Kathryn O'Loughlin (1894-1952)

A native of Hayes, Kansas, Kathryn Ellen O'Loughlin was born in 1894.  Both the time and the place were significant, as Hayes was wheat country far out on the arid prairie, and Kansas orator Mary Ellen Lease – called "Mary Yellin" – was among those leading a farmer's revolt against corporate interests, especially the railroads and the commodities market.

   

O'Loughlin graduated from the State Teachers College at Hays in 1917 and went on to the prestigious University of Chicago Law School.  She graduated in 1920, returned to Kansas, and in 1921, was chosen as the clerk of the Judiciary Committee of the Kansas House of Representatives.  In 1930, with the state's economy plummeting, she won election to the state legislature.  Her major achievement was the 1931 creation of a state park, Fort Hays Frontier Historical Park. 

   

After just one term in the legislature, she ran for Congress in 1932.  Despite being a single woman, a Roman Catholic, and a Democrat in a Protestant and Republican district, she was swept along by the New Deal tide of 1932 and defeated the incumbent.  Having won the election in November, she married Kansas State Senator Daniel McCarthy in the following March.

    

Democratic congressional leaders failed to give her the committee assignments that were most relevant to her constituents.  She protested this and won a transfer from Insular Affairs to Education, where she worked for increased vocational funding.  Now calling herself Representative McCarthy, she also supported the important Agriculture Adjustment Act and most other New Deal legislation. Not keeping her maiden name may have been a mistake, as campaigning with a new name at the next election probably was a factor in her 1934 loss.

   

After her loss, the McCarthys returned to Hays, where both practiced law.  She also owned a car dealership and continued to attend national Democratic conventions.  Kathryn O'Laughlin McCarthy died in Hays on January 16, 1952.

Image credit: Courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society.