Reba Hurn

Reba Hurn
Reba Hurn (Republican) Represented the 7th Legislative District in the State Senate, 1923-1931.

Negative public sentiment was a considerable obstacle to overcome. In spite of it, Reba Hurn, an attorney and Spokane Republican, decided it was time for a woman senator. She knew the problems women faced running for office and she developed a strategy to overcome them. Reba Hurn:

It is only a matter of being accustomed to a woman in the Senate. I decided to run for the Senate rather than the House because there have been five women elected to the House and none of them have been reelected. The reason for this is plain. The women members have been considered a curiosity, each one reported on every time she raises her voice or puts on a new dress. She is there but for one session and the men did not become accustomed to her presence. In the Senate it is different. The state senator serves through two sessions. Perhaps I will be a novelty for awhile, but by the close of the first session they will be in the habit of taking me for granted, and by the time the second session comes around, I shall be capable of constructive work. My handicap the first session will be no greater than that of a man, for what senator takes an outstanding role his first session?

Reba had an uphill battle. In 1922 the popular image of state politics was that of shady backroom deals being made in an atmosphere of whiskey and wild women. The public was concerned with protecting women's virtue. Reba responded:

Pooh! It is amusing how certain old fashioned ideas do persist. Women have been granted equal rights by the majority of the male voters. and there is no reason women should further ignore public service. We now stand on the same basis as men. Merit. I am qualified for this position, have a right to run for it. and am in the race.

Women's groups came out in droves to support her candidacy. Newly enfranchised women were anxious to have a woman represent them in the Senate. Reba was a fine, upstanding citizen, but most importantly she was a "dry".  As a Methodist woman she abhorred alcohol. Because she backed Prohibition, a popular issue in the state at the time, Reba gained the support of people who would not normally vote for a woman. Upon her arrival in 1923 to the State Legislature, a newspaper headline read: In her honor, the Senate appropriated money to build a women's lounge in the new capitol building, saying they were counting on women in its political future. The Senate welcomed Reba by making her the chairwoman of the Public Morals and State Libraries committees, a rare honor for a new member. However, this act of generosity would prove to be a problem for later women legislators as they tried to move out of the newly designated "women's committees."

Reba worked diligently to be accepted as an equal member of the body but it was difficult as the only woman. At the end of her first session, the senators awarded Reba a diamond pin for "acting like a lady." Unfortunately, "acting like a lady" meant saying little, being content to keep to women's concerns, and most importantly, not questioning the behavior of her colleagues. Reba was careful to stay within her boundaries. She had done a great service for women by being elected to the Senate. She saw no reason to rock the boat.

--Political Pioneers, The Women Lawmakers