Filed Under Biography

Frances Payne Bolton

Congressman Frances Payne Bolton was born Frances Payne Bingham into a wealthy and prominent family of Cleveland in 1885. Two of her grandfathers, William Bingham and Henry B. Payne, introduced her to the world of politics at an early age. William Bingham, well known for his hardware wholesale company Wm. Bingham & Co., served on the Cleveland City Council. Payne became Cleveland's first solicitor under its municipal charter and was later elected to city council before ultimately serving at a national level as a Democratic Senator. Having the familial link to politics may have prepared her for a future political career but her marriage and the death of her husband, Chester C. Bolton, provided her the position for candidacy. She began serving as a Republican House of Representatives member in 1940 to fill her late husband's position and continued serving until her 1968 defeat.

Frances Bolton's family's wealth allowed for the best schooling and many travel opportunities that served her in her future career. Her father was a wealthy banker-industrialist, but it was her uncle Oliver Hazard Payne, who worked alongside John D. Rockefeller in founding the Standard Oil Company, that earned a great deal of economic wealth and established trust funds for each of the Binghams. With this trust, Frances Payne Bolton would be known as one of the wealthiest women in the United States and use her funds to finance various philanthropic measures.

Bolton is most recognized for her involvement with the healthcare field, specifically nursing. Bolton began her involvement by volunteering with the Visiting Nurses Association in 1904 and learned about the healthcare system, nursing profession, and social welfare programs through the experience. Her wealth provided her opportunities to benefit society. She influenced the founding of the Army School of Nursing, which created Army-trained nurses, rather than volunteers, to be used in World War I. She is well remembered throughout Cleveland for providing the financial contributions that enabled Western Reserve University, now Case Western Reserve University, to open one of the first university schools of nursing in the country in 1923. In 1935 the school was renamed the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing. As Bolton became a congressman she authored the Bolton Act, which created the Cadet Nurse Corps in 1943. This program expanded the number of trained nurses for the war effort.

Bolton's political actions beyond healthcare have been influential but often overlooked. As she was elected into the House of Representatives, she joined only five other women in that legislative body. Bolton was a "distinctly conservative" member of Congress but often progressive in her support for measures of equality, including supporting a bill to support equal pay for men and women in the workplace in 1954. Bolton's career helped set an example for future women of the possibility to embark on political careers and the success that can be achieved in those careers.

Bolton became involved with foreign affairs in Congress and achieved great success in her career. She reorganized the Foreign Affairs committees and created five permanent sub-committees for better functioning. She paid her own way on several travel missions and became an expert on Communism (writing Strategy and Tactics of World Communism) and the first woman to head an official mission abroad. In 1953 she was promoted to a delegate to the United Nations; she was the first woman to achieve this position. Bolton's work on her mission to Africa remains one of her most overlooked contributions. This trip allowed for a better U.S. connection with the continent and its people, understanding their way of life, building better relationships and promoting the developing of democratic governments in the countries visited. Bolton continued her position in Foreign Affairs until she was defeated in the election of 1968.

After her defeat, Bolton retired from politics but her civic work and philanthropies continued. Historic preservation was another of the causes Bolton supported with her time and finances throughout her life; Mount Vernon was of particular interest to Bolton and lay behind her creation of the Accokeek Foundation to preserve the shores across the Potomac River. Because of her age, she only continued her support for a few more years until passing away in 1977. The immense show of support through local newspapers and at her funeral was indicative of the influence Bolton had on the public. She was praised and remembered as a humanitarian, philanthropist, politician, and patriot.


