Florence Emily McGraw McRaven (1877–1975)
Florence Emily McGraw, sometimes called Floy, was born on May 11, 1877, in Tate County, Mississippi, the third of fifteen children of Catherine Ophelia Babb McGraw and Daniel Murdock McGraw. The family moved to Franklin County, Arkansas, in 1878 and settled a homestead claim on the Big Mulberry Creek near Cass. Daniel McGraw was appointed Franklin County deputy sheriff and was elected county surveyor, serving for twelve years; he later became the superintendent of the Western Coal and Mining Company coal mine at Denning (Franklin County).
Growing up in Altus (Franklin County), McGraw obtained her education in the preparatory department of Central Collegiate Institute (now Hendrix College) and the Altus public schools and then graduated from Hiram and Lydia College in Altus with a master’s in English literature in 1895. Her first job was as a clerk in the Altus Post Office. She married John Sanders McRaven, a court reporter and typewriter salesman from Fort Smith (Sebastian County), in 1898. They had three children and moved to Little Rock in 1903 when he became the state manager for Remington Typewriter Company.
Florence McRaven soon became an officer of the Pulaski Heights School Improvement Auxiliary and of the Women’s Educational Aid Society that provided funds “to assist worthy unmarried women to obtain an education.” She became active in the Pulaski Heights Christian Church, was a member of the Bay View Club, chaired committees of the Little Rock and Arkansas Federation of Women’s Clubs, and was appointed head of the County Library Board.
In 1910, McRaven took a six-week course at the Chautauqua Institute in New York, studying under Professor Solomon Henry Clark, head of the Department of Public Speaking at the University of Chicago, and she later returned for several summer sessions. She then directed dramatic productions at McRaven’s School of Expression, taught vocal expression at the Little Rock Conservatory, and frequently presented oral interpretations of literary work and original poetry at various civic organizations and theaters. One review called her “as talented an elocutionist as Little Rock can boast.” McRaven was a founding member of the Little Rock Drama League and was twice president of the Arkansas Authors and Composers Society. In 1916, she worked with Bernie Babcock to produce a ninety-minute, one-woman interpretation of Babcock’s Mammy: A Drama. It was performed at the Chautauqua Institution’s Hall of Philosophy, and she presented it more than fifty times in Arkansas, backed by the Churchill Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, of which McRaven was a member.
McRaven was not active in the suffrage movement, but she applauded the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, giving credit and praise to Woodrow Wilson. She worked for two years as an assistant juvenile probation officer under Jennie Erickson. When Erickson (who later married Frank Dodge and became Jennie Dodge) became the first woman to be Pulaski County Superintendent of Public Schools, McRaven followed her and served as the coordinator of the fifty school improvement associations in the county. From 1923 to 1925, McRaven worked on child labor issues and minimum wage and hour regulations for women as an inspector for the state’s Department of Labor and secretary of the Industrial Welfare Commission. Governor Thomas J. Terral replaced McRaven and appointed his sister in September 1925.
Until that time, McRaven’s only involvement in electoral politics was as officer in the local Women of the Ku Klux Klan, vetting and endorsing candidates for public office. Announcing in April 1926 as a Democratic Party candidate for the House of Representatives, she stressed her experience, an understanding of the essentials for progress, and a spirit of fairness toward all classes of citizens. She also presented a brief for women in public office; however, she said that constructive legislative leadership should “not depend upon the personality or the sex of the representative, but upon right motives, intelligence, and strength of character.”
Reflecting on her first campaign, McRaven said, “I did not do any advertising, just had some cards printed and met the people. In my little roadster, I went over the county—to every picnic, political rally, barbecue, any get-together of voters, and took my turn on the ‘stump’ with a large crop of other candidates.” One observer of her performances noted, “She is not melodramatic nor spectacular, but with a wonderfully clear enunciation and a delivery simple and convincing, she is forceful and effective.” Of the twelve candidates seeking the four at-large Pulaski County House positions in the Democratic primary, McRaven placed second, and she placed third of the eight candidates in the general election. In 1928, she spent $47.50 on her campaign and was reelected, placing fourth of eighteen candidates in the Democratic primary.
As a legislator, McRaven pursued issues that she knew well from her work, expanding the pensions for low-income mothers and extending the wage and hour regulations to women working in cotton mills. Serving on the Committee on Roads, she was an enthusiastic supporter of Governor John Martineau’s highway program. She also introduced legislation to abolish the death penalty and to limit corporal punishment at the state prison farm for women. In floor debates, McRaven opposed the Rotenberry Anti-Evolution bill and argued for allowing Sunday baseball in Little Rock.
In 1930, Representative McRaven was a candidate for the State Senate for District 10 (Pulaski and Perry counties). She finished fifth of eight candidates for the two positions. “I was not surprised to be defeated. More than one faction had informed me that I would not go back,” she said. “Looking back, I can understand why one of the Little Rock dailies referred to me as the ‘Stormy Petrel’ of the Legislature.”
After her legislative service, McRaven remained active in politics and public affairs. She was on the staff of Pulaski County Judge Ross Lawhon and was a delegate to the first convention of the Arkansas Woman’s Democratic Club in 1932. She resumed her summer studies at the Chautauqua Institution and wrote for the Arkansas Farmer. Through the influence of Senator Hattie Caraway and Bernie Babcock, she was employed on the WPA Arkansas Writers Project, and she took active roles in the campaigns of Senator John McClellan and Governor Ben Laney. McRaven returned to work as an inspector for the state’s Department of Labor until her retirement at the age of seventy in 1947.
In 1954, McRaven published an autobiography, Swift Current. She died on October 22, 1975, at the age of ninety-eight, and is buried in Oak Cemetery at Fort Smith.
For additional information:
Brewer, Jeaneice. “Twentieth–Century Arkansas Writers.” MLS thesis, University of Mississippi, 1957.
“Florence McGraw McRaven.” Southern Women Legislators Collection, MUM00422, Archives and Special Collections, J.D. Williams Library, University of Mississippi. Box 1, Series 2, Folder 1–42.
McRaven, Florence McGraw. Swift Current. Santa Barbara, CA: Press of The Schauer Printing Studio, Inc., 1954. Online at https://openlibrary.org/books/OL6160457M/Swift_current. (accessed November 11, 2021).
“Two Candidates in Senate Race.” Arkansas Gazette, May 4, 1930, p. 11.
Stephen A. Smith and Lindsley Armstrong Smith
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
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