WHC Biographical Article
Julia Butler Hansen--Dedicated to Service
Washington State Office of Equity Education published a 2-volume classroom resource in June of 1990.
Volume II, titled Making A Difference: A Centennial Celebration of Washington Women,,
includes a section on JBH titled Julia Butler Hansen -- Dedicated to Service.
During her 43 years in public office, Julia Butler Hansen became one of the greatest political figures
Washington has ever known. Beginning with her position as the first woman elected to the Cathlamet City
Council, Mrs. Hansen started her rise in political firsts. As a leader in the Democratic Party, she was
the first woman to chair a United States county central committee, and lead a state caucus in Washington.
As an 11-term state representative, Mrs. Hansen was the first woman to chair a nonfemale committee and was
credited with the creation of the Highways Transportation Commission, part of the executive branch of
government. She was also the first woman president pro tem of the House. As a United States representative
from the third district elected in 1960, she was the first to chair one of the powerful appropriations
subcommittees which controls the ways in which government spends tax money. She was a woman who, throughout
her career, loved the rough and tumble of legislation and politics.
A third generation resident of Cathlamet, Wahkiakum County, Mrs. Hansen was well known at home and in
political circles. "We knew her as a neighbor and as someone close. We did so without realizing how
truly remarkable she was. Greatness, I guess, is relative to your distance from it."
"Julia was one of the truly remarkable public figures of this state and of this time. And that's an
appreciation that will probably grow as time passes," said Alan Thompson, chief clerk of the state House
of Representatives, at the time of Mrs. Hansen's death in May 1988. "She was a success in what was
essentially a man's game, and she behaved very much like everybody else in the process, and that included
some rough tactics. I'm not saying that disparagingly. She bruised a lot of people. Her techniques were not
gentle. They could be, but they weren't always," Thompson told The Daily News.
She was born in 1907 in Cathlamet, a small logging town on the Columbia River. Her grandparents had come
west to make their home there in 1877. She was born into a family of independent women and men. Raised to
take care of herself, Julia Butler married Henry Hansen when she was 32, a year after she was elected to
the legislature. He was a logging blacksmith and 20 years her senior. Mrs. Hansen's 43 years of continuous
public service, during which time she married and had one son, David, vastly exceeds the political careers
of most of her counterparts--either men or women.
Two sets of oral interviews were conducted with Mrs. Hansen toward the end of her political career. one in
1976, as a part of the Washington State Oral/Aural History Program conducted by David Meyers and again in
1980-81 as part of the Elected Washington Women Project conducted by Kathryn Hinsch. What follows are
excerpts from both of these interviews describing Mrs. Hansen's experience and observations. They have
been arranged roughly in the order they appeared in the interviews and follow the development of her
values, opportunities, and choices.
I was raised with one fundamental belief that every American, who had an obligation to serve in some way,
didn't matter how you served, but you should serve your country or your community or something, and it was
just something that was implicit in my childhood.
This story begins with the women who shaped Mrs. Hansen's belief in service--her grandmother and mother.
... my grandmother came to the territory at a time when women secured suffrage shortly thereafter. She
thought this was just splendid that she could vote. Then, when Washington became a state, she lost her vote.
She was highly indignant about it, I can tell you. Her gripe was, and legitimately so, is that men would be
going to the polls to vote, first they go visit what is known as the "blind pig" to get a few drinks so
they could be told how to vote. They couldn't read or write and yet they were voting. And here was my
grandmother, a very literate woman who could not vote just because she was a woman and she was highly
My grandmother had one goal that everybody should have an education. It wasn't the fact that you were a
girl or boy that entitled you to an education.
Now needless to say, there was no general uprising of women shouting around like Bella Abzug or something
like that. Because this was not the way of women in those days. The young women today wouldn't understand.
Those women were very dedicated to their cause, but they didn't really feel any inferiority to the men at all.
They wouldn't give them the satisfaction of admitting that they were inferior. My grandmother never, never
considered that she hadn't the right to talk and do and say what she pleased on the subject. That was the
way my mother was, too.
- they were all native born Americans ... for over three hundred years of nothing but a heritage of freedom.
There wasn't any where they got those ideas, they just believed that everybody was equal and that
was it. It wasn't any strange idea, it certainly was not a strange idea for a woman coming west. You must
understand western women in those years were just as responsible for life as the men were. Don't ever forget
that those women didn't load the rifles on a wagon train, the earlier ones, for their husbands to fire. And
they could fire too. For example, my grandmother was an excellent shot.
