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Barbara Vucanovich

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Nevada's 2nd district
In office
January 3, 1983 – January 3, 1997
Preceded by District created, James David Santini in at-large district
Succeeded by Jim Gibbons

Born June 22, 1921 (1921-06-22) (age 88)
Camp Dix, New Jersey
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Henry Bugden (divorced), Kenneth Dillon (deceased), George Vucanovich

Barbara Farrell Vucanovich (born June 22, 1921) is a U.S. Republican politician, the first woman to represent Nevada in the United States House of Representatives, where she served from 1983 to 1997.



Vucanovich was born in Camp Dix, New Jersey. Her father was Thomas Farrell, of Irish ancestry from Troy, New York; between the wars he was chief engineer for the New York State Department of Public Works, and during World War II rejoined the Army to become Deputy Commanding General of the Manhattan Project. Her mother, Maria Ynez White, was of English and Hispanic ancestry from Southern California. Barbara grew up in Albany, New York and attended a private, all-girls school. She received her college education from Manhattanville College. She married James Henry Bugden at the age of 18, but became separated when her husband was assigned overseas during the war. She was employed by several New York businesses during the 1940s. In 1949 she moved to Reno, Nevada and obtained a divorce. She married Kenneth Dillon in 1950, a founding partner in the law firm Vargas, Dillon, and Bartlett. She became a widow on Dillon's death in 1964. She married George Vucanovich in 1965; she met George while working on Paul Laxalt's campaignPaul Laxalt.[1]

Political career

Vucanovich's husband, Ken Dillon introduced her to Nevada Republican politics in the 1950's, when the party was slowly building after decades of being in the minority. Ken introduced her to a young district attorney from Carson City named Paul Laxalt. After working on Laxalt's gubernatorial campaigns and his razor close win over Harry Reid in 1974, Vucanovich was hired as the district director for the newly elected Senator.

When Nevada earned a new congressional district after the 1980 Census, Laxalt urged Vucanovich to run. She won handily and served in Congress from 1983 until her retirement in 1997. She only faced serious opposition once, in 1992.

Shortly after taking office in 1983 she was diagnosed and had surgery for breast cancer. Vucanovich served for many years on the House Interior Committee, where she eventually became the ranking Republican on the Mining and Minerals Subcommittee. She also served on the House Administration Committee until her appointment in 1991 to the Appropriations Committee. She became Chairman of the Subcommittee on Military Construction when the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives in 1995.

She launched a campaign to become Secretary of the Republican Conference shortly after Congressman Bob Michel announced he would not seek another term, creating several vacancies in Republican leadership as Newt Gingrich and others jockied for higher positions in leadership. Despite having been a member of the Conservative Opportunity Society, a group led by Newt Gingrich with the goal of achieving Republican control of the House of Representatives, she faced serious opposition in her leadership bid from a freshman member from Arkansas. She prevailed in a close contest for Secretary after a rousing nomination speech by Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois a good friend and ally in their shared opposition to abortion.

Vucanovich positioned herself early in her House career as a conservative leader, aligning herself with a group of Members including, New Gingrich, Bob Walker, and Vin Weber who were not content with minority status. She helped draft two of the ten bills that were part of the Contract with America. She served on the Presidential Debate Commission from 1987 to 1997.[2]


Since her retirement, Vucanovich has continued to work in politics, mainly serving on external committees.

Her daughter, Patricia Dillon Cafferata, has served as Nevada State Treasurer and as District Attorney in three Nevada counties, and is also Vucanovich's biographer.


  1. ^ Patricia D. Cafferata (2005). Barbara F. Vucanovich. University of Nevada Press. pp. 1–26.  
  2. ^ ibid.. pp. 153–231.  
United States House of Representatives
New district Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Nevada's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Jim Gibbons
Party political offices
Preceded by
Tom DeLay
Secretary of House Republican Conference
Succeeded by
Tillie Fowler


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