Peggy O’Neil Long Hartness Blair (1939–)
Peggy Long Hartness was a state representative from Monticello (Drew County), serving Drew County and parts of Cleveland, Lincoln, and Ashley counties in the Seventy-fourth and Seventy-fifth Arkansas General Assemblies from 1983 to 1985.
Peggy O’Neil Long was born on November 7, 1939, in Monroe, Louisiana, to Neil Carlton Long, who was a farmer who operated a small grocery store, and Vivian Geneva Shipp Long, a nurse at E. A. Conway Memorial Charity Hospital in Monroe. The family lived near the communities of Bosco and Fondale in south Ouachita Parish. She attended Logtown Elementary School and Ouachita Parish High School, graduating in 1957. In high school, she was editor of the school newspaper, team captain and all-state basketball player, homecoming queen, student council representative, class officer, president of the 4-H Club, and secretary of the Louisiana Junior Classical League, as well as a member of the National Honor Society, Latin Club, and Future Business Leaders of America.
Long attended Northeast Louisiana University at Monroe, where she met Bill Hartness, a U.S. Air Force veteran and varsity football player from Monticello. They married in 1958, and her husband became a homebuilder and partner in a construction firm. Peggy Hartness was a homemaker, raising two children, and playing the piano and teaching Sunday School at Union Missionary Baptist Church in Bosco.
In 1964, they moved to Monticello, where they helped organize a savings and loan association with family friend Benny Ryburn. Soon, they started Hartness Building Supply and a homebuilding business, where Peggy Hartness kept the financial books and managed the business. Bill Hartness was on the board of the Arkansas Home Builders Association and a member of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Rural Housing Committee. Peggy Hartness was president of the Monticello Junior Auxiliary and founder of the local office of Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) Services, as well as teaching Sunday School at the First Baptist Church. Her husband served as chairman of the Drew Memorial Hospital Board, president of the Monticello School Board, and president of the Chamber of Commerce.
Hartness left her job with the family lumber business, obtained a broker’s license, and opened Drew County Abstract & Title Company, an abstract, mortgage, and real estate company in Monticello, with her son-in-law, attorney Cliff Gibson. While going through court records at the courthouse in Drew County, she discovered financial improprieties regarding county operations and considered running for county judge to remedy the situation. The incumbent county judge suddenly resigned without explanation in October 1981, and a new judge was appointed by the governor. State Representative Vernon Roberts loudly opposed her candidacy for county judge, because she was a woman. In 1982, she instead decided to challenge Roberts in the Democratic primary.
Hartness traveled to all parts of the district, accompanied by her friend and supporter Martha Sue McClain, who was very involved in the state and county Democratic Party. She had some printed cards and a few newspaper advertisements, but the main effort was to meet all of the voters and assure them that she would listen to their concerns. After a campaign that also addressed economic development and jobs, Harkness defeated Roberts with sixty-eight percent of the vote (4,258–2,641). Hartness was unopposed in the 1982 general election and became the first woman to represent Drew County in the Arkansas General Assembly. In 1984, she was unopposed in both the primary and general elections.
Representative Hartness served on the Judiciary Committee and the City, County, and Local Affairs Committee, and she was elected as an alternate on the Arkansas Legislative Council. She said she was proud to have supported the location of the Southeast Arkansas Education Cooperative in Monticello, providing programs and services to local schools. She did not support Governor Bill Clinton’s education reform package, however, explaining, “Everything I voted on or against, I studied it. I didn’t go for, say, education. I went for the people of Drew County and the State of Arkansas.” In both her first and second terms, she tried unsuccessfully to enact legislation authorizing “no trespassing” signs on unfenced timber property. She successfully co-sponsored legislation authorizing direct–entry midwives to be licensed to attend home births in Arkansas.
Both her campaigns and her legislative service, she said, were based on listening to, visiting with, and being available to her constituents. Hartness received the Drew County Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year Award in 1983 and the Arkansas Democratic Party’s Gressie Carnes Award as the Democratic Woman of the Year in 1984.
In 1984, Peggy and Bill Hartness divorced, and in May 1985 she married Carl Blair, who worked for Sun Oil Company. On October 1, 1985, she resigned from the legislature, and she and her husband moved first to New Jersey, then to Pennsylvania, Florida, and eventually back to Arkansas.
For additional information:
Blair, Peggy Long Hartness. Video interview by Lindsley Armstrong Smith, April 24, 2006. “Women in the Arkansas General Assembly,” University of Arkansas Women’s Giving Circle and Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics & Society project. David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
Hartness, Peggy Long. Southern Women Legislators Collection, MUM00422, Archives and Special Collections, J.D. Williams Library, University of Mississippi. Box 1, Series 2, Folder 1–36.
Hopkins, Jennifer. “Southeastern House Races Hinge on Jobs, Water, Truck Weights.” Arkansas Gazette, May 16, 1982, p. 9B.
“Legislator of Monticello Plans to Quit.” Arkansas Democrat, September 27, 1985, p. 2D.
Lindsley Armstrong Smith and Stephen A. Smith
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
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