Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Rebecca Ann Latimer Felton, 1835-
By Hallie Borstel, historian
Rebecca Ann Latimer was born on 10 June 1835 in DeKalb County, Georgia, the oldest child of Charles Latimer and Eleanor Swift. That same year, Charles, a merchant and planter, was appointed postmaster of Latimer's Store, Georgia. Rebecca's younger siblings were Mary, born about 1840, and Charles, born about 1845.
Rebecca attended Madison Female College in Madison, Morgan County, Georgia. When she graduated in 1852, she did so as her class valedictorian. In October of 1853, Rebecca married politician William H. Felton. He was more than a decade older than her and had been the commencement speaker at her graduation a year earlier. Though Rebecca and William had several children, only one son, Howard, survived childhood.
As William pursued his political career, Rebecca worked beside him, managing his campaigns, writing speeches, drafting bills, and writing newspaper articles. William served in the United States Congress from 1875-1881, and in the Georgia legislature from 1884 to 1890.
William retired from politics in the 1890s, and Rebecca focused her energy in a new direction, championing a variety of social causes. She advocated for prohibition, public universities, and vocational opportunities for women, and against the convict lease system. She was a frequent speaker at social events, giving lectures such as "Some Influences Which Affect Life and Character," "The Age of Consent," and "Compulsory Education" to various women's clubs. In 1911, she published the book My Memoirs of Georgia Politics. She was also a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).
By 1913, Rebecca was working towards the cause of women's suffrage--in July, she and fellow Georgia suffragists requested use of the state senate chamber to give a lecture on "The Scope of the Elective Franchise." The request was denied. In 1914, she was appointed by the Georgia Women's Suffrage Association to gather endorsements from other organizations regarding votes for women. The following year Rebecca held the position of chairman of legislative work within that organization. In 1918, she was the chairman of the ninth district.
Rebecca holds the title of the first female United States senator, though the Senate was not in session during the term for which she served. She was appointed in 1922 when Senator Thomas E. Watson died in office. The governor, who had his mind set on filling the seat himself when the special election came around, opted to appoint Rebecca as she would be unlikely to run in the election. He knew that whoever took Watson's place would have an advantage in the special election and was hesitant to appoint anyone he saw as a real threat to his senatorial goals. Rebecca was sworn into the Senate on 21 November 1922, and her term ended the next day.
Rebecca died on 24 January 1930. She is buried with her husband in Oak Hill Cemetery in Cartersville, Georgia.
1850 U.S. Census
1900 U.S. Census
Appointments of U.S. Postmasters, 1832-1971
The Atlanta Constitution
DeKalb County, Georgia, Marriage Index, 1840-1908
"Rebecca Latimer Felton," New Georgia Encyclopedia, https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/rebecca-latimer-felton-1835-1930.