A Political Odyssey Begins: Claude Pepper’s first month in office

From an early age, Claude Pepper possessed the desire to serve in public office and as a nine year old boy, once carved his name into a tree along with the title ‘U.S. Senator’ underneath. Close to thirty years later, Pepper would realize his lifelong dream after successfully gaining a senate seat during the mid term elections of 1936, where he became and would remain a strong supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies.

From the Claude Pepper Papers; source unknown.

On January 3, 1937, Pepper and his new bride, Mildred arrived in the nation’s capital after spending their honeymoon in Havana, Cuba. That night, the young senator wrote in his diary:

“Mildred and I arrived from our honeymoon 1 A.M. or thereabout and to Wardman Park [hotel] to the bedroom suite we had obtained until our apartment was ready. So here we are, a young bride and groom and young Senator and Senatress in the Capital. We have lots of hard work. No doubt many heartaches ahead of us; but I hope our stay shall be as long as we like it and we shall be able to do a good job and at the same time find our lives here stimulating and challenging. No more thrilling time to be here.”

A newly wed Claude and Mildred Pepper depart Miami for their honeymoon to Havana, Cuba on December 31, 1936.
The Peppers, honeymoon bound on December 31, 1936.


Claude would not have to wait long for his predictions to come true. On January 5, 1937, Claude Pepper was officially sworn in for his first term in office alongside fellow Florida Senator Charles O. Andrews.

From left to right, Claude Pepper and Charles O. Andrews are sworn in to office by Vice President John Nance Garner, January 5, 1937.
From left to right, Claude Pepper and Charles O. Andrews are sworn in to office by Vice President John Nance.

The bulk of his first month in office was spent¬†becoming acquainted with his new surroundings on Capital Hill, meeting fellow Senate and House colleagues and moving into more permanent living quarters near DuPont Circle. From his arrival in Washington, Pepper was determined to make a name for himself among his peers and on February 4, 1937 successfully proposed his first of many bills, this one allowing for a harbor dredging project to commence in Port St. Joe, Florida. Just a few weeks later, Claude would break precedent for freshman senators and speak on the senate floor, an act which brought his formidable oratory skills to the attention of President Roosevelt, who would come to lean on Claude to be his mouthpiece for New Deal Legislation in the south. Senator Pepper would also go on to become a strong supporter of the newly created Social Security Act and the chief architect of the Lend Lease Bill, all the while continuing to become one of the more dynamic figures in national politics during the late 1930’s.

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