Old news: Lena Springs’ 1924 nomination for veep was the first for a woman

Editor’s note: “Old News” is an occasional series looking at some of Long Beach’s quirky and interesting historical stories and headlines.

“What Would a Woman Do as Vice President?” was the darned good question poised as the headline in the Long Beach Telegram’s Magazine on Aug. 10, 1924.

It was an appropriate query, because, for the first time in history, a woman was among the nominees at the Democratic National Convention in New York’s Madison Square Garden to be placed on the ticket with presidential nominee John W. Davis, of West Virginia.

It was a grueling convention held during a particularly sizzling summer, with Davis earning the nomination on the 103rd balloting.

Further, there were 30 candidates in contention for the vice president position, including, historically, Lena Jones Wade Springs, of South Carolina.

According to the magazine article, when Springs’ nomination was announced, “men—and women—began rising hither and yon in the convention hall with anxious looks upon their faces and one anxious query on their lips.

‘What,’ they demanded, ‘will become of the country if a woman gets into the vice presidential chair?’”

Although women were marginally gaining some grudging success following the 19th Amendment’s passage four years earlier, American politics was still almost exclusively a man’s game in 1924, and the speculation about what would become of the nation if a woman was vice president was idiotically predictable.

She would, guffawed one gentleman, declare every day to be Mother’s Day.

Another predicted, presumably amid gales of laughter and cigar smoke, that a woman would “appoint the head of the Thursday Mah Jong Club as Secretary of War.”

When our intrepid, yet unnamed, reporter managed to set up an interview with Springs in her 15th floor suite at a nearby hotel, the weather remained stifling. Even so, it was reported that “Mrs. Springs came smiling into the room like a breath of April into a stoke-hole.”

How about her qualifications? Well, they were strong enough to elicit a written wolf-whistle from your correspondent:

“She is a sure-enough beauty,” he (we’re guessing) wrote. “Dark hair, drawn simply and gracefully back from a beautifully molded forehead; clear blue eyes; a tall, slim figure; and a complexion which Helen of Troy might envy.”

Springs knew her chances for getting the VP nod were as slim as her well documented figure. “Although I shall not fill the office, I firmly believe this is the first step toward placing women in high office,” she said. “The day is not very far off when a woman will be president of the United States.”

Her husband, Leroy Springs, a wealthy mill owner, scowled, “That’s the day I leave for some other country.”

Lena ignored her husband’s numerous blundering bons mots, which she termed “discouraging.”

“And you know,” she said, “many men feel that same way. It would just about kill them to have a woman as president, yet a woman wouldn’t make any more of a muddle of the job than a lot of men have done.” She glanced over at Leroy. “Would they, dear?”

Her husband, who the reporter described merely as “gray-headed and ruddy-faced,” had to agree, and yet he couldn’t let the moment pass. “But, my dear, I refuse to be known as the husband of the president of the United States. You’ll have to choose between the presidency and me.”

No one alive today was in that room, but it’s easy to believe that Mrs. Leroy Springs wouldn’t have thought long about making that decision if the opportunity arose..

At any rate, Springs’  ascendancy to the presidency was never close to happening. Not only did she not win the nomination to be on the ticket in 1924, but the Democratic slate of John W. Davis and eventual vice presidential candidate Gov. Charles Bryan of Nebraska, were trounced by Republican Calvin Coolidge, winning the lowest share of the popular vote of any Democratic nominee since 1860.

Meanwhile, Springs’ prediction about a woman becoming president keeps getting closer to reality, though it’s taken some time, with Geraldine Ferraro running as vice president in 1984, followed by Sarah Palin in 2008, Hilary Clinton, the first woman to run for president for a major party in 2016 and, of course, on deck, Kamala Harris, on the Biden ticket as vice president this year.

And, unlike her historic predecessor, Harris is running with the full and active support of her husband, attorney Douglas Emhoff.

Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.

Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.