My grandmother and my mother just absolutely had no use for shiftless people, absolutely no use, people that
did not cook and keep house and sew and do those things. My grandmother thought there was something strange
about them because she thought that you could do everything. And so did my mother. That's the way I was raised.
If I had ever left my house dirty while I went off attending to public business, I would have received a
lecture that would have lasted until doomsday. Now my mother didn't care for housework, didn't appeal to her,
but she felt she had a duty to maintain a certain standard of living. I've always felt the same way too. I'm
very old fashioned about my house. ... (In the) first place I like pretty things and I like a nice home.
That's the way with my garden. I think you can work for women's rights and equal rights and suffrage and so on,
without necessarily never taking a bath.
Service, my grandmother was a woman who gave a great deal of her life to service to human beings.
I'll tell you a little story ... We were in Aberdeen campaigning, I was there in 1960 and I had left
mother at the hotel and she was sitting in the lobby when I came back talking to a woman, very plainly
dressed very courteous woman. Mother introduced me and this woman said, "I've just remade your mother's
acquaintance, I'm going to support you and work for you because of your grandmother." And I said, "Oh."
She said, "I'll never forget your grandmother as long as I live, she saved my life and she saved my two
brothers' lives." They had a house down here on the point some time back in the early '90s. Diphtheria
used to be kind of a scourge around, there was not antitoxin or no vaccination or anything. They used to
have the flags they hung up out, I think blue was for diphtheria. So no one would go near the house. One
night in great trepidation the girl's mother came to the house and knocked. My grandmother went to the
door and the woman said, "Oh, don't come near me," and she said, "Come in, can I help you?" And the woman
said, "My children are choking to death and there is nothing I can do." My grandmother said, "I'll come
right down." "Oh no, you mustn't do that." My grandmother said, "I've had diphtheria, I can't get it
again and I'm not afraid of it." "Well, but your daughter." My grandmother said, "Never mind, it won't hurt
her at all." So she went down and saved the children's lives by reaching down in their throats and pulling
out the phlegm, purely by her own physical courage. And so the woman said, "My two brothers and I have never
forgotten your grandmother's tremendous courage." In the first place, she wasn't afraid. And in the second
place, she went down and handled the entire matter. The third thing, as they began to get well, my grandmother
took food and so on. That was typical of her kind of life.
My mother went to school here (Cathlamet) and she got her certificate to teach, I think when she was just a
little past sixteen and she taught down in the end of one of the valleys in Skamokawa, the end of nowhere.
You took a teacher's examination in those days and on the basis of that, you taught. She taught a while and
went to Monmouth and had a year at Monmouth and then came back. She taught in Cathlamet and Skamokawa.
Mother taught primary grades there. She taught here and at Eagle Cliff and then she ran for county
superintendent. She ran for county superintendent in the days when women could not vote for themselves
but they could run for county superintendent and she was elected.
Well let me see, I'm just trying to think. I was born in 1907 and she finished out her term, she was
reelected, so 1907 ... oh, I think she was probably elected in the election of 1904, 1902 or '04 and she
was re-elected and she finished out her term and it was not customary for the women to go out in public
if they were going to have a youngster. My mother finished her term. I was born when she was the county
superintendent. So that took quite a bit of gumption on my motherls part to do that. She felt that the
voters had elected her and she felt that she had an obligation to them to complete her term which she
I was raised to believe that you were ladies and gentlemen, which had nothing to do with how much money or
anything; in fact, I never was brought up to believe that you had to make any money, and I never brought
my own son up to believe that money was the goal. Service was the goal.
We started the Young Democrats here and I had been active in the 1928 campaign, but not here, in Pierce
County because mother was teaching up in Pierce County at the time and I was active in the 128 campaign.
Then in 132 1 was active in the '32 campaign. Then we came back here after being gone for these years. Mother
felt that we wouldn't get an education if we stayed here. Besides, my father had died and my grandmother had
died and my little brother had been killed. ... so she
went to teach at Orting and then she became the principal at Buckley, at the grade school ... well from
1921 until 1934 we were gone. When we came back, of course in the meantime, I'd had my college education.
(Wanted to be a lawyer first.) The second thing I wanted to be was a journalist, a writer, because I've
scribbled ever since I could write, but in the 192Os when I went to college, the opportunities for women
in law were limited. It was expensive and it was an extra year. Of course, by the time I got through college
I'd taken my extra year anyway because I graduated in home economics, you know, and there's a lot of science
and a lot of harder courses.