Swearing In of Bolton, 1940
Swearing In of Bolton, 1940 On March, 1940, Frances Payne Bolton was sworn in as Congressman of the 22nd District of Ohio. Bolton took office replacing her late husband, Chester C. Bolton. Mrs. Bolton was not the first woman to succeed her late husband in office; the terms "widow's mandate" or "widow's succession" existed to describe the occurrence. Most widows only finished out one year in office. Bolton, however, continued her run as a congressman for 28 years (14 terms). Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Congressional Women, 1940
Congressional Women, 1940 Rep. Frances P. Bolton (second from left) joins the other female congressmen for photograph in 1940: Rep. Clara McMillian, Rep. Mary T. Norton, Rep. Caroline O'Day, Rep. Edith N. Rogers, and Rep. Jessie Sumner. Bolton's election to the House of Representatives raised the number of women serving in that body to six. It took more than a dozen more years before a dozen women sat in Congress. Bolton was a pioneer in many "firsts" for women in Congress, including being the first Ohio woman elected to the House of Representatives. Nonetheless, she preferred to be called "Congressman" rather than the progressive "Congresswoman." Today, 102 women serve in the 113th Congress: 82 in the House and 20 in the Senate. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing
Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing The Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing is a renowned unit of Case Western Reserve University. The school opened in 1923 thanks to an endowment of stock donated by Bolton and was renamed for her in 1935. Throughout her life, Bolton donated more than $2.5 million to the school. The school remains one of the top-ranked nursing schools in the nation today. The site contains an Ohio Historical marker #40-18 to commemorate Bolton's life and achievements. Source: Renée Hubbell
U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps Poster, ca. 1943
U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps Poster, ca. 1943 Frances Payne Bolton is most widely recognized for her creation of the 1943 bill she authored, later named the Bolton Act, which expanded the number of trained nurses during World War II by founding the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps. The program trained nearly 125,000 nurses, as well as provided them with grants to cover the cost of a college education, in exchange for a pledge to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces or essential civilian posts until at least six months after the end of the war. Source: The Wolfsonian-Florida International University, Miami Beach, Florida, Gift of Leonard A. Lauder
Campaign Postcard, 1966
Campaign Postcard, 1966 This 1966 postcard was for Frances Bolton's final re-election to Congress. The postcard is said to depict "the purposeful stride of a busy legislator-and the iconic backdrop of the Capitol to underscore her long and effective years of service." Bolton began her career focused on issues of public health but soon expanded her interests and responsibilities to encompass Foreign Affairs. She became the first female member of Congress to head an official mission abroad and was promoted in 1953 to become the first female appointed Congressional delegate to the United Nations. Source: Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
The "Godmother of Africa," 1955
The "Godmother of Africa," 1955 In 1955 Bolton self-financed a 99-day mission trip to Africa. This trip allowed Bolton and her crew to travel over 20,000 miles and was credited for "awakening the state department to the importance of Africa." The group visited 24 countries, gathering information on their economies, cultures, and states of human rights. Bolton excelled in foreign relations, even having the President of Niger, Diroi Hamani, refer to her as the "Godmother of Africa." Source: Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Frances Payne Bolton at Mount Vernon, 1972
Frances Payne Bolton at Mount Vernon, 1972 Bolton spent most of her life actively participating in various social groups, including the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and a related historical preservation group she founded in 1957. The Accokeek Foundation focused on preserving the Maryland shore, part of the Potomac River viewshed from Mount Vernon. In 1955 Bolton had purchased around 500 acres of land to protect the site from commercialization. This was just one of the many philanthropic acts she undertook throughout her life. Source: Cleveland Press, October 31, 1972, Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Sketch of Frances Payne Bolton, 1968
Sketch of Frances Payne Bolton, 1968 This sketch by Ed Freska appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper in 1968, the year Bolton was defeated and her political career ended. She left office at age 82 and remains the oldest woman to have served in the House of Representatives. Additionally, Bolton holds the unique distinction of being the only mother to serve simultaneously in Congress with her son, Oliver Bolton. Source: Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Bolton's Funeral, 1977
Bolton's Funeral, 1977 After her death on March 9, 1977, Bolton was eulogized throughout Cleveland newspapers. Headlines called it the "End of an Era" and spoke of Bolton leading a "life of selfless service" and winning numerous humanitarian awards. Former President Ford added, "Her legacy of healing and selfless service will endure through time," and "we mourn her death but we are very thankful for her life." Her burial site is in Lake View Cemetery of Cleveland. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections


2120 Cornell Rd, Cleveland, OH | Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing


Renée Hubbell, “Frances Payne Bolton,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 13, 2024,