Gov. Clarence Martin signs a bill into law in 1939 as Secretary of State Belle Reeves (seated on left) and female legislators watch. (Photo courtesy of Washington State Digital Archives)
We’ve reached that point of the legislative session when Gov. Jay Inslee starts signing bills into law.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re sharing a Washington State Digital Archives photograph from 1939 that depicts a bill-signing ceremony. This shot shows Gov. Clarence Martin signing into law House Bill 300, accompanied by a female legislative delegation. Signed into law on March 9, 1939, the “50/50 Law” was an opportunity for women to have a larger share in political party leadership. The law guaranteed that the chairman and vice chairman of each political party’s county and state committees are of the opposite sexes. Many saw this as way to level the playing field and have a higher degree of political representation throughout our state’s local precincts and legislative districts.
The women in the photo were notable for a variety of reasons. Ella Wintler, standing on the far right, is the only Republican in the picture. Julia Butler Hansen was the leader of the centrist Democrats in 1939, the party responsible for the defeat of the construction of a labor camp memorial in Yakima County. Belle Reeves, sitting on the left, was the first woman to serve as Washington’s Secretary of State and the second woman to hold a statewide office in any state.
Here in Washington, we are proud of our diverse participation in politics; altogether, this delegation made up the nation’s largest number of female legislators at the time. For more information on Reeves or members of the 1939 female legislative delegation, visit the Washington State Archives.
Be sure to tune in for potential Bill Action as bills begin to finalize status and are sent to Gov. Inslee. Please visit the Legislative Information Center for more information on vetoes, the legislative process, and the organization of Washington state government.
This photo was found on the Washington State Digital Archives website in the Susan Parish Photograph Collection, 1889-1990. This collection consists of 9,103 images taken by or incorporated into the collections of Jeffers Studios, Merle Junk, and Ron Allen, from 1889 to 1990. When combined, these prominent Olympia photographers’ careers spanned from early 1903 into the 1990s, and all contracted with the State of Washington to take government-related photographs that include state government officials, legislators, construction of state government buildings in Olympia, and other significant events.