Why home economics?
Very stupid reason, I had a marvelous home economics teacher when I was in high school and I thought she was
just terrific, and she was. She was a real inspiration, Violet Davies, she was a Tacoma woman. But in the first
place, I didn't take home economics because I like to sew or anything, but I did like to manage things, and
I thought it would be a great opportunity to be an institutional, to manage a restaurant, a tea room or
something like that, you see, with the business end of it. And as I told you, my mother sat on me and told me
I couldn't take law because it was going to cost too much and you know, my father died when I was eight and a
half and my mother supported us.
I think women shouldn't be afraid to face the future, no matter what their circumstances. But she taught.
She went back to her teaching; so, I had to earn a great part of my college and nobody would go to school on
the amount of money that I went to school on, thirty dollars a month!
Oh yes, I was going to have a career all the days of my life. I had no more use for getting married and
settling down than a pig had for Sunday.
No, I had no more intentions when I was in college. I had no more intention of going into public
office than you probably have right at this moment of being President of the United States. I was just a
carefree, average American girl that sometimes liked to study and sometimes didn't, that enjoyed sports,
enjoyed everything. I was just an ordinary American girl.
What did I do? I walked right straight into the Depression, my dear. I'd graduated, I'd been the dietitian
for the Seattle Girl Scouts in the summertime, summer of 1929 and 1930 and, upon the persuasion of the
University of Washington, I went into the food business. Two weeks after I went into business, every sawmill
in Bellingham shut down. I walked right into, what did I do? I walked right into the Depression. I became
convinced then that government had to look out and assist and be helpful. We were very close to a revolution
in those early thirties. People, when I had a man walk into my restaurant one night and want a job dishwashing,
and he was a Harvard graduate in law, that was one story. And then another one, I had a waitress who said to
me, "Mrs. Hansen, there's a woman who wants" (I wasn't Mrs. Hansen then), she said, "Miss Butler, there's a
woman that wants whatever bones we have left." And she kept coming in at night to get the bones using the
excuse that they were for the dog, and finally I said to this waitress of mine, I said, "Will you find out
if those bones are for a dog, or are they feeding their family?" They were feeding the family. So after
that at night the steam table was emptied and turned over to this family and another family. I saw the
bread lines. I saw unemployment so high that five and six blocks of people after one of two jobs in Seattle.
Well, (the Depression) enlarged upon the concept of what I had always felt. I'd always felt the government
had a tremendous responsibility in the world of education; because my mother was a teacher and I realized
that you had to have an education too, you know, for life itself. And the second thing, I had been taught
a certain amount of social responsibility always. My grandmother was tremendously conscious of people and
their needs. She had a long list of people that she helped or went to when they were in trouble. ... It
was this type, it was a social conscience. I think that most people that were raised in the philosophy that
I was, had that social conscience. It was very strong.
(Coming back to Cathlamet) the Depression was not very helpful, although I did, in the fall, get word that
my book (Swimming Paddles) had won a national, prize and that was great because I renewed my ... I always
wanted to write. Politics literally destroyed the opportunity to do that. Because you can't have people
ducking in and out of your life all the time bothering you night and day and write.
In 1933 I went down to visit the Washington State Legislature with a friend of my brother's. He was younger
than I am, nobody had anything to do in those winters. There was no work for anybody and I was writing on
a book and one day I said to this boy, "How would you like to go down and watch the legislature in session?"
... Well, we stood there in the gallery, it was a very interesting moment. We stood there in the gallery and
I said, this word just popped out all of a sudden, I said, "You know, I think I'll sit here someday."
... and I became active in the state organization of Young Democrats. I ran for City Council here because
there was some sewage problems that I thought needed attention and it didn't seem to me that there was
anything being done about it. So I served on the City Council and then (some) Democrats in Cowlitz County
persuaded me to go and work in the legislature, and learn.
One of the men who had worked with me very closely, called me up one day and asked if I'd like to go work in
the legislature in 1935, in the stenographic pool. So I did. Well, I'd been in the pool about a week and he
came down, he was working in the legislature for the Taxation and Revenue Committee of the Senate, and he
came trotting downstairs one day and he said, "How would you like to go up to the bill drafting?" And I
said, "I'd love it."
I was on the (Cathlamet) city council and there seemed to be the need for a Democratic candidate from
this county, we were in with Cowlitz County. So a great many people suggested that I run for the legislature
(in 1938) ... I didn't have fifty dollars to my name, you know, to campaign on, but campaigns were not
expensive in those days and I did it all on footwork, and a great deal of very loyal support from the
people in this county.
