Writer Nancy Hendricks appeared in the same building her historical character once did, portraying former U.S. Sen. Hattie Caraway in character, when she spoke March 7 in the McAlister Hall Mirror Room.
Archive Director Jimmy Bryant said Hendricks did an outstanding job of portraying Sen. Caraway and touched on many important issues of the time.
“She was able to blend in historical facts about an extraordinary woman and also made her presentation very entertaining,” he said.
After the presentation, Hendricks held a book signing, “Senator Hattie Caraway: An Arkansas Legacy.”
Caraway, an Arkansas native and the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate, has been the focus of Hendricks’ studies for years.
“Hattie” returned to the McAlister Hall Mirror Room after more than 80 years.
Caraway gave a speech in McAlister Hall — the same location where Hendricks gave her book signing — on May 24,1934, as a dedication to the then new building.
McAlister Hall was intended to be a women’s dorm on campus.
“Some of us wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Hattie Caraway,” Hendricks said.
While she told a story about her parents meeting thanks to Caraway, Hendricks also pointed out the massive impact Caraway had on education both then and now.
Bryant said Senator Caraway was a true friend to UCA, especially during the Great Depression.
“On many occasions [she]helped President [Heber] McAlister cut through the red tape to get the PWA funds he needed to construct buildings on this campus,” he said.
“Through her influence UCA grew from only five buildings in 1929 to 15 buildings by the start of World War II.”
Seven of those buildings are still in use today.
During World War II, many colleges struggled with keeping their doors open due to a lack of revenue caused by military enlistment.
Caraway devised a plan to the Department of War, now called Department of Defense, and established a program in which young men and women in the military could come onto college campuses and undergo different types of training.
Due to all the building that took place via the Public Works Administration, UCA was able to play an important role during World War II.
“During World War II, UCA was the temporary home of 1,800 women who were in the Women’s Army Corps,” he said.
“More than 600 Navy Air Cadets took their training at UCA, Army Air Forces Cadets also were trained at UCA, the Marine Reserve and Navy Reserve were stationed at UCA during the war and for a short time UCA was home of the Arkansas National Guard.”
Arkansas State University — Jonesboro was the first Arkansas university to establish the training program and UCA quickly followed, influenced by Caraway and her passion for making education as accessible as possible.
When working for former Texas Governor Anne Richards in the 1990s, Hendricks said she thought about the life Caraway must have had in politics compared to Richards.
She said though Richards was “everything you’d want in a politician or public servant,” it still wasn’t an easy role to be a woman in public service.
Caraway didn’t have any mentors or guides to help her and she was still able to enter the senate at 54 years old.
Hendricks said that even without an elite education or vast experience in politics, she was able to advocate changes to the student federal aid and the GI Bill.
“[It’s] such an inspirational story that the rest of us, regardless of our age, young or old, regardless of gender, male or female, [can]look at Hattie and think how we can publically serve,” Hendricks said.
“I believe that public service is the rent that we pay to live in a democracy.” Hendricks continuously described how much help Bryant has been during her research for her book and promotions.
“When I was researching for the book, [Bryant] was so helpful and so willing to go above and beyond his work load to be able to hunt down some of the archival articles about Hattie and the work she had done along with her being here at McAlister Hall for her speech in 1934 and to really show the depth of her commitment to education in Arkansas,” Hendricks said.
In her portrayals, Hendrick used information from Bryant’s book, “The Centennial History of the University of Central Arkansas,” which includes sections about Senator Caraway and Great Depression-era construction at UCA.
Other information on the same topic came from articles by Bryant published in the Log Cabin Democrat.
She described her book as “fact-filled, entertaining, an easy read and hopefully informative”.
Hendricks said she hopes her book will show the true impact Caraway had on American education and her thanks for Caraway and inspire someone to go into public service.
“Maybe one person might be inspired to help the community. We shall see what we shall see,” Hendricks said. “It’s Women’s History Month and I think this is a great way to spotlight women’s history.”