1974-1983: Era of Expansion Women Legislators

The waning attraction of suburban life and its perceived over-emphasis on materialism, consumerism, and conformity shattered American confidence in the 1960s. When young people of the baby-boom generation began to reach maturity, they challenged and often flatly rejected the values of their parents. Schooled in protest tactics by the Civil Rights movement in the early 1960s, they vocally adopted a variety of causes and disputed American policy decisions, particularly the escalating war in Vietnam.

For some women, feminism became the new mantle for the equal rights goals that early suffragists had hoped for but somehow lost after the ballot was secured. Increasingly, the reinvigorated women’s movement supported the idea that “the personal is the political,” and propelled a new generation of educated and committed women into activism and public life.

More Women’s Participation
In Washington, as elsewhere in the country, women’s organizations banded together to examine the current status of female influence and recommend—even demand—change. More established organizations like the League of Women Voters were joined by newer, and often more radical groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW) in promoting political action. The introduction and passage of an equal rights amendment to the Washington State Constitution in 1972 showed that success was possible, but also highlighted the need for more women in positions of power to further the goals of sexual equality.

Washington women responded. In 1972, twenty-nine women filed to run for the Legislature and although only twelve won (and all of them in the House), they set a new precedent for involvement that continued to grow. Many did not consider themselves feminists, but all benefited from the new emphasis on women’s rights and capabilities. As a result of these growing numbers, issues of importance to all women in the state increasingly became a focus of legislative action. From day care and comparable worth to rape and abortion, lawmakers grappled with critical and often controversial legislation involving women’s rights.

Leadership Roles
As increasing numbers of women came to the Legislature, they also began to demand a fuller and more equal role in governance. Groups like Elected Washington Women, founded in 1979, provided a support network and political education forum, much like the Women’s Legislative Council had fifty years before. Positions on high-profile committees and ultimately more responsibility in leadership followed, capped by the election in the early 1980s of Jeannette Hayner, a Walla Walla senator, as the first woman majority leader.


  • Margaret Hurley, Lois Stratton and June Leonard represented the 3rd District of Spokane as the first all-women Legislative Team.