Biography and Obituary of Dorothy Vredenburgh

Biography of Dorothy Vredenburgh 1948
Biography of Dorothy Vredenburgh 1985
Obituary of Dorothy Vredenburgh 1991
Tribute to Dorothy Vredenburgh Bush (Congressional Record)
Photograph of Dorothy Vredenburgh

Biography of Dorothy Vredenburgh

Source: Rothe, Anna, editor, 1948, Current Biography, Who's News and Why (H.W. Wilson Co.: New York, New York) p. 649-650.

Vredenburgh, Mrs. Dorothy McElroy Dec. 8, 1916 -

The post of secretary of the Democratic National Committee is filled by Mrs. Dorothy M. Vredenburgh, who was appointed to that office in 1944. In that election year she was responsible for much of the official business of the Democratic National Convention, a service which she will duplicate at the 1948 convention in Philadelphia. Her previous political experience was obtained in the work on the Young Democratic Clubs of America.

Baldwyn, Mississippi, is the birthplace of Dorothy McElroy Vredenburgh; she was born there to Will Lee and Lany (Holland) McElroy on December 8, 1916. (The family religion is Baptist.) After receiving her high school diploma in Columbus, Mississippi, in 1933, she entered the Mississippi State College for Women, which conferred a bachelor of science degree in secretarial studies upon her in 1937. For the 1935 summer term she attended George Washington University in Washington, D. C., and the succeeding summer, Mississippi State College. Her college club was the Maskers Social, and her sorority, Beta Sigma Phi, a group devoted to the interests of the business girl. During the three years between her graduation and her marriage, Miss Mc Elroy worked for the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company in it's Birmingham offices.

On December 27, 1940, Miss McElroy was married to Peter Vredenburgh 3d, a lumberman residing in the Alabama town of that name. They had met when Mr. Vredenburgh, described by the New York Post as an "Alabaman of the Hugo Boack persuasion." visited Birmingham for the funeral of Senator Will Bankhead. The town of Vredenburgh, named for an earlier member of the family who dad founded a lumber mill there in 1903, has a population of five or six hundred. (By his earlier marriage, Vredenburgh is the father on one son, Peter Vredenburgh 4th.)

The year of her marriage also marked Dorothy McElroy Vredenburgh's first vote in a Presidential election, the Roosevelt - Willkie contest of 1940. Her first vote had been cast in the hotly contested Senatorial election of the 1938, when President Roosevelt sought to purge anti-New Deal Senators. On being asked by a New York Herald Tribune reporter whether she had voted for Willkie in the 1940 election, Mrs Vredenburgh replied, "I certainly did not." Having already been active in local politics for several years, when was elected national committeewoman of the Alabama Young Democrats in 1941. Later that year she was elected to the assistant secretaryship of the organization and in 1943 to the vice-presidency of the Young Democratic Clubs of America. This office was The highest that a woman could hold in that organization "I was born a Democrat," Mrs Vredenburgh stated in regard to the length of her interest in politics, "an I've been interested in politics since I could talk."

In the course of the election year of 1944, the Democratic National Committee found it necessary to seek a secretary to replace George E. Allen, who resigned the post in order to work for the Vice-Presidential candidacy of Harry S. Truman. At the suggestion of Ambrose O'Connell, executive vice-chairman of the committee, and of Pitt Tyson Maner, formerly the president of the Young Democratic Clubs of America, the chairman of the committee at that them, Robert E. Hannegan, in March selected Mrs. Vredenburgh to succeed Allen as the secretary of the committee. By this appointment Mrs. Vredenburgh became the first woman ever to be chosen for that post by any political party in the United States. "The selection of this young and able party worker," stated Hannegan, "is. . . in recognition of the important part which young Democrats will assume in the forthcoming campaign. Mrs Vredenburgh will bring o the committee practical experience obtained in organization work in her home State." At the time of her appointment Mrs. Vredenburgh was twenty-seven years old.

