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Barbara Joan Farrell Bugden Dillon Vucanovich

Barbara Vucanovich, photo courtesy of Patty Caffarata
Photo courtesy of Patty Caffarata

At A Glance:
June 22, 1921, Camp Dix, New Jersey
Death: June 10, 2013, Reno, Nevada
Maiden Name: Barbara Joan Farrell
Race/nationality/ethic background: Caucasian
Married: James H. Bugden; Kenneth P. Dillon; George J. Vucanovich
Children: Daughter Patricia D. Cafferata; son Michael F. Dillon; son Kenneth P. Dillon, Jr.; son Thomas B. Dillon, and daughter Susan D. Anderson
Primary City and county of residence and work: Reno, Washoe County and Washington D.C.
Major Fields of work: Politics, business owner and community volunteer
Other role identifiers: Daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, business-woman, Congresswoman, author


First female Nevada U.S. Representative tackled important issues  

Barbara Vucanovich was honored to serve the people of Nevada in the House of Representatives. Despite her political successes, her family always came first; one of the reasons so many admired her as a politician. Her values and priorities were straight-forward and clear. She was pragmatic and worked to find common-sense solutions to problems. 

Born June 22, 1921 in Camp Dix, New Jersey, Vucanovich was the daughter of General Thomas Farrell, a noted U.S. Army general during World War II, and Ynez White, a member of one of Southern California’s founding families.  Raised in New York state, Vucanovich graduated from the Albany Academy for Girls and attended Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart in New York City.

She moved to Reno for a divorce in the late 1940s. Although she had planned to return to New York, her plans changed after she met attorney Ken Dillon.  They married in 1950. The couple quickly became involved in the community, especially in Republican politics and campaigns. Ken died in 1964. Vucanovich later met and married George Vucanovich, a native of Tonopah, who died in 1998.

While Vucanovich worked on several Republican campaigns, she was most closely associated with Paul Laxalt and worked on his U. S. Senate races and his campaign for governor.  When he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974, she became his northern Nevada district representative and she served in that capacity until 1981.

Nevada received a second Congressional seat after the 1980 census and Laxalt urged her to run.  Laxalt endorsed her for the new seat which included 16 counties and a portion of Clark County. When she won, Vucanovich became the first woman from Nevada to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and the first person to serve in the Second Congressional District of Nevada.  Elected to seven terms, she had served the second longest tenure of any Nevadan in the House, when she retired in 1997. 

In the House of Representatives, she first served on the Natural Resources Committee, an important committee to her rural constituents.  The committee mostly dealt with mining, grazing and water issues. Nevadans also cared about gaming and the taxing of casino worker tips. One of the bills she authored and saw enacted into law was the Source Tax – to prevent other states from collecting taxes on the pension and retirement benefits of retirees who had moved to Nevada.  She also worked for the repeal of the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit, important to rural Nevadans in her district.

As she gained seniority, she served on the House Appropriations Committee and later chaired the Subcommittee on Military Construction.  On this committee, she successfully advocated for millions of dollars for Nevada projects.

She supported equal treatment and pay for women, and was passionate about dedicating funding for early screening, detection, and treatment of breast cancer. Respected by her peers, she was elected Republican Conference Secretary (one of four leadership positions) for the 104th Congress, making her the first Nevadan to serve in a leadership position in House of Representatives.

Vucanovich served under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Her voting record was consistent with her Republican philosophy and she supported limited government, a free market economy, lower taxes, a strong national defense, and values of faith, family and hard work.

Vucanovich served on the Presidential Debate Commission and was a trustee on the board of Saint Mary’s Health Network. President George W. Bush appointed her to the Commission to Select White House Fellows. She also served on the board of Casa de Vida, a home for unwed mothers. In 2000, the main post office in Reno was named the Barbara F. Vucanovich Post Office.  And, in 2004 the University of Nevada, Reno awarded her an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities. 

A student pilot, she got the ride of a lifetime when she was in Congress when she had the opportunity to fly in a F-16. 

With her daughter Patty Cafferata, she penned her memoirs, Barbara F. Vucanovich: From Nevada to Congress and Back Again, published by the University of Nevada Press in 2005.

Written and researched by Patricia D. Cafferata and edited by granddaughter Elisa P. Cafferata.

Sources of Information

  • Clifton, Guy. “Silver State Has Lost Its Silver Lady,” Reno Gazette Journal, June  11, June 2013,  p1:2.
  • “Inaugural Chairmen Announced.” Nevada State Journal, Jan. 6, 1967, p2:6.  
  • O’ Driscoll, Bill. “Conservatives back Vucanovich,” Reno Evening Gazette, Oct. 28, 1982, p36:1, Sec. Political Briefs.
  • “Passion for Politics: After 14 Years of Service, GOP Stalwart Vucanovich looks back with few regrets on rough politics.” Reno Evening Gazette, Nov.  17, 1996, P1:2.
  • Vucanovich, Barbara F., Cafferata, Patricia D. “Barbara F. Vucanovich: From Nevada to Congress and Back Again.” University of Nevada Press 2005.