Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Dixie Bibb Graves, 1882-1965
By Hattie Engel Kaufman, lawyer, Birmingham, Ala.
Dixie Bibb Graves was born July 26, 1882 on the family plantation of her parents Peyton and Isabel Thorpe Bibb in Hope Hull, Alabama. Two of her ancestors, William Wyatt Bibb and Thomas Bibb, were the first two governors of the state of Alabama. She grew up in the city of Montgomery, Alabama, attending public schools, and in 1900 she married David Bibb Graves, who was her first cousin and who was then serving in the Alabama State Legislature.
Living in such a political environment, Dixie Bibb Graves became active in a wide range of civic organizations. She was involved in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the Alabama Historical Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, No-Name Literary Club of Montgomery, Women's Missionary Union of First Christian Church (Montgomery), Young Women's Christian Association, Alabama Federation of Women's Clubs, and United Daughters of the Confederacy. Such organizational involvement gave southern women at this time an outlet to enable them to move beyond their traditional household duties.
From these organizations, Dixie Bibb Graves moved on to a leadership position in the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association, on whose behalf, in 1919, she addressed the Alabama state legislature to encourage it to ratify the 19th Amendment. She was appointed by the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association to serve on a ratification committee. In 1920, she became one of the founding mothers of the Alabama League of Women Voters and served that organization in leadership capacities.
Dixies Bibb Graves was also an advocate of child labor laws and improvement of literacy. She was on the boards of the Alabama Illiteracy Commission, Board of Trustees of Boys Industrial School, American Red Cross, American Legion Auxiliary, and the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.
When her husband ran for Governor of Alabama in 1927, Dixie Bibb Graves became involved in his political campaign. At one point during the campaign, when he was unable to attend a rally, she addressed the crowd in his place and was recognized as an excellent speaker. As a firm New Deal Democrat, her husband was elected in 1927, and again in 1935.
When Hugo Black, Senator from Alabama, was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1937, Governor Graves named Dixie Bibb Graves to fill the unexpired seat until a special election could be held. Her appointment was made with the active encouragement of both Hugo Black and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who recognized that she would be a reliable supporter of the President's New Deal proposals. Reaction to her appointment in Alabama was mixed, with many approving of the decision, while one commentator in the Birmingham News stated "Isn't it pitiful that Alabama has not an available man for the job," and others worried about who would cook for the Governor with his wife in Washington.
Dixie Bibb Graves was sworn in on August 20, 1937, becoming the fourth woman to serve in the United States Senate, and the first from Alabama. One of her first acts as Senator was to introduce a resolution to conscript all national resources in time of war, to take the incentive of profit out of the enterprise. It also proposed drafting both men and women. Not surprisingly, the resolution died in committee. Her most notable activity as Senator, however, was when she became the first woman to address her Senatorial colleagues. Her speech was in opposition to a proposed federal anti-lynching law. She stated that, while she deplored the crime, she believed it was better addressed by the states, rather than the federal government. Reportedly, Senators from both sides of the aisle congratulated her on her address.
In November, 1937, Dixie Bibb Graves delivered the keynote address to the Democratic Women's National Council. She also gave other speeches encouraging women to become active in politics.
On January 10, 1938, Dixie Bibb Graves resigned her seat, upon the election of Lister Hill to the Senate. In her farewell address to the Senate, she singled out Senator Hattie Caraway, of Arkansas, the only other woman in the Senate, for special thanks.
Upon returning to Alabama, Dixie Bibb Graves quietly continued her civic work focused on health and education. She died on January 21, 1965 and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Montgomery. She was named to the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in 1972.
Beher, Sandra, "Dixie Bibb Graves," Encyclopedia of Alabama, 2008.
Burge, Daniel, "Senator Graves's Speech: Dixie Bibb Graves and the Changing Conception of ‘The Southern Lady.'" The Alabama Review 66:4 (October 2013): 253-277.
Swenson, Mary, "To Uplift a State and Nation: The Formative Years of the Alabama League of Women Voters, 1920-1921." The Alabama Historical Quarterly, 37:2 (Summer 1975): 115-130.
Watson, Elbert L. "Dixie Bibb Graves." Alabama United States Senators. Pp. 127-31. Huntsville, Ala., Strode Publishers, 1982.
Yelverton, Mildred Griffin, They Also Served: Twenty-Five Remarkable Alabama Women. Dothan, Ala., Ampersand Publishing, 1993.