"Democrats," reported Time on March 20, 1944, "held a coming out party at the Capitol for their secret weapon." The magazine was referring to the introductory luncheon given in honor of Mrs. Vredenburgh in the private dining room of Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, to make her known to fifty senior members of the Democratic party. To these elder statesmen Mrs Vredenburgh said: "No matter what the opposition says about trends, when the coming campaign develops and the issues are properly clarified, we will show them that the trend in our country in peace and in was is definitely Democratic."

While preparation for the Democratic National Convention were in progress that spring, Mrs Vredenburgh assisted in them. When the convention opened at Chicago in June, she read the roll call of the deflates and announced the appointment of temporary officers of the meeting. These functions she was to repeat at the 1948 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, she had not resigned from her position with the Young Democratic Clubs of America, but had also taken on the acting presidency of that organization in May 1944, when Joe C. Carr, its president, resigned in order to enter military service. In this capacity Mrs. Vredenburgh assigned a new executive secretary of the young people's political group.

On taking her position with the Democratic national Committee, she told the New York Post interviewer that one of it advantages was the opportunity to see movies occasionally - in her Alabama home, the lack of near-by theaters makes movie - going a rare entertainment. Hotel living appeals to Mrs Vredenburgh who has said that cooking and housework do not attract her. One preference in food is charcoal broiled steak. She seldom reads novels - her taste tend more to factual reading. In appearance, says Life, she is "a slender medium sized brunette with nice blue eyes and a dimply smile." The handbags she carries are in needle-pont worked by Mrs. Vredenburgh herself.


NY Herald Tribune p.11 Mr 1 '44
NY Post Mr 24 '44; p.29 Jl 20 '44
International Who's Who, 1948

Biography of Dorothy Vredenburgh

Source: International Who's Who 1984-1985 48th edition vol. 48, p. 205

Bush, Dorothy Vredenburgh;

American politician; b. 8 Dec. 19116, Baldwyn, Miss.; d. of Will Lee McElroy and Lany Holland McElroy; m. 1st Peter Vredenburgh, 1940 (deceased); one step s. (deceased); 2nd John W. Bush 1962; ed George Washington Univ. and Miss. State Coll. For Women; Sec. To Dir. Of Tenn. Coal, Iron and Railroad Co. 1937-40; Asst. Sec. Young Democrats of America 1941, Vice-Pres. 1943-48, Acting Pres. 1944; Sec Democrat Nat. Cttee. 1944-; Democratic Nat. Conventions 1944, 1948, 1952, 1956, 960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980; Dir Coastal Caribbean Oils & Minerals Ltd., Pancoastal Inc.; mem. Nat. Fed. Of Business and Professional Women. Address: Democratic National Committee, 1625 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D. C. 20036 (Office); 106 Moorings Park Drive, Apartment 104, Naples, Fla. 33942 (Home).

Obituary from T.V. News:

Dorothy Vredenburgh Bush resided in Naples, Florida Dec. 21, 1991 of Lung Cancer, she was 75. She called the roll for every Democratic Presidential Convention from 1944 (Roosevelt) through 1988 (Dukakis).

TRIBUTE TO DOROTHY VREDENBURGH BUSH (United States Senate - January 23, 1992)
[Congressional Record Page: S217]

Mr. HEFLIN. Mr. President, we were saddened late last year by the death of Dorothy Bush, long-time secretary of the Democratic National Committee and legend in Democratic Party politics. She was well-known in political circles across the country for calling the roll of States and keeping the vote count that led to the nomination of every Democratic Presidential ticket from Roosevelt-Truman in 1944 to Dukakis-Bentsen in 1988. She served under 17 national party chairmen, 9 national convention chairs, and through the administrations of 10 U.S. Presidents.

Originally from the State of Mississippi, Dorothy Bush moved to Birmingham, AL, in 1937 to take a job as secretary to the director of insurance for Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad/U.S. Steel. She later married Peter Vredenburgh III, namesake of the small Monroe County, AL, town where they lived for a time. Six years after his death in 1956, she wed the Honorable John W. Bush, a former Chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission, and relocated to Florida.

