Lucille May Grace

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Lucille May Grace
Louisiana Register of State Lands
In office
Preceded by Fred J. Grace
Succeeded by Ellen Bryan Moore
In office
Preceded by Ellen Bryan Moore
Personal details
Born (1900-10-03)October 3, 1900
Plaquemine, Iberville Parish
Louisiana, USA
Died December 22, 1957(1957-12-22) (aged 57)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Resting place St. John's Cemetery in Plaquemine, Louisiana
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Fred Columbus Dent Sr.

Fred Columbus Dent Jr.

Joelyn Dent Collins
Parents Fred J. and May Dardenne Grace
Residence Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Alma mater

Academy of the Sacred Heart, Grand Coteau

Louisiana State University

Lucille May Grace, a.k.a. Mrs. Fred Columbus Dent Sr., (October 3, 1900 – December 22, 1957), was the first woman to attain statewide elected office in Louisiana. A Democrat, "Miss Grace," as she preferred to be called, became Register of the State Land Office in 1931 on appointment of Governor Huey Pierce Long Jr.[1] She succeeded her father, who died in office, for whom she had previously worked. She was elected register in her own right in 1932, 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948, and 1956.

Lucille Grace was born in Plaquemine in Iberville Parish, located south of the capital city of Baton Rouge, to Fred J. Grace and the former May Dardenne. She graduated in 1919 from the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau near Opelousas in St. Landry Parish. She thereafter received a bachelor's degree from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. She was secretary-treasurer of her LSU freshman class, the first woman to have attained that distinction. She was also a member of Phi Kappa Phi honor society, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Though she married Fred Columbus Dent Sr. (1909–1973), of Baton Rouge in 1933, she kept the name "Miss Lucille May Grace" because that was how voters recognized her. While Miss Grace was of an "aristocratic" bearing, she ran on the "populist" Long ticket and became well liked among her state's voters, both in the Long faction and the anti-Long group as well. A newspaper editor wrote of Miss Grace in 1939 that: "the mere placing (of) her name on a state ticket means she will be returned... to the position of Register of the State Land Office by a larger vote than she received four years ago..."

Miss Grace was regarded as an efficient businesswoman and executive. She held the register's position from 1931 to 1952, when she instead ran for governor, and again from 1956 until her death in 1957.

Runoff politics, 1944[edit]

In 1944, Earl Kemp Long, who had been governor from 1939 to 1940, ran for lieutenant governor but faced a Democratic runoff against J. Emile Verret, a school board member from Iberia Parish. Long lost the runoff to Verret, but he had been the high votegetter in the first primary. If there had been no gubernatorial runoff that year, Long would have been the automatic lieutenant governor nominee. Louisiana law at the time provided that there would be no second primaries for other constitutional offices unless there was also a gubernatorial contest. Long hence could have won if the "Long" candidate for governor, Lewis L. Morgan of Covington, the seat of St. Tammany Parish, had withdrawn from the runoff with James Houston "Jimmie" Davis.

Miss Grace was among a group of Democrats who persuaded Morgan to remain in the runoff against Davis. In effect, she was helping to sink Long. Having lost his 1940 bid for governor and then his 1944 race for lieutenant governor, Earl Long might no longer be a viable candidate in Louisiana politics. Miss Grace had nothing to lose with the runoffs proceeding, for she had already been nominated in the first primary for another term as State Land Register.

Similarly, Wade O. Martin Jr., (1911–1990) the Democratic nominee for secretary of state for the first time in 1944, had similarly been nominated in the primary and faced no runoff election. Martin also urged Morgan into proceeding with the runoff. Earl Long did not forget what he saw as their treachery against him even though both continued to run and be nominated and elected as "Long" candidates.

Miss Grace ran for governor in 1952, fifty-two years before Louisiana elected its first ever female governor, Democrat Kathleen Babineaux Blanco in 2003. Miss Grace ran eighth among nine primary candidates—Louisiana voters would not then seriously consider a woman as governor, but she made headlines in her race.

Miss Grace targets Hale Boggs[edit]

Miss Grace accused a gubernatorial rival, Congressman Thomas Hale Boggs Sr. (1914–1972) of New Orleans of either being a communist or having been a communist in his youth. At the instigation of the "boss" of Plaquemines Parish, Judge Leander H. Perez, Miss Grace sued Boggs in an unsuccessful effort to force him from the race. She charged that his ties to the "red menace" or "sympathy" with communism rendered him ineligible to be governor, under the provisions of the then Louisiana Constitution of 1921.

On October 15, 1951, Miss Grace, acting under authority of LSA-R.S. 18:307, the Primary Election Law, Section 28 of Act 46 of 1940 and Section 4 of Act 351 of 1946, filed objections to the candidacy of Boggs alleging that he was "a member of the United States Congress when (and at all times since) he filed notification of his candidacy and that he was also a member of an organization advocating doctrines inimical to the federal Constitution. She therefore [220 La. 25] contended that the declaration accompanying Boggs' notification of candidacy was untrue as he did not possess the qualifications for candidacy ... "

Garry Boulard's The Big Lie: Hale Boggs, Lucille May Grace, and Leander Perez in 1951 (2001) is the definitive work on the Boggs-Perez-Grace rivalry. According to a brochure advertising Boulard's book: Boggs and Perez had quarreled for two decades, and their "acrimonious relationship intensified during the 1951 gubernatorial election when Lucille May Grace, at the instigation of Leander Perez, accused Hale Boggs of being a communist. Through interviews with many key players in the incident, Boulard blends oral history with material from over a dozen archives, creating an incisive survey of three Louisiana politicians and how the 1951-1952 elections forever changed their lives."

