Lindy Boggs, who succeeded her husband in the House of Representatives after his plane crashed in Alaska and who went on to serve nine terms on Capitol Hill, notably as a champion of women's rights, died Saturday at her home in Chevy Chase, Md. She was 97.
Her daughter Cokie Roberts, the ABC News commentator, confirmed the death.
In 1976, Ms. Boggs became the first woman to preside over a Democratic National Convention. Three years earlier, she had become the first woman from Louisiana elected to the House.
Her victory came in a special election in which she campaigned to succeed her husband, Hale, a powerful member of the House who had served there 28 years, the last two as majority leader. He was presumed dead when a plane in which he was a passenger disappeared while he was campaigning with Rep. Nick Begich in Alaska in the fall of 1972.
Lindy Boggs gained her husband's seat in no small part on the strength of his name. The special election was held in March 1973; Hale Boggs had been re-elected the previous November, even though he was presumed dead.
But Lindy Boggs' own experience did not hurt. She knew the ways of the capital as an astute political wife from a family whose political lineage reached back to George Washington's time, including governors of Louisiana and Mississippi.
Her children found public renown in their own right: Her daughter, Ms. Roberts, as a Washington journalist for ABC and National Public Radio; her son, Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., as an influential Washington lawyer and lobbyist; and another daughter, Barbara Boggs Sigmund, who died in office as mayor of Princeton, N.J.
She displayed her Southern charm early in her first term when the House banking committee was composing an amendment to a lending bill barring discrimination on the basis of race, age or veteran status. She added the words "sex or marital status," ran to a copying machine and made a copy for each member.
In her 1994 memoir, "Washington Through a Purple Veil: Memoirs of a Southern Woman," written with Katherine Hatch, she recalled saying: "Knowing the members composing this committee as well as I do, I'm sure it was just an oversight that we didn't have 'sex' or 'marital status' included. I've taken care of that, and I trust it meets with the committee's approval."
Thus was sex discrimination prohibited by the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974.
Ms. Boggs used her membership on the Appropriations Committee to push for other women's economic concerns, like equal pay for government jobs and equal access to government business contracts. She became a champion of historic preservation and port development, flood control and housing in her New Orleans district.
She also fought for higher pay for senators and representatives, a politically unpopular cause, because she thought it would raise the quality of legislators and reduce turnover.
She championed racial justice at a time when doing so invited the resentment if not hostility of most Southern whites. She saw the growing civil rights movement as necessary to the political reform movement of the 1940s and '50s.
While her husband was in office, Ms. Boggs supported the Civil Rights Acts of 1965 and 1968 as well as Head Start and anti-poverty programs. As president of two organizations of congressional wives, she saw to it that each group was racially integrated.
In Louisiana, after her district was redrawn in 1983 giving blacks a majority, Ms. Boggs was re-elected three times. When she announced her retirement from Congress in 1990, she was the only white member of Congress representing a black-majority district.
Her national profile was raised in 1976 when Robert Strauss, chairman of the Democratic Party, chose Ms. Boggs to preside over the party's 1976 national convention in New York City, where Jimmy Carter became a presidential nominee.
In 1991, a room that had been used as the House speaker's office in the 19th century was named the Lindy Claiborne Boggs Congressional Women's Reading Room.
In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed Ms. Boggs ambassador to the Vatican.
While serving as Vatican Ambassador, Ms. Boggs lobbied the Congregation for Causes of Saints and Pope John Paul II for the beatification of Blessed Francis X. Seelos, a 19th century priest who spent much of his ministry in the Strip Distict before going to New Orleans and dying of yellow fever while nursing victims of an epidemic in 1867. She visited Pittsburgh to see the places where he had worked for nine years, according to the Rev. Jerome Vereb, a Passionist from Pittsburgh who served as her protocol officer. Blessed Seelos was beatified in 2000.
She put her Bible belt roots to good use at the Vatican, encouraging dialogue between evangelicals and the Catholic Church, he said. On a diplomatic front she used the post to quietly mediate issues between the United States and some Muslim-majority nations, winning the admiration of two successive Vatican secretaries of state, he said.
When she attended the 1999 funeral of King Hussein of Jordan, Father Vereb spoke briefly with President Clinton who, he said, told him, "She's the only woman in the world who could make me look good before the pope."
Marie Corinne Morrison Claiborne was born March 13, 1916, on a sugar plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish, La., the only child of Roland Philemon Claiborne, a lawyer, and the former Corinne Morrison. The name Lindy was a shortening of Rolindy, the nickname she was given by a nurse, who thought she looked more like her father than her mother.
Beginning with Thomas Claiborne, a Virginia congressman when George Washington was president, every generation of Ms. Boggs' family had at least one public officeholder.
Lindy's father died when she was 2. Her mother remarried when Lindy was 7, and the newly constituted family moved to a prosperous cotton plantation.
After attending Roman Catholic schools, Lindy Claiborne entered Sophie Newcomb College, the women's branch of Tulane University, at 15. At a freshman dance in 1934, she once said in an interview, a young man cut in while she was dancing. As they made their way around the floor, Thomas Hale Boggs said, "I'm going to marry you someday."
She and Hale Boggs both worked on the Tulane newspaper, The Hullabaloo, she as women's editor and he as editor in chief. After graduation, he went to Tulane Law School and she taught history and English in Romeville, La. They married in 1938.
Post-Gazette Staff Writer Ann Rodgers contributed.