Historic Washington women: Jennifer Dunn and Jolene Unsoeld

Historic Washington women: Jennifer Dunn and Jolene Unsoeld

Harley Soltes / The Seattle Times

But Jennifer Dunn and Jolene Unsoeld shared something in common. Each one, in her own way, influenced Washington’s political landscape before even taking office in Congress.

In 1981, Dunn became the first female chair of the Washington State Republican Party, a position she held for 11 years before being elected to the 8th Congressional District seat in 1992. During her time in D.C., Dunn became the highest-ranking woman in Congress as vice chair of the House Republican Conference. She and Oklahoma Rep. Steve Largent (yes, the former Seahawks great) joined forces to give the Republican response to President Clinton’s State of the Union Address in 1999. Dunn retired from Congress in 2004 and died in 2007 at age 66.

Dunn is the subject of a biography, “A Woman First: The Impact of Jennifer Dunn,” written by Legacy Washington Director Trova Heffernan. You can read other Legacy Washington biographies and profiles by going here.

U.S. Rep. Jolene Unsoeld chats with a girl in 1990.

Unsoeld made her name in Olympia as an unpaid lobbyist who championed open government. In the early 1970s, she helped lead the successful campaign for Initiative 276, which created Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission. Unsoeld also wrote a book, “Who Gave? Who Got? How Much?” that analyzed campaign contributions. After serving four years in the state House of Representatives, Unsoeld in 1988 became only the third woman ever elected to Congress from Washington state. Unsoeld, a Democrat, represented the 3rd Congressional District for six years before being defeated in 1994 by Linda Smith. Unsoeld lives in the Olympia area.

Unsoeld was featured last year in Legacy Washington’s Who Are We? profile series and exhibit about extraordinary Washingtonians. The Unsoeld biography was penned by John C. Hughes, chief historian for Legacy Washington.

We’re remembering Dunn and Unsoeld and their contributions to Washington as part of Women’s History Month.

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