Helen Gahagan Douglas


Biography of Helen Gahagan Douglas

Helen Gahagan Douglas (November 25, 1900 – June 28, 1980) was an American actress and politician. She was the third woman and first Democratic woman elected to Congress from California; her election made California one of the first two states (Illinois was the other state) to elect female members to the House from both parties.

Gahagan was born in Boonton, New Jersey of Scotch-Irish descent. Her father was Walter H. Gahagan, an engineer who owned a construction business in Brooklyn and a shipyard in Arverne, Queens; her mother had been a schoolteacher. She was reared Episcopalian.

She graduated from the Berkeley Institute in 1920, and from Barnard College in 1924. Gahagan became a well-known star on Broadway in the 1920s. In 1931, she married actor Melvyn Douglas. Gahagan starred in only one Hollywood movie, She in 1935, playing Hash-a-Motep, queen of a lost city. The movie, based on H. Rider Haggard's novel of the same name, is perhaps best known for popularizing a phrase from the novel, "She who must be obeyed." Her character and costuming in She served as the inspiration for the appearance of the Evil Queen in Walt Disney's 1937 animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

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