Equality, civil rights ‘trailblazer’ Lindy Boggs dies at 97

Former Rep. Boggs dies 0:27

Former Congresswoman and ambassador Lindy Boggs, a plantation-born Louisianan who fought for women's equality and civil rights, died Saturday, her daughter said. She was 97.

The first woman elected to Congress from her home state died of natural causes at her home in Chevy Chase, Md., according to her daughter, ABC News journalist Cokie Roberts.

“Her legacy as a champion of women's and civil rights over her nine terms in office as the first woman elected to the United States Congress from Louisiana will continue to inspire generations to come,” said President Barack Obama in a statement.

“Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to the family and loved ones of Lindy Boggs.”

She was a permanent chairwoman of the 1976 Democratic National Convention and also served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican from 1997 to 2001.

Boggs' years in Congress started with a special election in 1973 to finish the term of her husband, Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., whose plane disappeared over Alaska six months earlier, The Associated Press reported. Between them, they served a half-century in the House.

"It didn't occur to us that anybody else would do it," Roberts said in explaining why her mother was the natural pick for the congressional seat. Her parents, who had met in college, were "political partners for decades," she said, with Lindy Boggs running her husband's political campaigns and becoming a player on the Washington political scene.

In this 1997 photo, Vice President Al Gore swears in Lindy Boggs as new Ambassador to the Vatican in Washington. With Boggs are her son Tommy Boggs, holding Bible, her daughter Cokie Roberts and her grandson Paul Sigmund. Staff / Reuters

Roberts called her mother "a trailblazer for women and the disadvantaged," the AP reported. Reuters reported:

With a political family pedigree that stretched back to George Washington's day and included governors of Louisiana and Mississippi, Boggs came to Washington at 24 with her newly elected husband to exert behind-the-scenes influence until she herself was elected to office.

In her 1994 memoir, "Washington Through a Purple Veil," Boggs described her attempt to enter the 1941 House of Representatives to hear her husband deliver a speech. She was so simply dressed that the guard kept her out until she returned, draped in a purple veil. She recalled that a friend had told her that "the most sophisticated and becoming thing a woman could wear was a purple veil."

She worked for the Civil Rights Acts of 1965 and 1968, Head Start and other programs to help minorities, the poor and women.

“She was the 'Lady of the House,' so highly respected that a room was named in her honor next to Statuary Hall, said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

"More than anyone in the House, she commanded the respect, admiration and affection of Members on both sides of the aisle."