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Frances Bolton and her son, Oliver Bolton, both Members of Congress from Ohio, in 1953, accompanied by younger members of the family. (Photo: Cleveland Historical Society).

The time a mother and her son served together in the U.S. Congress

By David Wildstein, December 23 2021 6:56 pm

There’s a lot of talk about political dynasties these days and American history has plenty of examples, but one worth noting comes from Ohio in the 1950s when a mother and her son served together in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The story starts with Chester Bolton, who was serving his fifth term in Congress when he died at age 57 in 1939, Republicans picked Frances Bolton, his widow, to fill out his term.

When Ohio redrew House districts in 1952, a portion of his mother’s 22nd district was moved into the 11th district.  The incumbent, Walter Brehm, had been convicted of taking campaign contributions form one of his employees and didn’t run for re-election.

Oliver Bolton, the congressman’s 35-year-old son and the former chairman of the Ohio Young Republicans, decided to become a candidate in the 11th district and won with 59% of the vote.

While mother and son served together, Frances Bolton would suggest that Oliver was adopted when he voted differently than she on a vote.

In 1956, after suffering heat attack, Oliver Bolton decided not to run for a third term.

But six years later, he took on two-term Democratic Rep. Robert Cook and beat him by 1,637 votes in one-point race.  He joined his mother in Congress for one more term before losing a race for Ohio’s single at-large House seat – viewed as a stepping stone to higher office – in 1964.

(The at-large seat was open after Robert Taft, Jr., the son of the late U.S. Senate Majority Leader and the grandson of the former President, left to seek a Senate seat.)

Frances Bolton served in Congress for 28 years before Democrat Charles Vanik unseated her by ten points in 1968.    Oliver Bolton died in 1972, at age 55; his mother passed away five years later.

The Boltons came from a political family.  Frances’ uncle had been mayor of Cleveland, an aunt was married to the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, and her grandfather represented Ohio in the U.S. Senate and sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1880.

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