Millicent Fenwick: Four-term Pipe Smoking Congresswoman

She was known as a Firebrand, an orator, a socialite, an activist, and least favorite, to her at least, a "pipe-smoking grandma." These terms and more, most of which were used with respect, a few probably less so, described New Jersey's four-term Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick. If the pipe-loving sobriquet irked her, it was likely because her peers (mostly men) smoked freely during the 1970s chamber sessions. And many had grandchildren, yet she was unfairly singled out simply for enjoying what her colleagues did.

She told the Los Angeles Times upon retirement from public service in 1987: "I was so hurt when I got to Congress. All the media would say was 'pipe-smoking grandmother.' And I would say 'For God's sake, hardworking grandmother, same number of syllables!' But I couldn't persuade them." Fenwick was first elected to the House when she was 64 and turned to pipe smoking after her doctor told her to cut down on cigarettes. She cheerfully embraced pipes and was known for her humor and quirkiness.

Fenwick was first elected to the House when she was 64 and turned to pipe smoking after her doctor told her to cut down on cigarettes

"Tall and patrician, but down-to-earth and pungent," was how The New York Times once described her.

The Early Years

Born Millicent Hammond in New York City in 1910 to a well-to-do family, she would lose her mother five years later when a German U-boat torpedoed the British-owned steamship Lusitania. Her financier father survived and later joined a class-action suit filed against the ship's company in 1918, for which each Hammond family member was compensated more than $60,000. After growing up with siblings and step-siblings and having not formed a close relationship with her father or step-mother, Millicent attended Columbia University and the New School for Social Research, the latter perhaps paving the way for her own unique brand of politics.

She married Hugh Fenwick and had her first child, a daughter, in 1934. By the time their second child, Hugo, was born, Millicent's marriage was deteriorating, with Hugh relocating to Europe and leaving behind the enormous debt he had accrued with the 1929 market crash, as well as his two children and wife. They divorced years later, in 1934. The tall (5'10") and statuesque woman briefly modeled for Harper's Bazaar, then set about trying to find a full-time, more permanent job to support herself and her children, as well as pay off the debts left by her husband. She went to work at Vogue magazine until 1948. During that time, the socialite wrote Vogue's Book of Etiquette, which sold a million copies. By 1952, Millicent had retired from work, inheriting money enough to comfortably support herself and her children.

Political Career

Once Fenwick came to represent Morris County, N.J., in Congress, the fiery Republican worked toward campaign finance reform, helped advance the rights of women and minorities, and advocated for consumer protection laws for the poor. She was said to have influenced Garry Trudeau's cartoon character Lacey Davenport in Doonesbury, who was a fiscal conservative with a liberal character. Deemed the "Conscience of Congress" by top news anchor Walter Cronkite, Fenwick even tried to return funds allotted to her while representing her constituents, and admonished peers who attempted financial gain at the expense of others.

...the fiery Republican worked toward campaign finance reform, helped advance the rights of women and minorities, and advocated for consumer protection laws for the poor.

While debating the Equal Rights Amendment in Congress, a male colleague stated, "I just don't like this amendment. I've always thought of women as kissable, cuddly and smelling good." Fenwick countered that comment with: "That's the way I feel about men, too. I only hope for your sake that you haven't been disappointed as often as I have."

Pipe Smoking

Fenwick's pipe smoking, while garnering unwanted and unwarranted attention only because she was female, became part of her cultural identity. In Amy Shapiro's biography, Millicent Fenwick: Her Way (2003), she is quoted on the subject:

Fenwick said, "I took up pipe-smoking when my seventh grandchild [Hugh Wyatt Fenwick, born in 1966] was born and I thought I had reached the age when my conduct would not scandalize society." Before starting to smoke a pipe, Fenwick was a serial cigarette smoker, consuming a pack a day. She often puffed on long, dainty cigarettes, using a cigarette holder and never putting the cigarette in her mouth. She switched from cigarettes to pipes after the doctor advised her, for health reasons, to stop smoking cigarettes. She took him literally, and the pipe became her new vice. (page 142)

Her pipe smoking was not even close to being a political stunt, but something she legitimately enjoyed, though she felt her smoking served as a bad example. Shapiro provides another mention of Fenwick's pipe in a description of her appearance and comportment:

A strand of pearls draped her narrow neck, sometimes wrapping around two, three, even four times. Large pearl earrings adorned her ears, and her left wrist was weighed down by her sister's gold chain-link bracelets. The small corncob pipe, while not always visible, was never far — usually on her desk or in her hand or purse if not in her mouth. Some quietly feared that one day ashes from her pipe would spark a fire in her bag. Also in her bag was a blend of Dutch Amphora tobacco. While her pipe-smoking habit was well publicized she desperately tried to keep her pipe out of the camera's way. Being photographed with the pipe would only perpetuate her bad habit and set a poor example for others. Cognizant of being caught in the public eye she did not want children to see her pictured with a pipe or emulate her nicotine addiction. (page 166)

