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100 years of women in WA Legislature

by Brian Zylstra | January 14th, 2013

Frances AxtellNena Croake












(Images courtesy of Washington State Heritage Center and The Legacy Project)

Monday’s start of the 2013 legislative session also marks the centennial of Washington installing the first female legislators.

On Jan. 13, 1913, women entered Washington’s Legislature for the first time when Frances C. Axtell (1866-1953) and Nena Jolidon Croake  (1865-1934) took the oath of office along with 95 male colleagues in the House of Representatives.

The two women were elected in November 1912 in the first state elections after Washington women gained the right to vote in 1910.  The male voters in every counties agreed to amend the constitution to provide for women’s suffrage. Axtell (left) was a Republican representing a Whatcom County district. Croake (right), from Pierce County, was one of a large number of Progressives elected in 1912. Axtell and Croake served only one term, but they were followed by increasing numbers of women in the state House and then the state Senate and eventually higher offices, including Governor and the U.S. Congress.

For many years, Washington has been a national leader in the percentage and number of women legislators. In fact, we ranked No. 1 in this category from 1993 (right after the “Year of the Woman” election) to 2004. Washington currently ranks ninth nationally, with women comprising 30 percent (44 out of 147) of this year’s legislators.

On Monday, the state Supreme Court also got a female majority when Justice Susan Owens and newly elected Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud were sworn in.  Steve Gonzalez also was sworn in.

In 2010, Secretary Reed and his office unveiled an exhibit in the office’s lobby that focused on Washington’s first females in various elected positions.  Called “MOVING FORWARD, LOOKING BACK: Washington’s First Women In Government,” the exhibit is on display in Wenatchee until March.

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