In Alabama, Dorothy was active with the Young Democratic Clubs of America, which she served for 9 years as national committeewoman. At the Young Democrats National Convention in Louisville, KY, Dorothy served as assistant secretary. She went on to complete 5 years as the national organization's vice president and was the only woman to hold the office of acting president.

Appointed national party secretary in 1944, she was the first woman and, at 27, the youngest individual in either party to ever hold the office. She continued to call the roll of the States as the permanent secretary at each of the succeeding national conventions.

As current Democratic Party Chairman Ron Brown said after her death, `Mrs. Bush * * * showed an unending commitment to the party and Democrats across the country.' Indeed, her work took her all over the Nation for meetings, speeches, fundraising events, and campaigns. She traveled with Lyndon Johnson on his vice presidential train in 1960; was a White House coordinator for the `Lady Bird Special' train trip through Southern States in 1964; and campaigned in 1976 aboard the Carter-Mondale `Democratic Whistlestop' train. As cochair of the National Party Advisory Committee on Senior Issues, Secretary Bush joined Senator Claude Pepper in 1983 and 1984 at rallies to promote the interests of senior citizens.

As her former assistant for many years has said, Dorothy Bush became an American institution, and was the unchanging sensibility and continuity in a party that has, over the decades she served, witnessed enormous change. Fans of Democratic Party conventions always looked forward to the roll call of the States, for they knew the caller would be Dorothy Vredenburgh Bush, with her unmistakable Mississippi accent and natural poise. When the party convenes in New York this summer to nominate the next President of the United States, these fans will, regrettably and sadly, witness one more change, one that we never wanted to see: For the first time in 48 years, Dorothy Bush will not be there at the podium to call the roll of States.

Mr. President, I am proud that the Young Democrats of Alabama saw fit to share Dorothy's extraordinary talents and uncommon commitment to our party's principles with the rest of the Nation. I extend my sincerest condolences to Mrs. Bush's family, and ask unanimous consent that an article from the Washington Post on her life and career be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the article was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

The Last Roll Call: Dorothy Bush, Democrats' Den Mother

Even when the outcome was wholly predictable, fans of Democratic Party conventions looked forward to the roll call of the states. Who could resist? From the first syllable of `Al-a-BAM-a,' you knew the caller of the roll was Dorothy Vredenburgh Bush. She had been around American politics for as long as most Americans can remember American politics. She had been around politics longer than Richard Nixon.

The comparison with Nixon ends right there, though. Dorothy Bush, who died just before Christmas at age 75, was loved by the party she served; she represented (and now I'm speaking as a loyal Democrat) all its best traditions. At the risk of seeming overly sentimental, she also represented a time when politics was a lot more fun.

During the past 20 years or so, the major party conventions have not been great prime-time entertainment (though they have had to endure such distractions as, in 1972, whether or not the states should be called alphabetically). Dorothy Bush, who first stepped onto a convention podium at age 27, remembered when it was. As secretary of the Democratic National Committee from 1944 until 1989, she counted convention delegate votes for Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. More than that, she watched the TV cameras descend for the first time on our national leaders and saw what that did to the politics we once had. Baby boomers grew up watching the image of conventions change from spontaneity to choreography; Dorothy Bush watched it all from the podium.

With her Mississippi accent, her unflinching poise, she became an American institution--the unchanging sensibility in a party that has witnessed enormous change, someone who could link Dukakis to Roosevelt, demure chats in an `anchor booth' to angry floor fights.

We often talked about what an extraordinary experience it was. She'd become active in a world where women were just beginning to stake their claim, a system where political decisions were usually made behind closed doors. As the party's record-keeper, she often found herself fighting a process that was jealous of its male prerogatives and reluctant to cede a larger role to a mere woman. Even her appearance was once a source of conversation. `Republicans accuse Democrats of pin-up tactics,' one long ago newspaper account read. `Blue-eyed, leggy Dorothy Vredenburgh has been appointed secretary of the Democratic National Committee.'

