Obituary: Millicent Fenwick

Millicent Hammond, politician, born New York City 20 February 1910, married Hugh Fenwick (one son, and one daughter deceased; marriage dissolved), died Bernardsville New Jersey 16 September 1992.

MILLICENT Fenwick was described posthumously by her chief political rival as 'grand, eloquent, tough and charming'. A political ally remembers her as 'the Katharine Hepburn of politics'. Fenwick, who chose to retain the 'Mrs' and to pronounce her name 'Fen-wick' in the American manner, was a four-term member of the US House of Representatives, and much more besides.

Born in Manhattan in 1910, the daughter of a wealthy financier named Ogden H. Hammond, Millicent Hammond grew up in a 50-room mansion in Bernardsville, New Jersey. When Millicent was five, her mother was drowned when the Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine. Her mother, the former Mary Stevens, was sailing to Paris to establish a hospital for war victims. When President Calvin Coolidge appointed her father US ambassador to Spain, she went with him and, though she never finished high school or obtained a degree, she went on to study philosophy under Bertrand Russell at the New School for Social Research, in New York, and to attend classes at Columbia University. She became fluent in French, Italian and Spanish.

To the distress of her father, Millicent fell in love with a married businessman named Hugh Fenwick, whom she married. The marriage did not last more than a few years and she was left with her two children and her husband's debts. Refusing family money, she began a lifelong habit of frugality. She worked as a fashion model for Harper's Bazaar, a writer and editor at Vogue, and in 1948 compiled Vogue's Book of Etiquette which sold a million copies.

At the age of 59 Fenwick won a seat in the New Jersey legislature, and also served as the state's first director of consumer affairs, and instituted a law requiring funeral homes to provide itemised bills in advance of all funerals.

Five years after her state electoral victory, she beat the future New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean for the Republican Party nomination to the US House of Representatives. She was then elected representative from the Fifth Congressional District, at the age of 64, and it was in that role that she established herself as the most liberal and progressive Republican in the country.

In Congress she fought for passage of laws supporting civil rights, peace in Vietnam, ethical conduct in election campaigns, reductions in the US military budget (specifically, she opposed funding the B-1 bomber and aiding anti-government rebels in Angola), limits on strip mining, gun control, and federal aid to the poor, prisoners and workers affected by asbestos poisoning. She led the fight for a law that created a US commission to monitor the 1975 Helsinki accord on human rights. These were all causes far from the hearts of most of her fellow Republicans - she was one of the few blue-bloods of the party who adhered to the concept of noblesse oblige. Her campaign to mandate toilets for migrant farmworkers won her the sobriquet 'Outhouse Millie'.

A woman of 5ft 10in in height who smoked a pipe after her doctor ordered her off cigarettes, Fenwick was annoyed that the press noted her entry into the Congress by calling her the 'pipe-smoking grandmother'. 'For God's sake,' she exclaimed, 'hard-working grandmother, same number of syllables.'

The greatest measure of her media appeal, however, was that the cartoonist Garry Trudeau rolled all the adjectives - patrician, independent, witty, down-to-earth, pungent, stylish, stately - into Lacey Davenport, a character in his Doonesbury cartoon strip. Most articles noting her passing in this week's US press were accompanied by a frame from Doonesbury.

Fenwick herself was a wry wisecracker. Her greatest one-liner may have been her response when a fellow (male) legislator attacked a law for women's rights by saying: 'I've always thought of women as kissable, cuddly and smelling good,' Fenwick replied: 'That's the way I feel about men too. I only hope you haven't been disappointed as often as I have.'

In the 1970s Fenwick had a heart bypass operation, but, undaunted, in 1982 she ran for the Senate. She refused to accept campaign contributions from pressure groups known as Political Action Committees (PACs) and she lost a tight race to Frank Lautenberg, a millionaire Democrat. But, despite her liberal views, she was a Republican stalwart, and Ronald Reagan appointed her US representative to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, a post she held until her retirement in 1987.

(Photograph omitted)

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen