Abraham Ribicoff
Chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee
In office
December 31, 1974 – January 3, 1981
Preceded bySam Ervin
Succeeded byWilliam Roth
United States Senator
from Connecticut
In office
January 3, 1963 – January 3, 1981
Preceded byPrescott Bush
Succeeded byChris Dodd
4th United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
In office
January 21, 1961 – July 13, 1962
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Preceded byArthur Flemming
Succeeded byAnthony J. Celebrezze
80th Governor of Connecticut
In office
January 5, 1955 – January 21, 1961
LieutenantCharles W. Jewett
John Dempsey
Preceded byJohn Davis Lodge
Succeeded byJohn Dempsey
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Connecticut's 1st district
In office
January 3, 1949 – January 3, 1953
Preceded byWilliam J. Miller
Succeeded byThomas J. Dodd
Member of the Connecticut House of Representatives
from the Hartford district
In office
Serving with Albert S. Carignan (1938–1940), Ernest T. Racicot (1940–1942)
Preceded byErnest T. Racicot
Thomas F. Leavy
Succeeded byHarold E. Conroy
Rene R. Dupuis
Personal details
Abraham Alexander Ribicoff

(1910-04-09)April 9, 1910
New Britain, Connecticut, U.S.
DiedFebruary 22, 1998(1998-02-22) (aged 87)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Ruth Siegel
(m. 1931; died 1972)

(m. 1972)
EducationNew York University
University of Chicago (LLB)

Abraham Alexander Ribicoff (April 9, 1910 – February 22, 1998) was an American Democratic Party politician from the state of Connecticut. He represented Connecticut in the United States House of Representatives and Senate and was the 80th Governor of Connecticut and Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in President John F. Kennedy's cabinet. He was Connecticut's first and to date only Jewish governor.

Early life

Born in New Britain, Connecticut, to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Poland, Samuel Ribicoff, a factory worker, and Rose Sable Ribicoff, he attended local public schools. Ribicoff's relatively poor parents valued education and insisted that all his earnings from part-time boyhood jobs go toward his future schooling. After high school, he worked for a year at a nearby zipper factory of the G. E. Prentice Company to earn additional funds for college. Ribicoff enrolled at New York University in 1928, then transferred to the University of Chicago after the Prentice Company made him the Chicago office manager. While in Chicago, Ribicoff coped with school and work schedules and was permitted to enter the university's law school before finishing his undergraduate degree. Still a student, he married Ruth Siegel on June 28, 1931; they had two children. Ribicoff served as editor of the University of Chicago Law Review in his third year and received an LLB cum laude in 1933, being admitted to the Connecticut bar the same year. After practicing law in the office of a Hartford lawyer, Ribicoff set up his practice, first in Kensington and later in Hartford.

Early political career

Having become interested in politics, Ribicoff began as a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives, serving in that body from 1938 to 1942. From 1941 to 1943 and again from 1945 to 1947 he was the judge of Hartford Police Court. During his political career, Ribicoff was a protégé of John Moran Bailey, the powerful chairman of the Democratic Party of Connecticut.

U.S. Representative

He was elected as a Democrat to the 81st and 82nd Congresses, serving from 1949 to 1953. During that time, he served on the Foreign Affairs Committee, a position usually reserved for members with more seniority, and was a mostly loyal supporter of the foreign and domestic policies of President Harry S. Truman's administration. Generally liberal in his outlook, he surprised many by opposing a $32 million appropriation for the construction of a dam in Enfield, Connecticut, arguing that the money was better spent on military needs and foreign policy initiatives such as the Marshall Plan.

In 1952 he made an unsuccessful bid for election to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate, losing to Prescott Bush.

Governor of Connecticut

Ribicoff as governor.

After returning to his legal practice for two years, he ran for governor against incumbent Republican John Davis Lodge, winning the election by just over three thousand votes. As governor (1955–1961), Ribicoff soon faced the challenge of rebuilding his state in the wake of devastating floods that occurred in the late summer and fall of 1955, and he successfully led bipartisan efforts to aid damaged areas. Ribicoff then successfully argued for increased state spending on schools and welfare programs. He also supported an amendment to the state constitution that enhanced the governing powers of local municipalities. Easily reelected in 1958, Ribicoff had by now become active on the national political scene. A longtime friend of Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, Ribicoff had nominated his fellow New Englander for vice president at the 1956 Democratic National Convention and was one of the first public officials to endorse Kennedy's presidential campaign.

Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare

When Kennedy became president in 1961, he offered Ribicoff his choice of cabinet posts in the new administration. He reportedly declined the position of attorney general for fear that he might create needless controversy within the emerging Civil Rights Movement because he was Jewish, and he instead chose to be secretary of health, education, and welfare (HEW). Although he managed to secure a revision of the 1935 Social Security Act that liberalized requirements for Aid to Dependent Children, Ribicoff was unable to gain approval for the administration's Medicare and school aid bills. Eventually, he tired of attempting to manage the department, whose very size made it, in his opinion, unmanageable.