Also in her bag was a blend of Dutch Amphora tobacco

The best information on Fenwick's pipes is in an article by Bruce Harris, published in Pipes and tobaccos magazine's Winter 2006 edition:

Surely, Fenwick owned more than one corncob pipe? The question was posed to her biographer, Amy Shapiro. "She gave her driver in Italy an inlay pipe that had been hers," wrote the author. Shapiro did not stop there, however. She contacted Fenwick's daughter-in-law, who currently owns three of Fenwick's pipes. One is a sandblasted Jellings, and, according to Shapiro, "Millicent Fenwick definitely smoked this pipe regularly." Jellings Tobacconist was located in Newark, N.J. Unfortunately, it has gone the way of so many great tobacco shops. Jellings closed its doors in late 1985.

In additional personal correspondence related in that article, Shapiro tells Harris that, "A second pipe that Millicent Fenwick smoked even more was a Bewlay from England." A third specific pipe is "a Kiko Tanganyika 196 with an elephant on the stem." However, "it doesn't appear that this pipe was ever used." (page 46)

"A second pipe that Millicent Fenwick smoked even more was a Bewlay from England."

Later Career

Fenwick did not spend large amounts on her pipes, nor on anything, and was known to be very conservtive with her spending, despite being a multimillionaire. For example, she drove a used Chevrolet and was especially known for being careful with the money of her constituents. She was appalled by the sums spent for legislators to achieve election, as revealed in the following quote:

The money that is spent in elections is absolutely unconscionable — even if it's private money. It's true that one's not corrupted by the expenditure of one's own money, but to some extent the system is. We cannot have a system in which the only people you can count on for a vote that doesn't look as though it might be a vote for a special-interest group are people with enormous fortunes.

After losing the election that would bring her another congressional term, Fenwick was appointed as an ambassador to the United Nations by President Ronald Reagan, retiring from public service in 1987. She died five years later at age 82.

This remarkable woman was born into an affluent family and became a champion of social causes. Her tenure in Congress was by all accounts made livelier by her pipe-smoking presence, but more importantly, she gave voice to those who had little to no voice of their own. Who among us wouldn't admire an independent thinker who advocated for those less fortunate? It's the cornerstone of a civilized society, and Millicent Fenwick, the elegant ex-model and fiscally conservative public servant, was above all else civilized in her assessment of how all people should be equal and treated with respect.

Fenwick held a deep regard for the congressional responsibilities of her office, responsibilities that placed the value of human beings above that of power or control, and she had a special respect for her fellow pipe smokers. In a 2012 blog post, "A Chance Encounter," Jack Stanley remembers a random meeting with the famous lawmaker as they were both buying pipe tobacco at a local shop: "I said to her as she finished her transaction, 'It is a pleasure to meet you. I see you are getting some tobacco; I am too.'" Fenwick's response: "'Well that is lovely, you can always trust a pipe smoker.'"

References:

Category:   Pipe Line
Tagged in:   Famous Pipe Smokers History Pipe Culture

Comments

    • Al on September 18, 2021
    • Thanks for the article, Angela. Nice to hear about a famous female pipe smoker.

    • Dan on September 19, 2021
    • Nice article, she sounds like a firecracker and quite the humanitarian. I also enjoy your pipe descriptions.

    • Jack+ on September 19, 2021
    • That was such a great article, Angela. Thanks for pointing her out. We need more people like her.

    • SO on September 19, 2021
    • I appreciated this article very much. Thank You. I like her. Would she go to Washington now - with its dishonesty, hypocrisy, greed and betrayal?

    • thormusique on September 19, 2021
    • Lovely article, cheers!

    • Dave MacKenzie on September 21, 2021
    • A Republican who was in favor of women's rights, minority rights, consumer protection laws, and campaign finance reform? She wouldn't stand a snowball's chance in hell with today's clown car version of her party.

    • Kate on September 22, 2021
    • Ms. Robertson, thank you so much for this story. My Austrian husband introduced me to pipe smoking when we first started dating and I’ve quickly become the lead smoker in our household. I am the only female amongst friends and family that smokes pipe. It really thrills me to stumble across historical references to such accomplished women as Millicent who shared my beloved hobby. The more women pipe enthusiasts in the world, especially those as noble as Millicent, the better a place it shall be. Thank you again.

    • Spike Herbert on September 23, 2021
    • Dave MacKenzie, keep your fetid and stupid political comments out of a PIPE SMOKING blog.

    • Keir Campbell on November 2, 2021
    • That was a great article. Sounds like a wonderful woman, with the heart for public service we hope all that govern us will possess but too few do. And she’s right. You can always trust a pipe smoker.

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