Since the first “Lion of Idaho,” William E. Borah, was an elected United States senator (1907-1940), a case can be made that any aspirant to the title “Lioness of Idaho” also has to have been elected to public office.
If so, the clear winner is the first woman to serve Idaho in the Congress, five term congresswoman Gracie Pfost (pronounced “post”) who represented the First District from 1953 to 1963. The mere fact she could win and then hold the office through four re-elections in and of itself during the 1950’s, when very few women were being elected to anything, speaks volumes for her talent and tenacity.
She accomplished the feat in the face of tough opposition as well. Because of her relentless support for a public owned and operated single high dam in Hells Canyon, the media referred to her as “Hell’s Belle.” She believed strongly in public power, which put her at immediate odds with two powerful Idaho interests, the Idaho Power Company and Spokane’s Washington Water Power.
Both firms supported three smaller dams in Hells Canyon to be owned by Idaho Power. The ensuing acrimonious debate lasted a decade. She ended up being outmaneuvered and lost a key vote in the Interior and Insular affairs subcommittee in the late 50’s. Thus today one sees Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon dams on the Snake, but fortunately no High Mountain Sheep dam.
In 1962, hoping the Senate would be a better venue, Gracie gave up her safe House seat to run for the Senate seat vacated by the death of Henry Dworshak. She lost a close race (51% to 49%) to former Governor Len B. Jordan, a supporter of private power and its three smaller dams approach.
Legendary Washington, D.C., Democratic operator Robert Strauss once famously said “every politician wants you to think they were born in a log cabin they built themselves. . .” In the case of Gracie, however, it was almost true.
Biographical sketches all note she was born in a log cabin in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas in 1906. The family moved to Idaho in 1911 where she attended school until 16, quitting to take a job at Carnation Milk in Nampa. There she met and married her supervisor, Jack Pfost, who became her life-long political partner.
In 1929, she graduated from Link’s School of Business in Boise which led to temporary work in the Canyon County Clerk’s office that soon turned into a permanent job. From there she jumped into local county politics and for the next decade served as Canyon County clerk, auditor and recorder. In 1941 she was elected Canyon County treasurer and served another decade. (more…)