Ribicoff reflected that he had sought out the position of HEW Secretary mainly out of concern for education and "realized that the problems of health and welfare were so overriding that education was relegated to the back burner" during his tenure.[1]

United States Senate

He was finally elected to the United States Senate in 1962, replacing retiring incumbent Prescott Bush by defeating Republican nominee Horace Seely-Brown with 51% of the vote. He served in the Senate from January 3, 1963, until January 3, 1981.

Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded Kennedy as president when the latter was assassinated in 1963. Ribicoff supported Johnson at first but eventually turned against the Vietnam War and the president's management of it, believing that it drained badly needed resources away from domestic programs.

Ribicoff allied with consumer advocate Ralph Nader in creating the Motor Vehicle Highway Safety Act of 1966, which created the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.[2] The agency was responsible for many new safety standards on cars. These standards were questionable because up until then, the emphasis had always been put on the driver. In response, Ribicoff stated that:

The driver has many faults. He is negligent; he is careless; he is reckless. We understand that... I think it will be the millennium if you will ever get a situation where the millions and millions of drivers will all be perfect. They will always be making errors and making mistakes.

At the 1968 Democratic National Convention, during a speech nominating George McGovern, his senatorial colleague from South Dakota, he went off-script, saying, "And with George McGovern as President of the United States, we wouldn't have to have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago." Many conventioneers, having been appalled by the response of the Chicago police to the ongoing anti-war demonstrations, broke into applause. Television cameras focused on the indignant reaction of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. Ribicoff spent the remaining years of his Senate career fighting for such issues as school integration, welfare and tax reform, and consumer protection.

During the 1972 Democratic National Convention, presidential nominee George McGovern offered Ribicoff the Democratic vice-presidential nomination, but he declined and it eventually went to Senator Thomas Eagleton.[3] After Eagleton withdrew, McGovern asked Ribicoff (among others) to take Eagleton's place. He again refused, publicly stating that he had no ambitions for higher office. McGovern eventually chose Sargent Shriver as his running mate. Later in 1972, following the death of his wife, Ribicoff married Lois Mell Mathes, who became known as "Casey".[4]

During his time in the Senate, Ribicoff was chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Government Operations (94th and 95th Congresses) and its successor committee, the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs (95th and 96th Congresses).

Future U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman worked in Ribicoff's Senate office as a summer intern and met his first wife, Betty Haas, there.

In 1978, Ribicoff's niece Gail Rubin, was shot and killed in the Coastal Road massacre in Israel by Palestinian terrorists. Ribicoff denounced her killing as "an indefensible act of terrorism that deserves universal condemnation."[5]

On May 3, 1979, Ribicoff announced his intention to retire at the end of his third term. President Jimmy Carter released a statement crediting Ribicoff with having "compiled a distinguished career of public service that can serve as a model of decency, compassion, and ability."[6]

Later life

In 1981, Ribicoff fulfilled his pledge to retire from the Senate and took a position as special counsel in the New York law firm of Kaye Scholer LLP and divided his time between homes in Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut, and Manhattan. He was co-chairman of the 1988 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

Having suffered in his later years from the effects of Alzheimer's disease, he died in 1998 at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale in The Bronx, New York City, and is interred at Cornwall Cemetery in Cornwall, Connecticut.

See also


  1. ^ Carter, Jimmy (October 17, 1979). "Department of Education Organization Act Remarks at the Bill Signing Ceremony". American Presidency Project.
  2. ^ Johnson, Steven (2021). Extra Life (1st ed.). Riverhead Books. pp. 187–188. ISBN 978-0-525-53885-1.
  3. ^ Help Wanted New York Times, Aug. 28, 2008,
  4. ^ Grimes, William (August 26, 2011). "Casey Ribicoff, 88, Senator's Widow and a Style Leader". The New York Times. p. A20.
  5. ^ Zuckoff, Murray (March 13, 1978). "The Death of an Artist Gail Rubin, 39, Killed by Terrorists". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. p. 4. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  6. ^ "Ribicoff Decides He Won't Seek A Fourth Term". New York Times. May 4, 1979.

Further reading

U.S. House of Representatives Preceded byWilliam J. Miller Member of the U.S. House of Representativesfrom Connecticut's 1st congressional district 1949–1953 Succeeded byThomas J. Dodd Party political offices Preceded byBrien McMahon Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Connecticut(Class 3) 1952 Succeeded byThomas J. Dodd Preceded byChester Bowles Democratic nominee for Governor of Connecticut 1954, 1958 Succeeded byJohn Dempsey Preceded byThomas J. Dodd Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Connecticut(Class 3) 1962, 1968, 1974 Succeeded byChris Dodd Political offices Preceded byJohn Davis Lodge Governor of Connecticut 1955–1961 Succeeded byJohn Dempsey Preceded byArthur Flemming United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare 1961–1962 Succeeded byAnthony J. Celebrezze U.S. Senate Preceded byPrescott Bush U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Connecticut 1963–1981 Served alongside: Thomas J. Dodd, Lowell P. Weicker Jr. Succeeded byChris Dodd Preceded bySam Ervin Chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee 1974–1981 Succeeded byWilliam Roth