Lowell’s own Edith Nourse Rogers was the sixth woman elected to Congress and the first from New England, winning the seat vacated by the death of her husband in 1925. She held the office for 18 consecutive terms, spanning 35 years. Rogers sponsored more than 1,200 bills, more than half focusing on the military and veterans.
Rogers’ interest in veterans began while she was volunteering as an American Red Cross “gray lady” during World War I. After the war, she served as veterans ombudsman for presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives she co-sponsored the GI Bill of Rights, and introduced a bill in 1941 to create the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), which evolved into the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). This allowed women who were serving overseas to receive the same benefits as men.
Rogers was a vocal opponent of the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany, and co-sponsored the Wagner-Rogers Bill in 1939, which proposed allowing 20,000 German Jewish refugee children to come to the United States. Unfortunately, Franklin Delano Roosevelt didn’t support it, and the bill failed to advance beyond committee.
Rogers was awarded the American Legion’s Distinguished Service Medal, and the veterans hospital in Bedford, Mass., was named in her honor. Her name lives on in Lowell in the form of the E.N. Rogers Middle School. She is buried with her husband in Lowell Cemetery.