Leonor Kretzer Sullivan (August 21, 1902 – September 1, 1988) was an American educator, consumer advopcate, and politician. A member of the Democratic Party, she was the first woman from Missouri to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from Missouri, serving twelve terms between 1953 and 1977.
Born Leonor Kretzer in St. Louis, she took night classes at Washington University in St. Louis, focusing on vocational psychology. During the 1930s, she worked as an instructor in business and accounting at the St. Louis Comptometer School; she later became placement director there before becoming director of the St. Louis Business School. In 1941, she married John Berchmans Sullivan, a freshman Congressman from St. Louis. Leonor Sullivan worked as her husband’s administrative assistant and campaign manager in five primary and election campaigns; during that time, her husband was defeated twice, only to be returned to office in the subsequent election. After being passed over to replace her husband after his death in 1951, she took a year-long position as an administrative aide to Missouri Representative Leonard Irving.
In 1952, Sullivan announced her candidacy for her husband’s reapportioned district. She defeated seven contenders in the Democratic primary, including the party-endorsed candidate, who made a campaign promise that if elected, he would give Sullivan a job on his staff. Running in the general election as “Mrs. John B. Sullivan,” she defeated her Republican opponent by a two-to-one margin. After that campaign, Sullivan, the first woman elected to Congress from her state (and the only one until the 1990s), was never seriously challenged; she captured her next 11 elections with between 65 and 79 percent of the vote.
During her time in Congress, working with Senator Hubert Horatio Humphrey Jr. of Minnesota, Sullivan authored the Food Stamp Act in 1959. President Lyndon B. Johnson would incorporated legislation written by Sullivan to make food stamps available for poor Americans nationally into his “War on Poverty” in 1964. Though she defended the rights of women consumers, Sullivan did not embrace the larger feminist agenda. She was the only woman Member to vote against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the 92nd Congress though she had supported the Equal Pay Act of 1963, a first step toward the equal pay for equal work doctrine, and had also backed an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act that stipulated an end to sexual discrimination in the workplace.
In 1976, at age 74, Sullivan declined to seek a thirteenth term and was succeeded by Richard Andrew Gephardt, who eventually became Democratic Leader in the House. Her age, but principally her disaffection with the institution of Congress, accounted for her decision to retire. She returned to St. Louis and moved into a home she had bought long before on the south side of the city, atop a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Passing riverboat captains often blew their ships’ horns to salute Sullivan, who had been a benefactor of the barge industry during her time on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee. In 1980 she married retired millionaire businessman Russell L. Archibald. He died in March 1987. Sullivan died in St. Louis on September 1, 1988.