1913-1933: The Progressive Spirit

By the end of the 19th century the desire for change had begun to spread across all areas of American life. Progressivism was a broad and diverse reform movement, which was rooted in the 1890s but reached its peak by World War I and had a significant impact on the state of Washington for several decades. Generally, Progressives hoped to solve the problems of an industrial society by expanding democracy and social justice. "Give the government back to the people" was a slogan of the times. In Washington reformers sought to expose political corruption, regulate child labor, promote better working conditions and fairer hours, and give citizens more of a voice in their own government through initiative and referendum.
Reba Hurn
First Women Legislators
The earliest women legislators in Washington were strong advocates for these types of reform. Nena Jolidon Croak of Pierce County was elected on the Progressive ticket and introduced the first House bill of the 1913 session, seeking a minimum wage for women workers. The only other woman in the House that year, Frances Axtell, was a Whatcom County Republican who focused her efforts on public safety. It took another decade for a woman to win election to the state Senate. Reba Hurn was already a pathbreaker as the first women to join the Washington State Bar and although she staunchly refused to be labeled a crusader, she quietly worked for reform of lawmaking and the penal system in the state.

This first generation of women in the Legislature primarily relied on the skills and experience they had gained in what was then termed "the women’s sphere." A few had broken traditional boundaries in the work world, but most became reformers through volunteerism and club activity, assuming increasingly important positions of responsibility.

Women’s Legislative Council
Activists who wanted to encourage more women to seek political leadership roles formed the Women’s Legislative Council in 1917. Members of this group lobbied the Legislature and encouraged women to educate themselves about their political rights and duties. During this period they had particular success in support of bills relating to midwivery, child labor, prison reform, and the issue of equal pay for both men and women teachers.


Reba Hurn, attorney and first woman senator, was described by her peers as "a woman with the courage of her convictions."