Parsing Their Politics

Week 44: #52 Ancestors – Voting

By Eilene Lyon

Because neither Ancestry nor Family Search have Oregon voter registrations online for my ancestors, I do not really know how they voted. I can’t recall having political discussions with my grandparents. I do, however, have a clue about one grandparent’s leanings.

My Halse grandparents grew up on farms in South Dakota before migrating to Oregon in 1942. Neither of them graduated from high school. They worked hard and had down-to-earth demeanors. They never had much money and led family-centered lives. Religion was not a strong influence, though they did take their boys to the Methodist Church. I suspect they had Democratic leanings, but that’s just a guess.

Reatha (Gusso) and Everett Halse in South Dakota in the 1930s.

My maternal grandparents, the Smiths, both had college degrees. Laurence’s was in electrical engineering and he eventually had a long career with the Army Corps of Engineers. Clare worked for a time for the Internal Revenue Service.

The Smiths were not wealthy, but certainly comfortable in their retirement years. Grandma Smith always dressed up and had a formal, spotless home. Strong in their Christian faith, they belonged to the Presbyterian Church for many decades.

Clare (Davis) and Laurence Smith in their retirement years.

The Smiths seemed rather conservative, stuffy even, though they did keep up with the times. I do know they disliked the segregation in Arkansas, where they lived for Grandpa’s job, and supported equal rights for all. (Interesting, given that Clare’s grandfather served the Confederacy and her father was named for a Confederate general.) They lost no time moving back to Oregon after retirement.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me to find this letter in Grandma Smith’s files. I believe she also had a signed glossy photo from the Mondale-Ferraro campaign, though I don’t have a scan of that.

Letter from Geraldine (Gerry) Ferraro to my grandmother. Note the date is after the election. Click on the “letter” link above to see the full document.

Walter Mondale may have been an uninspiring presidential candidate, and Geraldine Ferraro perhaps had a skeleton or two in the closet, but she did make history as the first major-party-ticket female VP candidate. (Ferraro’s problems primarily stemmed from campaign financing and her husband’s connection—stuff that pales as a scandal in today’s political climate.)

Though incumbent Ronald Reagan handily won the popular vote in 1984, 59 to 41 percent, the Democratic ticket nonetheless had been helped more than hurt by Ferraro’s candidacy. She braved a sexist scrutiny during the campaign that still takes place today, but not with such blatant force as then. Her legacy as a trail-blazer endures.

Geraldine Ferraro during her time in the House of Representatives. (Wikimedia Commons)

It’s safe to say my grandmother, Clare Smith, voted for the Democratic ticket in 1984 and probably in many other elections. I expect she took her civic duty as seriously as she did most things in life.

Clare (Davis) Smith, my maternal grandmother and Democrat (?)

Feature image: Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro on the campaign trail in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, in 1984. (Wikimedia Commons)

36 thoughts on “Parsing Their Politics

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    1. I noticed that the couple I wrote about last week were registered in different parties. Canceling each other’s vote is just how the system works! It’s all won in the margins. Must be the single people who decide.😉😆

      Liked by 2 people

      1. But that brings up the whole thing…didn’t they realize their spouse was having an affair, didn’t they realize they were siphoning off money, didn’t they realize they were a serial killer? How blind are we?

        Liked by 1 person

  1. It just goes to show you cannot judge a book by its cover. Your grandmother might fit in some ways a stereotype of a conservative Republican, but obviously she wasn’t. A good lesson for us all in these angry, divisive days.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Finding that letter must have been a delightful surprise. I love this story but it does make me miss my grandparents. As kids we tend to know them in a certain light and it’s always interesting to me to learn new things about them that help us view them differently.

    As an aside, my paternal grandfather hated Reagan. They were staunch Republicans but he couldn’t let go of the Hollywood days with the monkey. Bonzo, I believe?

    Another aside – I’ll be visiting Denver soon. We have been looking at visiting Garden of the Gods and Paint Mines. Are you familiar? Are they worth the trip?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At times I am wistful realizing I hardly knew my grandparents. I had a closer relationship with Reatha than with the Smiths, but we mostly lived so far apart that most of our communication was by letter.

      My dad used to vote Republican, which is probably why I voted for Reagan in my first election in 1980. I suspect we both changed our minds after that, but I don’t really know his political viewpoint, either!

      Garden of the Gods is nice. I haven’t been to the other or even heard of it. I don’t get to that part of the state very often.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks so much for your feedback. Johnna is a “rock person” and I like this stuff too. I wasn’t sure if you were familiar but thought it worth asking.

        I was close to my dad’s parents because they lived next door and I adored them. My maternal grandfather died in a car accident when I was small and his wife became bitter and hard to like after that. Not to mention they had ten kids and countless grandkids so I was never close to either of them.

        My parents are staunch republicans. We no long we attempt discussing politics.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Honestly, I’m grateful that we don’t discuss it because I’m kind of sick of hearing everyone’s opinions. Of course, that could be because I live in a place where my views are far removed form everyone else’s.

        We haven’t finalized our plans yet but I imagine we’ll make it to one or both of those sites. Can’t wait!!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Sadly, we forget what a big deal that election was, the results notwithstanding. Ferraro’s candidacy was perhaps mitigated by a general feeling that the ticket had little chance of an upset. But it was huge, the idea that a woman had achieved this place. In a time when much of life was still far behind the times when it came to women’s rights.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s interesting to think about the political leanings of your ancestors, and how neat to have that letter from Ferraro to your grandma! I suspect I’m probably better off not knowing how a lot of my ancestors voted (given that I know all too well how my parents vote and it causes nothing but problems), but of course things weren’t anywhere this polarised when my grandparents were alive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I wonder if their votes really made much difference in the end. Our current polarization has just caused our government to stagnate. “Back in the day” the parties worked together to accomplish things.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. All your discoveries are interesting Eileen. I remember when Geraldine Ferraro appeared on the political scene and I read everything I could about her, even though I could not vote (as I’m not an American citizen). I’d still have been proud to vote for her though. My grandmother got a letter on her 75th birthday from President Reagen. I had it sent to here because she lived in Canada. He did that for people celebrating 75 years or above.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s such an interesting topic although I don’t like politics at all. I’ve often wondered about certain ancestors, but for the most part I think my father’s family were mainly Democrats and my mother’s family mainly Republicans.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do wish I could completely ignore politics, but then wonder if I’d be an irresponsible citizen. Ha. As if I could change the world. Afraid I’m not a big believer in that concept.


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