Catherine May Bedell

Catherine May Bedell
Catherine May Bedell (Republican) represented [the 14th] district of Yakima County in the House of Representatives from 1952 to 1958. Elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1958, she represented the 4th Congressional District until 1972, and was subsequently appointed to the Federal Trade Commission.

Born 1914, in Yakima, where she enjoyed "an idyllic childhood." Bedell worked her way through the University of Washington, and was one of the first two people qualified to teach speech correction in Washington. Unable to find work in her field, she became a radio commentator and wrote and produced a successful women's program, featuring household tips and the secrets of being a better wife and mother. while single herself. Highly successful, she landed a job with NBC and moved to New York to write the scripts for the new TV Betty Crocker shows. Bedell married a Washington native and during her first pregnancy they decided Yakima was the place to raise a family. Back home, she joined the local Young Republicans, and got her first real taste of party politics working for Dwight Eisenhower's presidential campaign. Dissatisfied with the Republican incumbent in the House, the Young Republicans decided to field one of their own and asked Bedell to run. In her campaign Bedell made extensive use of women's service groups and clubs: she recalls the "Old Girl's Network" was instrumental to her campaign victories.

While in the State Legislature, Representative Bedell focused on the twin themes of strict economy and improved service. Farmers at first were concerned about a woman's ability to understand agricultural problems, but in one term Bedell gained their confidence. Her success was evident when in 1958 she was elected to Congress.

Bedell recalls, "When I was elected as the first woman to serve in Congress from Washington State I felt I had a special responsibility to do an excellent job. Even today, women who are members feel they have to try a little harder because they are on special trial. If a man makes a mistake they say, 'well, it happens.' If it happens to a woman they say, 'isn't that just like a woman?'"

Bedell feels the best thing she has left as a memorial is an easier and wider path to elective office for young women.

--Political Pioneers, The Women Lawmakers