First woman to hold Nevada Congressional seat
Date of Birth: June 22, 1921
Place of Birth: Camp Dix, New Jersey
Arrival in Reno, Nevada: 1949
In 1982, Nevada voters elected Barbara Vucanovich to the US House of Representatives, making her the first woman ever elected to congressional office in the state of Nevada. She represented Congressional District Two from 1982 through 1996.
She was born Barbara Farrell in 1921 in Camp Dix, New Jersey. Her father worked as an engineer for the New York State Department of Public Health so Barbara grew up in Albany, New York. She attended a private, all-girls school then went to college at Manhattanville College in New York. At the age of eighteen, Barbara married James Henry Bugden. Her husband’s overseas military service during World War II strained their marriage and in 1949 she moved to Reno to obtain a divorce because of Nevada’s liberal divorce laws. While in Nevada, she met and married a Reno attorney named Kenneth P. Dillon in 1950. They had five children together. He met with an untimely death in 1964. In 1965, Barbara married George Vucanovich. She ran two businesses: a travel agency and speed-reading franchise.
After her third marriage, Vucanovich became active in Nevada politics as a conservative Republican. She was elected president of the Republican Women’s Club in Reno. U.S. Senator Paul Laxalt hired her to manage his successful 1966 Governor’s campaign, his 1974 campaign for U.S. Senate. She also was District Representative for Northern Nevada from 1974-1981.
When the second congressional district in Nevada was formed after the 1980 census, Laxalt urged Barbara to run for the new seat. She ran and won her election and became the first woman to hold federal office in Nevada. She represented Nevada from 1982 until her retirement in 1996. Since she left Congress, she has remained active in Nevada politics and saw her daughter, Patty Cafferata, become the first woman elected State Treasurer of Nevada.
Following her retirement, Barbara also became a published author with her 2005 memoir, From Nevada to Congress, and Back Again written with her daughter Patty Cafferata. Her book reflects on her years of service to Nevada and her experiences as a mother, businesswoman, and community volunteer. She remains active in state and national politics as a Republican.
Barbara F. Vucanovich, From Nevada to Congress, and back again. Reno : University of Nevada Press, 2005.