Millicent Fenwick: The Pipe Smoking Congresswoman from New Jersey

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By Ken Zurski

MILLICENT FENWICK, a renowned “pipe smoker,” was a four-term Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from New Jersey between 1975 and 1983.

Fenwick entered politics late in life and was known 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. She claimed the trademark pipe smoking habit was the result of a physician telling her not to smoke cigarettes.

“Tall and patrician, but down-to-earth and pungent,” is how the New York Times described her.

A former aide called Fenwick, “The Katharine Hepburn of politics,” adding, “With her dignity and elegance, she could get away with saying things others couldn’t.”

Today she is known for being the inspiration behind the Lacey Davenport character in Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” cartoon.

So brazen and confident was the Davenport character, she once told a prospective campaign manager that the job would entail, “Just padding about the house, answering phone calls, and changing the kitty litter.”

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Trudeau insists that Davenport was just a composite of several women and no one person in particular came to mind. But the comparison was in the look and attitude.

In the comic, Davenport ran for Senate seat and won. In contrast, Fenwick at the age of 72, was narrowly defeated by Democrat Frank Lautenberg in the 1982 Senate race.

Lautenberg who once called Fenwick, “The most popular candidate in the country,” claimed President Reagan’s unpopular polices at the midterm and his opponents age (“She would be almost 80 by the end of her first term”) were all factors that worked in his favor. Lautenberg was 58. He won the seat 51-to-48.

Fenwick, who had been ahead in the polls by 18 points, was stunned. “I had no concession speech prepared,” she said about the surprising defeat.

Fenwick died of heart failure in 1992

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