Boggs, Corinne Claiborne

Boggs, Corinne Claiborne

Corinne Claiborne ("Lindy") Boggs was a Democratic representative from New Orleans, the first woman from Louisiana elected to the U.S. Congress. During her 17 years in Congress her political acumen and experience made her a popular and effective politician.

Boggs was born March 13, 1916, on Brunswick Plantation, in Louisiana. Her father owned a successful sugar plantation. She received her bachelor's degree in 1935 from Sophie Newcomb College at Tulane University and taught history in Romeville, Louisiana. Her 1938 marriage to Hale Boggs marked the beginning of an enduring and formidable political dynasty.

Boggs and her husband first went to Washington in 1940 when he was a first-year representative from New Orleans. Then only 24 and 26 years old, respectively, the young couple devoted themselves to the Democratic Party. Boggs's husband lost his bid for reelection in 1942 but regained his seat in 1946, beginning a string of 22 consecutive victories by him or Boggs. During the years that her husband was in Congress, Boggs, in addition to raising their three children, worked as his campaign manager, did community work in New Orleans, organized social events, and devised an innovative bill-tracking system for her husband at a time when no such system existed. When her husband was killed in an airplane crash in 1972 Boggs ran in the special election to fill his seat. She won easily, becoming Louisiana's first woman—and one of only 14 women—in Congress.

Although Boggs took her seat in 1973 as a first-year representative, her three decades as a congressional wife had given her the types of contacts enjoyed only by senior members. The friendships and alliances she had developed with prominent Democrats helped her gain an appointment to the House Appropriations Committee. There she used her influence to deliver many important appropriations to her home district, including money for colleges, hospitals, housing projects; a $10 million energy research center at the University of New Orleans; and numerous navigational and hurricane protection projects.

Boggs built a reputation as a compassionate, even-tempered lawmaker who quietly worked long hours in the nitty-gritty, behind-the-scenes operation of the Appropriations Committee.

Boggs's other "firsts" included being the first woman to chair the Democratic National Convention, in 1976, and the first female regent of the Smithsonian Institution. At the time of her retirement, she was the only white congressperson representing a district where most of the voters were African American, defying the conventional wisdom that voters prefer candidates of their own race.

In addition to her work on the Appropriations Committee, Boggs served on the Banking, Currency, and Housing Committee, where she worked to pass legislation aimed at solving the housing problems of elderly people and members of other low- and middle-income groups. A strong supporter of equal opportunities for women, she helped pass legislation that guarantees equal access to credit and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in the granting of small-business loans.

During her many years in Washington, D.C., Boggs acted as an unofficial hostess for the Democratic party, presiding over parties and receptions attended by most of the Democrats in the nation's capital. In looking back on her career, Boggs expressed pride in having played a "small role in opening doors for blacks and women," in helping to fund Head Start, and in securing money for businesses owned by minorities and women. She stressed that leaving public office would not mean the end of her career.

"I came to realize that there is no true democracy unless all its citizens have equal opportunity, and that all people should be able to participate in their government."
—Corinne "Lindy" Boggs

Since leaving the House, Boggs has lectured at Tulane University and the University of New Orleans and established the Hale and Lindy Boggs Center for Legislative Affairs, at Georgetown University Law School. In January 1991 she attended the dedication of the Lindy Claiborne Boggs Room, a reading room for congresswomen at the U.S. Capitol.

In 1997 Boggs was confirmed by the Senate as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, a position she held until March 2001. Since that time she has spoken on the topics of health care advocacy and other health issues.

She has also spoken of her political and personal experiences including raising two politically active daughters. Her older daughter, Barbara Boggs Sigmund, was the mayor of Princeton, New Jersey, when she became terminally ill with cancer. Boggs cited Sigmund's illness as one of the reasons she did not run for reelection in 1990; Sigmund died later that year. Boggs's younger daughter, Corinne "Cokie" Roberts, worked as a journalist and congressional reporter for National Public Radio and ABC News in the early 2000s.

Further readings

Berry, Dawn Bradley. 1996. The 50 Most Influential Women in American Law. Los Angeles: Contemporary Books.

Boggs, Lindy, with Katherine Hatch. 1994. Washington through a Purple Veil: Memoirs of a Southern Woman. New York: Harcourt Brace.

Catholic Health Association. Available online at <> (accessed June 1, 2003).

Ehrenhalt, Alan, ed. 1983. Politics in America. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.

Gilbert, Lynn, and Gaylen Moore. 1981. Particular Passions: Talks with Women Who Have Shaped Our Times. New York: Potter.

Keil, Sally Van Wagenen. 1979. Those Wonderful Women in Their Flying Machines. New York: Rawson Wade.

O'Neill, Lois D., ed. 1979. The Women's Book of World Records and Achievements. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press.

Stineman, Esther. 1980. American Political Women. Littleton, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited.