Monday, October 1, 2012
Zatae Leola Longsdorff Straw (1866-1955)
Today on the 57th anniversary of her death, oddly named New Hampshire state representative Zatae Longsdorff Straw is honored as the first female politician to be profiled here on the SNIAPH site! During a long life that extended nearly 90 years, Straw was a woman of many accomplishments, including being the first female graduate of Dickinson College, a prominent physician and head of the Manchester Medical Association, and one of New Hampshire's first female legislators. With that introduction, I'd like to venture comment that locating strangely named female politicians to profile here on the site has been difficult, to say the least, and I'll now give a brief background on why that may be!
While women did receive the right to vote in 1920, there were a number of instances in the late 19th and early 20th century in which women were elected to public office. For example, Colorado elected three women to its state house of representatives in 1894 and Utah elected its first female state senator (Martha Hughes Cannon) in 1896. Since gaining the right to vote in 1920 numerous women have served in political office at the state and national level throughout the U.S., but as far as strange names are concerned, the male politicians featured here have a clear majority! Since beginning this project many years ago I've managed to locate and catalog only 80 or so oddly named women who have served in some political capacity, and out of these female politicians, the name of Zatae Longsdorff Straw is by far the strangest!
I originally located Straw's name in a 1925 edition of the Manual of the General Court of New Hampshire. Located throughout this book were numerous instances of candidates and legislators elected that year, and I will admit that when I first saw the name "Zatae L. Straw" I presumed that it belonged to man! It was only after doing a quick search of the name that I learned the full story of this amazing woman, one which will now be told here on the site!
Zatae Leola Sturgis Longsdorff was born in the town of Centerville, Pennsylvania on April 16, 1866, one of six children born to Dr. William Henry Longsdorff and his wife Lydia. Zatae spent her early life near the Carlisle, Pennsylvania area and began attending Wellesley College in 1883. The next year she followed in her father and older brother's footsteps by enrolling at the Dickinson College. Zatae Longsdorff would eventually graduate from Dickinson in the class of 1887, earning lasting distinction as the first female graduate of that institution in its century-plus history.
After leaving Dickinson, Longsdorff continued her education at the Women's Medical College in Philadelphia, earning her medical degree in 1890. Around this same time, she relocated to the Blackfoot, Idaho area, where she became a resident physician at the Ft. Hill Indian Reservation. In 1891 she returned east and in November of that year married Amos Gale Straw (1864-1926), who himself would become a prominent physician in the Manchester, New Hampshire area. Zatae and Amos would eventually have four children, who are listed as follows: Enid Constance (1900-1981), Zatae Gale (1906-1930), Wayne C. (1909-1931) and David Gale (1923-1979). Amos and Zatae later adopted a fifth child, Gertrude Grey (1898-1986).
Zatae Longsdorff as she looked around the time of her marriage in 1891.
After her marriage to Dr. Amos Straw, Zatae Longsdorff Straw began a medical practice of her own in Manchester, becoming one of the first practicing female physicians in that city, let alone New Hampshire. Straw's medical practice continued well into the 1920s, and as she entered her fifties, she embarked upon a very bright political career.
In November 1923 Zatae Straw won election as a Republican to the New Hampshire State House of Representatives from Manchester's fourth ward. Officially taking her seat in January 1924, Straw won re-election to the house in November 1925, and during her two terms held a seat on the Committee on Health (later serving as its chair), as well as serving on the committee on Fisheries and Game. In 1926 Straw accomplished another first, this time in the realm of politics. In that year she served as the chairwoman of the New Hampshire Republican State Convention, the first woman ever to do so in the state of New Hampshire!
As her second term in the legislature came to a close in November 1927, Straw mounted a campaign for a New Hampshire State Senate seat. As mentioned in the above passage from the Nashua Telegraph, she was "the first woman in the state to aspire for this position." Although she was unsuccessful in her candidacy, Straw continued to be politically active throughout the remainder of her long life.
This article on Zatae L. Straw appeared in the September 6, 1935 edition of the Nashua Telegraph.
After leaving politics, Dr. Straw continued to be active in a number of state organizations, including serving as vice president of the New Hampshire Department of the American Legion Auxiliary. In 1935 she was elected as the state president of this organization, serving until 1936. An article on her nomination to this office appeared in the September 1935 Nashua Telegraph and has been posted above.
Accolades continued to come to Dr. Straw later in her life. Upon the 50th anniversary of her graduation from Dickinson College in 1937, that institution conferred on her an honorary degree in science. Four years later in 1941, she was awarded a gold medal for her lengthy service to medicine by the New Hampshire Medical Society. Many sources on Dr. Straw's life also mention her as serving as the first woman president of the American Medical Society, although no source list her dates of service.
Zatae Longsdorff Straw died at age 89 on October 1, 1955 in her native city of Manchester. Her husband Amos had predeceased her in 1926, and two of her children (Wayne and Zatae) had also died at young ages. Straw was memorialized in the Manchester Union Leader as "one of New Hampshire's most distinguished women" shortly after her death and was interred with her husband and children at the Pine Grove Cemetery in Manchester.