A growing frustration with the Great Depression and a desire for social change motivated Chase Going Woodhouse, a professor of economics at Connecticut College in New London, to run for political office in 1940. In her first political campaign she won a two-year term as Secretary of the State by a larger margin than any other candidate on the ballot. She returned to politics in 1946, when she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Connecticut’s Second District, becoming only the second woman to represent the state in Congress and the first from the Democratic party. Her background in monetary policy and finance landed her a seat on the Committee on Banking and Currency where she waged fierce battles in support of international economic cooperation.
Chase Going was born in Victoria, British Columbia, the only child of a railroad developer and a teacher. She earned both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in economics from McGill University. She went on to pursue doctoral work in economics at the University of Berlin. After the outbreak of World War I, she continued her studies at the University of Chicago.
While serving as a fellow in political economics at the University of Chicago, Chase Going met and married a professor of government, Edward Woodhouse. They had two children, Noel and Margaret. As a child, Noel was quoted as saying, “Dad talks about Thomas Jefferson, Mother about better jobs for women.” In fact, throughout her life, Woodhouse stressed the need for women to participate fully in a nation's civic and economic life. She took this message beyond the United States to Mexico, where she organized the first Business and Professional Women's Club, and to Germany, where she organized the Woman's Division of the U.S. military government.
After serving on the faculties of Smith College and the University of North Carolina and working as an economist for the Bureau of Home Economics, Woodhouse became a professor at Connecticut College. Her two non-consecutive terms (1945-1947, 1949-1951) as a Congresswoman drew upon her economics expertise and included both domestic and international post-war legislation. At the time, Connecticut had two women serving in Congress, Woodhouse and Clare Boothe Luce, who represented the Fourth District. In addition to her stints in elected office, Woodhouse held many leadership positions in her long and impressive career, including with the Institute of Women's Professional Relations, the Connecticut Federation of Democratic Women's Clubs, the International Association of University Women, the Connecticut League of Women Voters, the Auerbach Service Bureau, and the Connecticut War Labor Board. She was also a member of the Founders Committee of the University of Hartford. In 1965, she served as a member of Connecticut’s Constitutional Convention.
Still active in her 80s, Woodhouse would commute from her home in Baltic to her Hartford office daily. In 1973, she was named to the newly formed Permanent Commission on the Status of Women as a charter commissioner. Her many writings include several books, journal articles, and reports which have left a lasting impact on Connecticut civic life. She died in New Canaan, Conn., in December 1984.
During This Time
1921 - 1945: Prosperity, Depression, & War
Industrial growth, economic expansion, and plenty of consumer goods gave women more purchasing power and pleasure in the 1920s. Women gained political office, but after achieving the right to vote the Women’s Movement fractured over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The percentage of married women in the workforce doubled, though in menial jobs, while women of color had few opportunities. The media’s message about the home was ambivalent. For daughters, the young flapper was glamorized in movies starring Clara Bow who had It (sex appeal). But the modern mother, equipped with widely-advertised appliances, was expected to keep house and raise children with new efficiency.
The prosperity of the twenties contrasted with the hardships of the 1930s following the 1929 stock market crash. Farm families in the Dust Bowl, suffering from drought and crop failures, fled to California where they worked as migratory laborers. As impoverished families across America struggled, desertion rose (but not divorce, which was expensive), and family size grew smaller. Women’s jobs were largely confined to low-paying domestic labor, garment factories, and food-processing plants, all further segregated by race and ethnicity.
In the midst of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt, helped by wife Eleanor, brought strong leadership toward recovery with the New Deal. Professional women were included in federal projects, and work relief programs gave help to poor women. The Social Security Act of 1935 owed much to Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve in the Cabinet. African-American Mary McLeod Bethune, using her executive position in the National Youth Administration, pressured the administration to provide equal pay for blacks in all programs.
World War II deeply influenced women’s lives. Sex-segregated labor diminished, as symbolized in the poster of “Rosie the Riveter.” Women were accepted into the military, though the public was concerned about the loss of femininity. Defense industries were reluctant to admit women, but as men were drafted, the resistance eroded. Older, married women provided the largest number of new workers. Black, Mexican, and Chinese women had new opportunities, but Japanese women suffered internment in camps. With demobilization, women were laid off, but many were soon back on the job. Their role still was defined in the home, but the war had increased women’s activities in the workplace.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.