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Vada Webb Sheid was the first woman to serve in both the Senate and the Arkansas House of Representatives in a political career that stretched across five decades.
Vada Webb was born on August 19, 1916, in Izard County, the only child of J. W. “Bill” Webb and Gertrude Reynolds Webb. Her father was a cattle buyer. She grew up in Calico Rock (Izard County) and graduated from high school there in 1934. She later attended Draughon School of Business in Little Rock (Pulaski County).
In 1935, Webb went to work as Izard County welfare director and then became an interviewer for the state welfare department. She married Carl Sheid of Norfork (Baxter County) on December 31, 1940. They moved to El Dorado (Union County) and then to Mountain Home (Baxter County), where they opened the town’s first self-serve grocery store. With the start of World War II, Sheid worked as a payroll clerk for the Norfork Dam project while her husband entered the U.S. Army Air Corps. Upon completion of the dam, Sheid moved to Little Rock to work for the secretary of state.
The Sheids returned to Mountain Home after the war, opened a new grocery store and then a furniture store, and became the parents of one son.
Sheid’s first taste of politics came as a child attending local political debates and picnics with her father. With her father’s encouragement, she ran as a Democrat for Baxter County treasurer in 1958 but lost. In 1960, Sheid ran again and won. She served as Baxter County treasurer through 1965.
In 1966, Sheid was elected state representative for District 5 (Baxter and Fulton counties) and became one of four women who served in the legislature during the 1967–68 term. In 1976, Sheid was elected to the District 20 state Senate seat representing Baxter, Marion, Boone, Searcy, and Newton counties. She was the first woman in the Senate who did not succeed a late husband and was the first woman to serve in both houses.
Sheid dedicated herself to education and public works. She gained a reputation for working on behalf of individuals and was known as “Miss Vada.” Sheid said she hoped to be remembered for her “one-on-one way of dealing with people.”
Among her career highlights was sponsoring legislation creating Arkansas State University–Mountain Home (ASUMH) and North Arkansas Community College (now North Arkansas College) in Harrison (Boone County). She also was instrumental in numerous highway projects in north-central Arkansas and the construction of major river bridges in Marion, Baxter, and Fulton counties.
When Norfork Dam was built, the lake that resulted covered bridges on the North Fork River. For about forty years, the only way across Norfork Lake on U.S. Highway 62 and Arkansas Highway 101 was by ferry. Sheid wanted to replace the ferries, and her major career achievement was getting bridges built across Norfork Lake.
As a freshman lawmaker, Sheid lobbied newly elected governor Winthrop Rockefeller to support her Norfork Lake bridge quest, and through the years she personally enlisted help from some of the most powerful men in Arkansas politics—John McClellan, Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, John Paul Hammerschmidt, Bill Alexander, and Bill Clinton.
Sheid also worked with President Richard M. Nixon. In a May 20, 1998, interview, Sheid recounted being at a dinner party with Nixon, who told her,“I’m a Republican, and you’re a Democrat, but I will have to sign your bill before you get the money. And you can’t get the money until Nixon signs it, and don’t you forget it. When I sign the bill, I will send you the pen.” Congress passed and Nixon signed legislation authorizing the Norfork Lake bridges in 1974, and he sent the pen he used to Sheid. She later donated it to ASUMH. Work began on the Norfork Lake bridges in 1979, and they were opened in 1983.
Sheid was defeated in her bid for reelection to the Senate in 1984. In 1987, Governor Bill Clinton appointed Sheid to the Arkansas State Police Commission. In 1992, state Representative Ed Gilbert of Mountain Home resigned from his District 40 position, and Sheid ran for the seat. She was elected and returned to Little Rock to serve in the legislature from 1993 through 1994.
Afterward, she served on local boards for a few years before retiring from the public spotlight. After a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s, Sheid died on February 11, 2008, at home. She is buried in Roller Memorial Gardens in Mountain Home.
For additional information:
Mulloy, Clement A. “Vada Webb Sheid and the Transformation of North Central Arkansas.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 73 (Summer 2014): 192–215.
Vada Webb Sheid Papers. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Thomas GarrettThe Baxter Bulletin
Last Updated 8/21/2014
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