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    Before Tsongas, vets had a friend in Edith Rogers

    Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers
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    Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers

    News that US Representative Niki Tsongas will not be running for re-election noted that she was not the first woman to hold that Lowell-based seat after her husband. Like Niki and Paul Tsongas, the Rogerses — John Jacob and Edith Nourse — both held the seat as well.

    But Edith Nourse Rogers, a Republican who served 35 years in the US House beginning in 1925, was far more interesting than that quirk of trivia. Here’s a quick reminder about the first woman to ever represent Massachusetts in Washington, DC:

     For starters, she had a terrific sense of humor. When she was initially elected, one of the first women in Congress, she pooh-poohed the distinction: “I hope that everyone will forget that I am a woman as soon as possible.”

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    And here’s how she once described her tenure in Congress: “The first 30 years are the hardest. “It’s like taking care of the sick. You start it and you like the work, and you just keep on.”

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     Rogers was once considered the only Republican with a real shot at beating US Senator John F. Kennedy in the 1958 race — but she declined to run against him.

     Much like Niki Tsongas, Rogers had a particular interest in issues concerning women in the military. In 1941, she introduced the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, creating a way for up to 150,000 women to join the military in a wide array of noncombat roles. Later, she introduced the Women’s Army Corps bill, granting such women official military status. She was also the sponsor of the GI Bill of Rights and a provision to extend the GI Bill to Korean War Veterans.

    Rogers pushed to create a Cabinet-level Department of Veterans Affairs — a development that happened only after her death.

     Before serving in Congress, Rogers served as an aide to three presidents: Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover. Her mission: helping them on issues concerning disabled veterans. Her expertise came from her experiences during World War I, when she inspected field hospitals for the Women’s Overseas Service League and later volunteered with the American Red Cross in Washington, DC — work which earned her the nickname “Angel of Walter Reed Hospital.”

    Felice Belman can be reached at felice.belman@globe.com.