Dorathy N. McDonald Allen was the first woman to serve in the Arkansas Senate. She was elected to fill the unexpired term of her husband, Senator Tom Allen, after his death in 1963. She was reelected in 1966 and 1970 without opposition, serving until January 1975.
Dorathy McDonald was born in Helena (Phillips County) on March 10, 1910, to Dora and Jack McDonald. Her father was lumberman and sawmill owner, and her mother was a homemaker; she had four siblings. She was educated in public schools and at Sacred Heart Academy in Helena. Her mother died the same year McDonald graduated from high school. Due to the financial state of her family, college became impossible, so she took a business course and acquired a county job. Soon thereafter, McDonald became society editor of the Helena World, and she later worked in the news department and the advertising department of the Eastern Arkansas Record.
She married Tom Allen in May 1941 and moved to Brinkley (Monroe County), where they owned and published the Brinkley weekly newspaper the Citizen. She worked with her husband editing and publishing the Citizen, the Monroe County Sun at Clarendon (Monroe County), and the Woodruff County Democrat at Cotton Plant (Woodruff County). In 1944, her husband ran for the Arkansas House of Representatives and later became a state senator, a post he held until his death from cancer on October 31, 1963; they had no children.
In 1944, Allen became affiliated with the Miss Arkansas Pageant, then an amateur affair; she chaperoned the Brinkley contestant to the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, where she saw how pageants were professionally conducted. As Allen recalled, “The sponsors of the Arkansas contest had not the slightest comprehension of what our girl was going to have to face in Atlantic City.” She returned to Arkansas and became director of the pageant. Prior to 1945, the pageant was sponsored by the Eastern Arkansas Young Men’s Club, and upon Allen’s return, she told the men’s clubs that they needed to do it right or not at all. Her leadership in that area resulted in her being dubbed the “Mother of the Miss Arkansas Pageant.” Allen held the 1945 Miss Arkansas pageant on the football field in Brinkley.
On July 28, 1964, Allen ran in a special election for the Senate seat in District 26—which included Monroe, Lee, Arkansas, and Phillips counties—that was made vacant by her husband’s death. At the time of her first campaign, she had been a member and leader of several associations, including the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Mental Retardation, past president of the Arkansas Hospital Association, charter member and first president of the Brinkley Business and Professional Women’s Club, and member and past president of Arkansas Press Women. She won with 52.2 percent of the vote (7,567 votes) to become the first woman ever to serve in the Arkansas Senate. She was reelected without opposition in 1966 and 1970, serving from 1964 to 1975.
Allen’s first floor speech was in opposition to a proposed investigation of the Arkansas Children’s Colony, a project that she had long lobbied for establishing and furthering, and the proposal failed. In this first term, she sponsored the PKU (Phenylketonuria) Act for newborn testing of this genetic disorder. During the 1967 session, Allen put forward legislation to exempt mussel shells from the severance tax, which passed unanimously in both houses, and she and state Senator Joe Lee Anderson of Helena sponsored an appropriation of $500,000 to pay off the debt on the Helena bridge over the Mississippi River so that the Arkansas Department of Transportation would end the toll charges; after passage by both houses, however, it was vetoed by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller.
In 1969, Allen sponsored legislation authorizing school districts and colleges to create early-childhood-development demonstration projects. Her bill directing the state Publicity and Parks Commission to develop a plan to create a Louisiana Purchase State Park passed but was vetoed by Governor Rockefeller. During the 1971 session, she sponsored a non-binding resolution to end the Highway Commission’s toll charges over the Helena bridge, and the tolls ended soon afterward. That same year, she became chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Legislative Affairs.
In 1974, legislative reapportionment created a district of two counties, Monroe and Arkansas, with parts of Woodruff, St. Francis, and Prairie. Allen decided not to run for reelection. About an hour after the ticket closed that year for the Democratic Party primaries, a fire destroyed the second floor of her newspaper, the Citizen.
Allen worked as a Senate clerk from 1975 to 1976 and remained active in her church and in associations until her death on May 12, 1990.
For additional information:
“Dorathy Allen of Brinkley, Ex-State Senator.” Arkansas Democrat. May 14, 1990, p. 4B.
McGaughey, Carroll. “Mrs. Tom Allen—Those Who Join Also Work.” Arkansas Gazette. March 11, 1956, p. 5F.
Murphy, Sara. “Distaff Note: The Ladies of the Legislature.” Arkansas Gazette. January 29, 1967, p. 5E.
“Two Traditions Come to an End.” Arkansas Gazette. April 24, 1974, p. 1B.
Lindsley Armstrong Smith
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville