19 February, 2009
Millicent Hammond Fenwick was an American fashion editor, politician and diplomat. A four-term Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from New Jersey, she entered politics late in life and was renowned for her energy and colorful enthusiasm. She was regarded as a moderate and progressive within her party and was outspoken in favor of civil rights and the women's movement.
Born Millicent Vernon Hammond, she was the middle of three children born to renowned politician and later ambassador to Spain, Ogden Haggerty Hammond (October 13, 1869 – October 29, 1956) of Louisville, Kentucky and his first wife, Mary Picton Stevens (May 16, 1885 – May 7, 1915) of Hoboken, New Jersey. Her paternal grandparents were General John Henry Hammond (June 30, 1833 – April 30, 1890), who served as chief of staff for William Tecumseh Sherman during the Vicksburg Campaign, and Sophia Vernon Wolfe (1842 – May 20, 1923), daughter of Nathaniel Wolfe, a lawyer and legislator from Louisville. Her maternal grandparents were John Stevens (July 1856 – January 21, 1895), oldest son of Stevens Institute of Technology founder Edwin Augustus Stevens and grandson of inventor John Stevens, and Mary Marshall McGuire (May 4, 1850 – May 2, 1905).
She had a sister, Mary Stevens Hammond, and a brother, Ogden H. Hammond, Jr. When Millicent was five, her mother died in the sinking of the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania, which her father survived. He remarried Marguerite McClure Howland two years later and by that marriage Fenwick had a step-brother, McClure (Mac) Howland.
Raised in comfortable circumstances in Bernardsville, New Jersey, she attended the exclusive Nightingale-Bamford School in nearby Manhattan, and college at Columbia University and the New School for Social Research. She married and divorced, and worked for 14 years as an editor at Vogue, with a wardrobe and style to match the position.
In the 1950s, Fenwick became involved in politics via the Civil Rights Movement. Often described as being blessed with exceptional intelligence, striking good looks, and a keen wit, she rose rapidly in the ranks of the Republican Party. She was elected to the Bernardsville Borough Council in 1957, serving until 1964, and around the same time was appointed to the New Jersey Committee of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, on which she served from 1958 to 1974. She was elected to the New Jersey General Assembly in 1969, serving from 1970 to 1973, when she left the Legislature to become director of New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs.
Elected to Congress from New Jersey in 1974 at age sixty-four, Fenwick became a media darling. Television commentator Walter Cronkite called her "the conscience of Congress." During her four terms in the House of Representatives, she emerged as arguably one of the most colorful politicians in American history. She was known for her opposition to corruption by both parties and special interest groups. She was one of the most liberal Republicans in the House. Fenwick was also instrumental in establishing the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which oversaw the implementation of the Helsinki Accords, which covered relations between states and human rights across Europe.
Once, when a conservative male congressman attacked a piece of equal rights legislation by saying, "I’ve always thought of women as kissable, cuddly, and smelling good," Fenwick responded, "That’s what I’ve always thought about men, and I hope for your sake that you haven’t been disappointed as many times as I’ve been." In 1982, she ran for a U.S. Senate seat, but narrowly lost the general election to businessman Frank Lautenberg. Lautenberg had used Fenwick's age at the time- she was 72- as part of an attack upon her fitness to serve as a U.S. Senator.
After leaving the House of Representatives following the 1982 election, Fenwick was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the United States representative, with rank of ambassador, to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome, Italy. She held this position from June 1983, to March 1987, when she retired from public life at the age of 77. Fenwick died in her home town of Bernardsville on September 16, 1992.