a national network of veterans’ hospitals into the Veterans Administration Act; and
Whereas Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers sponsored a package of measures later dubbed “the GI Bill of Rights,” which passed the House on June 22, 1944, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, among the chief provisions of which legislation were tuition benefits for college-bound veterans and low-interest home mortgage loans for veterans; and
Whereas Congresswoman Rogers’ crowning legislative achievements came when in May 1941, Rogers introduced the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps Act, a voluntary enrollment program for women to join the U.S. Army; and
Whereas Until January 2011, Republican MA Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers held the record for longest-serving woman in U.S. Congressional history,
Now, Therefore, I, Deval L Patrick, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, do hereby proclaim June 30th, 2012 to be, Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers Day and urge all the citizens of the Commonwealth to take cognizance of this event and participate fittingly in its observance.
By His Excellency: Deval L. Patrick, Governor of the Commonwealth
William Francis Galvin, Secretary of the Commonwealth