Paving the Way
- -In 1854, the Washington Territorial Legislature defeated a women's suffrage bill by one vote. If it had passed, Washington would have been the first American legislature to give women the vote. Instead, Wyoming received that honor in 1869.
- -Women received the vote in Washington state in 1910, only the fifth state to do so. Statewide, in every county, the vote was 2 to 1 in favor of women having the vote.
- -Washington’s first state senator was Reba Hurn, who served from 1923 to1931. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, Hurn was a former high school teacher and lawyer.
- -Seattle’s Bertha K. Landes was the first female mayor of a major American city. In 1924 Landes, Republican city council president at the time, became acting mayor of Seattle. Two years later she was elected mayor in her own right in a campaign run by women and with the slogan of “municipal housekeeping.” She lost her bid for a second full term.
- -Washington’s first female governor was Dixy Lee Ray, a marine biologist who served from 1977-1981. Her 1976 campaign slogan was “Little lady takes on big boys.”
- -Washington elected its first female US senator, Patty Murray in 1992. Murray started her career as a teacher, then served on Shoreline’s school board and in the State Senate. In 2001, Murray became the first woman to serve as chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
- -From 1993 to 2004 Washington led the nation in the percentage of elected women to the state legislature. In 1999 and 2000, Washington set a record for highest percentage to date: 40.8 percent.
- -The first female Washington state Supreme Court justice was Carolyn Dimmick. Dimmick first became a state court judge on the Northeast District Court. She then became a superior court judge of the King County Superior Court and later a Justice of the Washington Supreme Court. Dimmick then became a judge on the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, later serving as chief judge.
- -The first woman was hired by the Seattle Police Dept in 1893
- -In 1924 the first two women were elected to the Seattle City Council: Kathryn Miracle and Bertha Knight
- -Seattle Women's Commission formed in 1970
- -The first two women to serve in the Washington state legislature were Frances C. Axtell from Bellingham and Nena J. Croake from Tacoma. Both were elected in 1912 to the state house of representatives.
For those of us who have grown up with the freedom to decide when and if we have children, with the ability to own property, and with the opportunity to be promoted at work, it’s hard to imagine a time when those rights did not exist.
Our mothers, grandmothers, and great-great grandmothers have blazed a trail to make sure we do have rights, and we pay tribute to JUST A FEW OF the ladies of our history here. We can't come close to recognizing all of our leaders and role models, or doing justice, in appreciation for the life-changing work they have done, so may they always be with us in heart and inspiration.
The Right to Vote
It all starts here because without a vote, we don’t have a voice.
Abigail Adams may be one of the earliest suffragists in the United States. In 1776, she wrote to her husband John, who was with the Continental Congress writing the Declaration of Independence. When she asked them to “remember the ladies”, they responded with “all men are created equal”.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton began her long career as a leader of the suffrage movement 100 years later with the founding of the American Equal Rights Association. In 1872, co-founder Susan B. Anthony was arrested in Rochester, New York, for trying to vote for Ulysses S. Grant in the presidential election. Sojourner Truth demanded a ballot for the same election in Michigan and also was turned away.
Women here in Washington state created momentum for the movement thanks to leaders like Mary Brown of Olympia, Emma Smith DeVoe of Tacoma, and May Hutton of Spokane. Their tenacity resulted in Washington women getting the right to vote on November 8, 1910. We became the first state in the 20th century and the fifth state of the Union to enact women’s suffrage… and we were ten years ahead of the ratification of the nineteenth amendment, which makes our vote a U.S. constitutional right.
At its’ 1975 convention the NWPC declared unequivocally that the Equal Rights Amendment (the ERA) is the top priority for the Bicentennial, it remains a priority today. The ERA, which should have been an integral part of the Constitution from the beginning, is older than suffrage. It’s principle was embedded in the letters of Abigail Adams to her husband John, the 2nd President. It ha been imported with grain seed and tools to the first settlements. It lies in the Declaration of Sentiments of Seneca Falls; it was repeated at the Centennial. And framed in its present form by Dr. Alice Paul, introduced to the Congress in 1923, it finally passed both the House and Senate in 1972 and then was given over for state-by-state ratification. It moved along at some speed in the first few years, but it got bogged down in 1975 and ultimately missed the 1982 deadline. In Washington, a state equal rights amendment, HJR61, was narrowly approved by voters in November 1972 prior to ratification of the federal amendment.
The federal amendment has been reintroduced every year since 1982. The late Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) championed it in the Senate during the 99th through the 110th Congress. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) has sponsored it since the 105th Congress. Today, we remain three states away from passing the ERA.
The Power to Win
Getting a voice was the first step to women’s rights. Next on the table was getting elected.
Washington state has been a leader in making sure women are at the political table. In 1926, Seattle mayor Bertha Knight Landes became the first woman to lead a major American city. In 1976, Dixy Lee Ray became one of the nation’s first female governors. In 2004, Washington became the first state with women in its top three political positions: Governor Christine Gregoire, Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
Other notable firsts… Julia Butler Hansen from Cathlamet WAS the first Democratic woman elected to Congress from Washington. Belle Reeves from Chelan County WAS the first woman to hold statewide elective office as our first (and only) female Secretary of State, and Peggy Maxie of Seattle was the first African American woman elected to the state House.
The Role of the National Women’s Political Caucus
The Caucus – nationally and here in Washington – was founded at the height of the women’s rights movement. Our national office in Washington DC was started in 1971 to increase women’s participation in all areas of political and public life – as elected and appointed officials, party convention delegates, lobbyists, campaign organizers, and voters.
National founders included epic feminists and civil rights leaders such as Gloria Steinem, former Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug, Dorothy Height, Jill Ruckelshaus, Ann Lewis, Elly Peterson, LaDonna Harris, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Liz Carpenter. When the Equal Rights Amendment didn’t pass, they decided that the only way to get legal, economic, and social equity was to get equal representation in politics.
On November 6, 1971, a large group of women met for the first time to organize the Women’s Political Caucus in Washington state. WPC-WA kicked off with the first formal election of state officers in May 1972. Since then, the Caucus has endorsed mayors, governors, senators, judges, commissioners, school board members, and city council members – candidates for election and appointment to all levels of local and state office.
The Caucus, our candidates, and our partners have changed the landscape of how women live. The legislative issues we’ve fought for include reproductive freedom, family leave, child support, funded child care, equal pay, prosecution of sexual assault, shelter funding, minimum wage, and many more.
Passing the Torch
Now it’s our turn. When women run, women change the conversation of what’s important.
When women run, women win.