Resource

Life Story: Helen Gahagan Douglas (1900–1980)

Congresswoman from California

The story of a popular Congresswoman from California whose political career was entangled in the sexist and anti-communist politics of 1950.

Helen Gahagan Douglas

Helen Gahagan Douglas, ca. 1945, PA2012.04.0056a. Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Congresswoman shops for evidence of high cost of living

Congresswoman shops for evidence of high cost of living, March 12, 1947. PA2012.04.0056d. Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Suggested Activities

  • Helen Gahagan Douglas was neither the first nor the last woman politician to face barriers and discrimination because of her gender. Connect her life story to that of Jeannette Rankin or encourage students to research current female politicians to understand how many of these challenges still exist today. 
  • Helen first came to office during World War II. Connect her life story to the resources in the World War II section of Confidence and Crises, 1920-1948
  • Helen was not the only American to travel to Europe and witness the rise of fascism first-hand. Connect her life story to that of Anne O’Hare McCormick, whose career was also informed by her travels. 
  • Link Helen’s story to the life story of Linda Moy Chin and consider the different ways anti-communist sentiment shaped people’s lives in the 1940s and 1950s. 
  • Trace Richard Nixon’s views of and interactions with American women throughout this unit by linking this resource to the Kitchen Debates and Barbara Jordan’s speech on his impeachment.
  • Both Helen Gahagan Douglas and Shirley Chisholm were on the cover of Ms. magazine in 1973. Compare these two outspoken members of Congress by pairing Helen’s life story with the Shirley Chisholm runs for president resource

Themes

POWER AND POLITICS

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