Oh-oh, a Peckinpaugh faux pas

Searching for a breakthrough in its run against U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, Republican Janet Peckinpaugh's campaign issued a press release Friday encouraging voters to make her "the first woman elected to the U.S. House from the 2nd Congressional District."

Just one problem: She wouldn't be the first.

The first woman elected to represent Connecticut's 2nd District was Chase Going Woodhouse, a Democrat who served in Congress from 1945 to 1947 and again from 1949 to 1951.

Woodhouse was an economist, professor at Connecticut College and a chairwoman of the New London Democratic Town Committee. She also served as Connecticut secretary of the state before her election, according to Woodhouse's entry in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress.

Her influence went further than that, said Woodhouse's daughter, Margaret Becker, who lives in Sprague, on the tree and dairy farm her mother started there after moving out of New London in the 1950s.

Becker rattled off a list of her mother's accomplishments: the first chairwoman of the state's Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1965 and a member of "more boards and committees than you could name."

John Dempsey, the former governor and Democratic party boss, worked as a field secretary on her mother's campaigns, Becker noted. Becker herself, in the era before anti-nepotism rules cracked down on such arrangements, served on her mother's congressional staff in Washington.

Becker still lives on the farm started by her mother, who died in 1984, an event marked by editorials in state newspapers, including The Hartford Courant.

The Peckinpaugh campaign seems to have been aware of Woodhouse, but not her gender. Along with its press release, it sent out a list of the occupants of the 2nd District seat, including Woodhouse's name, but described them as "35 men."

A spokeswoman for Peckinpaugh, Danica Pecirep, acknowledged the mistake in the press release and apologized to Woodhouse's family.

"We are respectful of the valuable contributions made by the late Congresswoman Chase Going Woodhouse and apologize to her family for our oversight," the campaign statement said. "Fifty years is far too long to wait for another woman to serve the 2nd District in Congress."

"I realize she wasn't around then, but you'd think she'd at least read some of the history of the Second District since she hopes to represent it," Becker said. "I would think as a television news reader she would have learned to do a little research. But I guess not."

The campaign snafu will not be costing Peckinpaugh a voter, though - she wasn't going to get Becker's vote regardless.

"Never in my wildest dreams," she said. "I've known Joe Courtney for years and admire him. He knows this district like the back of his hand. I support him with every fiber of my being."

In response to a call from reporters, the Courtney campaign sent along a photograph that shows the congressman on a recent campaign swing through Sprague, seated and smiling on a small bench on a river bank.

The bench, which bears Chase Going Woodhouse's name, along with her dates of birth and death, was erected to honor "the actual first woman to represent the Second District," a Courtney campaign staffer said.

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