Women making history: Widows in Congress

This post is one of a series of posts in observance of Women’s History Month.

On March 20, Julie Letlow cleared the field by winning 62 percent of the vote in a 12-person field to fill the congressional seat of her late husband for Louisiana’s 5th House district. Luke Letlow was elected to the seat in 2020, but he died from COVID-related complications late last year. According to Roll Call, Letlow will become one of two widows currently serving in Congress, and it is possible there will soon be a third, if Republican Susan Wright wins in the competitive Texas 6th district to fill the seat of her late husband.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, 48 women have been appointed or elected to fill vacancies in Congress created when their husbands died. And in fact, there was another special election on the 20th in Louisiana to fill the seat once held by another widow in Congress: Lindy Boggs. Boggs was widowed when the plane on which her husband, House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, was traveling disappeared and he was declared dead. Lindy Boggs held the seat from 1973 to 1991, winning more than 80 percent of the vote in her first full election in 1974. (Because no candidate in Saturday’s multi-candidate contest got 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held.)

Letlow will be the only woman in the Louisiana delegation when she is sworn in, and she is the first Republican woman to represent Louisiana. There will be 31 GOP women in the House when she is sworn in, well behind the 89 Democrats. Still, the GOP victories last November were impressive. Two-thirds of the newly elected women in Congress are Republicans, and eight of the seats Republicans flipped were won by women.