I came to work as her assistant in late 1976. Before the interview, I gave myself a cram course--trying to learn, for starters, the names of 350 DNC members. I even tried to teach myself the nuances of the party charter and bylaws. In our first conversation, I dropped the names of some obscure committee members and referred to some party rules. That did not seem to impress her; it was taken for granted that I would know such stuff. Somehow, though, this elegant woman and I hit it off.

The DNC office on Massachusetts Avenue was awfully quiet then. Robert Strauss, who'd been the party chairman, was about to take a job with the Carter White House--the Democrats had elected a president of their own. But the stillness did not bother me. I felt that I was working for a legend. In the years since, I was never able to call her anything but Mrs. Bush.

Sometimes we talked about the changes that she'd seen--`They keep me on my toes,' was how she put it in her prim way. She remembered in particular the excitement in 1952, `when we were told the convention would be televised. I wonder if those TV executives really knew what they are getting into.'

Dorothy Bush probably never imagined that we would look upon those conventions with a kind of nostalgia. That was a time when it seemed that anything could happen, even if it rarely did. A convention floor in the 1950s was filled with odd caucuses and shouting matches and florid oratory in behalf of any number of favorite sons. When some of this got out of hand, we were especially glad to have Dorothy Bush on the podium. She was at such moments the Democrats' den mother. She became the Democrats' institutional memory.

She was impressed by our state-of-the-art voting system, which we tried for the first time in San Francisco. `When I took office years back, it used to take forever to count those votes,' she told me. `Sometimes we would be up all night. I sat on the podium watching delegates falling asleep in their seats.'

Now and then, I saw how difficult it could be for her--in 1980, for example. It was no picnic being the keeper of party archives and records when a sitting president was being challenged for the party's nomination by an influential member of the U.S. Senate. Numerous challenges were being filled on procedural matters and the interpretation of delegate selection rules seemed to be changing daily by representatives of the Jimmy Carter and Edward Kennedy campaigns.

Dorothy Bush, though, stood firm in her commitment to keep the doors of our office open and the exchange of information available to both camps. Sometimes, the pressure became intense. `My office is here to serve all Democrats,' she used to say. `There are no special constituencies, there are no special candidates and there are no special favors.' Such words sound almost banal in the 1990s, but she meant them.

By the time of the Atlanta convention in 1988, many observers believed it was to be her last one as party secretary; and, indeed, in the summer of 1989, she decided to retire. Her legendary neutrality failed her then, as she urged the party--unsuccessfully, as it turned out--to elect me as the next DNC secretary.

We were a team in Atlanta--as we had been for the previous two conventions; she was always generous to me, and never more so than in allowing me to share her moment in the national spotlight. She called the names of the states and I repeated the responses. (`Pennsylvania casts 19 votes for Walter Mondale . . .')

When I think of her--and the party that knew her--I think of the Atlanta convention. For her, it was the end of a journey that had begun in Chicago, when FDR was nominated for a fourth time. In Atlanta, the hall was filled with women, blacks and other minorities--a different America. Dorothy Bush, of course, had helped that change; she was an historic part of it.

It was a convention like other present-day conventions: no mystery, few disputes, forgotten intrigues--discussions might center on matters no more consequential than whether Dukakis would be able to emote. Still, space was tight, credentials were scarce and tempers flared. And Dorothy Bush never faltered.

After a film in her honor was shown, she stepped to the podium to say a few words, concluding this way: `And now I'm just going to take a moment to throw a great big kiss and a hug to all my friends who couldn't get to Atlanta for the convention, and if they got here, they probably couldn't get in . . . . So, hello, friends wherever you are.'

Goodbye, Mrs. Bush.

[Page: S218]


Dorothy Vredenburgh

1956 Photo of Dorothy Vredenburgh,
Secretary of the Democratic National Committee