Other 1952 campaign developments[edit]

Leander Perez, a wealthy businessman who virtually owned his own parish of Plaquemines (not to be confused with Miss Grace's birthplace of Plaquemine), claimed that Hale Boggs had been involved in communist subversion when Boggs was a college student. Perez, a segregationist, also brought up racial issues. He objected to Boggs' relatively moderate positions on race at the time. When New Orleans public schools were first integrated during the 1959-1960 academic year, Perez would chant offensive slogans, such as "Don't wait for your daughters to be raped by these Congolese... Don't wait until these burrheads are forced into your schools."

Boggs still maintained a nominal segregationist position himself and voted against passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as did all eight Louisiana U.S. House members and both U.S. senators as well.

William J. "Bill" Dodd, another gubernatorial candidate in 1952, claimed in his memoirs entitled Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics that Perez "used Miss Grace to accuse Hale Boggs of having been a communist and of still being a communist sympathizer. A suit was filed to keep Boggs off the ballot. The suit plus a month or two of daily negative publicity killed Boggs and Miss Grace before they got started good."

Earl Long, who was vacating the governorship under Louisiana's then term-limits law, rebuffed Miss Grace's allegations even though she was his former and future ticket mate. Long declared that Boggs "ain't no communist or ain't one anymore and won't be influenced nearly as much by them communists as by his brother, who is a Catholic priest, and by old Archbishop [Joseph] Rummel in New Orleans [who supported school desegregation]."

Dodd continued: Earl Long knew that "most of the backwoods rednecks in the rural north Louisiana parishes were more prejudiced against and afraid of Catholics than they were of communists. He put a double whammy on Boggs, and it not just killed him, it buried him."

Ironically, Perez ditched Miss Grace as his gubernatorial preference and endorsed another losing candidate, James M. McLemore, a rich landowner, stockman, and auction-barn operator in Alexandria. McLemore was the first candidate for governor in the twentieth century to base a campaign primarily on racial matters, speaking out particularly against miscegenation. He also ran again for governor in 1956.

A final year in the Register's office[edit]

Miss Grace returned to the Long ticket in 1956 once more to seek the register's position. Dodd said that Miss Grace could not have won without Earl Long's support. He found Miss Grace ungrateful for all that Earl Long had done for her over the years: "She loved Huey Long but hated Earl Long, as did many of Huey's best personal and political friends."

Miss Grace unseated incumbent anti-Long Register Ellen Bryan Moore (1912–1999), who had defeated the Longite Mary Evelyn Dickerson Parker, in the Democratic primary four years earlier. Miss Grace became ill in 1957 and died in office, as had her father twenty-six years earlier. Her husband, Fred Dent Sr., sought the register's office in the 1959 Democratic primary, running on the DeLesseps Story Morrison intraparty ticket, but he was defeated by Ellen Bryan Moore.[2] It was odd that Dent would have run with Morrison considering Miss Grace's fierce attacks against U.S. Representative Hale Boggs, Morrison's former law partner, during the 1951 gubernatorial primary sparring.

Moore held the position again from 1960 to 1976, when it became non-elective.

In addition to her husband, Miss Grace was survived by a son, Fred C. Dent Jr. (1937–2010), a captain in the United States Army Special Forces who wore the Green Beret. Dent Jr., the father of actress Catherine Dent (born 1965), was a former state commissioner of financial institutions and headed the interest group Tax Busters.[3] He ran as a Republican for the Mayor-Presidency of East Baton Rouge Parish in 2000 but polled less than 6 percent of the votes in the nonpartisan blanket primary. Victory went to another Republican, Bobby Simpson of Baker.[4] The Dents also had a daughter, Joelyn Dent Collins of Richmond, Virginia.[3]

The Dents are interred at St. John's Cemetery in Plaquemine.[3]


  1. ^ Minden Herald, April 28, 1955, p. 1
  2. ^ "Chep Morrison And Ticket Here Monday", Minden Herald, Minden, Louisiana, September 17, 1959, p. 1.
  3. ^ a b c "Obituary of Fred Columbus Dent Jr". Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, September 14, 2010. Retrieved September 14, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Louisiana election returns, October 7, 2000". Retrieved December 5, 2009. [dead link]

Garry Boulard, The Big Lie: Hale Boggs, Lucille May Grace and Leander Perez in 1951 Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing, 2001

William J. "Bill" Dodd, Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics, Baton Rouge: Claitor's Publishing, 1991

"Lucille May Grace," Dictionary of Louisiana Biography

Preceded by
Fred J. Grace
Louisiana Register of State Lands

Lucille May Grace

Succeeded by
Ellen Bryan Moore
Preceded by
Ellen Bryan Moore (D)
Louisiana Register of State Lands

Lucille May Grace (D)

Succeeded by
Appointee of Governor Earl Kemp Long