Gracie’s family moved to an Idaho farm near Meridian when she was five. In 1922 she quit high school to take a job in Nampa as a milk analyst. A year later, Gracie married a man twice her age, Jack Pfost, who was her supervisor.
Though Gracie Pfost never graduated from high school, she did go on to get a degree from Links Business College. That helped her become deputy county clerk in Canyon County. She ran for auditor and won, and then ran fortreasurer. She won that office, too, and became the biggest vote-getter, even though she was a Democrat in a Republican county.
The Democrats took notice of her ability to win votes across party lines and talked her into running for Congress in 1950. She lost. Then, in 1952 she ran again against Congressman John Travers Wood, narrowly defeating him. The first female member of Congress from Idaho, she was reelected in 1954, 1956, 1958, and 1960, winning by a bigger margin every time.
In the book Conversations, edited by Susan Stacy, Idaho Congressman Ralph Harding remembered how the Republicans put up the mayor of Caldwell, Erwin Schweibert, to run against Pfost in 1960. His campaign hammered on the theme that Idaho needed a strong, energetic man as a representative. While both were campaigning in North Idaho, Gracie challenged the strong, energetic man to a log-rolling contest during Lumber Jack Days. She sank his campaign when Gracie quickly dumped him into the river.
Pfost got the nickname “Hell’s Belle” in her first year in Congress by aggressively advocating for a single high dam on the Snake River in Hells Canyon. Ultimately that proposal went down to defeat, replaced by the three-dam complex we have today, Brownlee, Oxbow, and Hells Canyon.
Pfost ran for Senate in 1962 against powerhouse Senator Len B. Jordan, losing the race narrowly. She worked for the Federal Housing Administration after leaving Congress. Gracie Pfost died in 1965 at the age of 59 from Hodgkins disease.