Who is that woman with Sen. Watkins, Sec. Benson and President Eisenhower?

June 5, 2010

Minor mystery, but still, it nags.

Who is the woman in this photo?  This is a chance to play history detective.

Sen. Arthur V. Watkins, Sec. of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, President Eisenhower, and unidentified woman, 9-9-1958, Shipler Photography image via Utah Hist Soc

Utah Sen. Arthur V. Watkins, Sec. of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, with unidentified woman, on September 9, 1958. Photo by Shipler Commercial Photography, scanned at Marriott Library from the collection of the Utah Historical Society (which holds the rights).

I stumbled across the photo at the on-line archives of the Utah Historical Society.  At the time of this picture, Watkins was running for re-election in a race he would lose in November, in a three-way vote split, to Democrat Frank E. Moss.  Watkins had run afoul of very conservative Utah politics when he chaired the Senate select committee that investigated Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and recommended censure of McCarthy.

Ezra Taft Benson served as Eisenhower’s Secretary of Agriculture for the full eight years of Eisenhower’s administration.  Benson was an arch conservative, closely affiliated with the extreme right-leaning John Birch Society, which officially regarded Eisenhower as a bit of a traitor. Benson later served as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, or Mormon).

Oddly, the picture doesn’t identify the woman.  She’s in a wheel chair.  The large stone columns suggest this is a government building, or monument.  The microphone is set at the level of the woman, so obviously she was speaking at this event, whatever it was.  In an election year, such a scene might be played out in the state of the election, Utah — but I suspect it was a Washington, D.C., venue (was Eisenhower in Utah in 1958?).  Shipler Photography was a Utah company, though — what would they be doing in Washington?

Who is that woman?  What was the event?  Where was it?

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Update: Best guess so far:  Louise Lake, a polio victim from Salt Lake City, and “handicapped American of the year” for 1958. See comments.


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