(Once elected to the legislature) well, there were ninety-nine members of the House and there were four women, and as I said, you know, you soon fitted into the, into a legislative pattern and a pattern of representation rather than if you'd just been there to represent and be a woman. They could have cared less. Ninety-five of those men would just as soon have seen you pitched out.
I really didn't intend to stay in, I was married in 1939 (to Henry Hansen) and I thought that that was a
great opportunity to get out. Then my husband said, "Well, it's up to you. Do as you please. You must
remember you do a lot for the working people in the legislature." I was very interested in educational
legislation. I was interested in all kinds of legislation. So I stayed in and then in 1946 when my son
was born, I was going to quit again. Some ultra, ultras took after me because it and that was the wrong
thing to do stirred my Irish up. I didn't give them the opportunity to put me out.
When I was chairman of the Highways, you know, and I did a lot of work, and you'll notice in the review I
was chairman of the Eleven Western State Committee. I was chairman of the Joint Factfinding Committee on
Highways. You wouldn't have had your ferry system, you wouldn't have had your system of bridges, you
wouldn't have had your first start on your interstate, which was then financed by bonds, your limited
access of any of those things if I had not struggled to do those things, to build that into our system.
I had worked on the education system. I had been Mrs. Wanamaker's chairman of education from 1941 to 1947
and we, during that time, we got the first minimum wage bill through for school teachers. Teachers'
retirement, we upgraded that, we provided the first nursery schools for the state of Washington, we
provided kindergarten assistance, we provided, that was with the summer camp program, there were all
kinds, and then I worked on the junior college, the community college it is now, but it was junior
college then, junior college financing, the basic support system for education and so on. That was
all preliminary, then I became chairman of the Highways, or of Roads and Bridges. So, as chairman of
Roads and Bridges you've made a lot of friends, you knew a lot of people, my name was wellknown by
that time, and in 1946, when my son was born, I was going to quit the legislature, just stay home.
The doctor said, he was a very understanding person, and he said, "You know, you' re never going to be
happy just staying home, and besides your son will be better off if you don't make him the center of
your life and treat him as a possession."
Yes, 1945, just before he (David) was born, in 1946. So I decided that I would run and that was wartime
elections, and David was born on the 6th of June and I had wartime elections in July, early in July 1946,
and I had an opponent for the first time in several years. ... So I did campaign, do some campaigning,
all the letter writing and that type of thing from my hospital bed, one day before I came home. But I
was nominated and that was a terribly close election in 1946.
There were only a very few of us that were elected through Democrats, (29 of us) , out of I think in the
House of Representatives in the '47 Sessi6n. So, one of the things, I had been tremendously fat and so I
lost, the doctor made me diet, so when I went to the legislative session, many of them hadn't seen me
since my son had been born, I just campaigned down here, so somebody asked one of the legislators what
the big news of the day was. He said, "Julia Butler Hansen losing weight!"
I never was raised in this philosophy of setting myself aside because I was a woman, because I just never
felt like that. When the boys played baseball on the block, I played baseball, hardball. When the boys
played football on the block, I played football.
Some women are drivers and some women are extremely forthright, some women don't dissolve into tears.
I might go to fisticuffs (sic). I have slapped a few men's faces, but I'd never dissolve in tears.
Well, I don't really think I ever thought I'd pursue a political career because going to the legislature
was a part-time job. When you first went to the legislature, remember we only got five dollars a day, for
sixty days, no expenses or anything, and so, when the legislature was over, you came back and I still was
on the city council, that was a non-pay job, but I came back to my job in the engineer's office and I
stayed in the engineer's office eight years. We didn't have salaries until 1949 and then it was a $100
a month, the most I ever received when I was a legislator was $100 a month.
So then in 1959 after the legislature I thought I've served long enough, twenty-one years.
So in 1960 ... the whole district was pouncing on me, would I announce. In the first place, you don't
announce until the former man was put in his grave. This was to me the height of ill manners, it taught me a
good lesson about politics. Then I did finally decide because I recognized the fact, the district was not
that Democratic in the year 1960 so it would have been a Republican if it hadn't been for me because I had
the name familiarity and Hansen was a good Scandinavian name. I did have the advantage of being a woman.
While being a woman is a disadvantage in some ways, it is also an advantage because people remember a woman.
A man, eight, six or seven of you running for something. But one woman among the flock they do remember the
name familiarity is a good part and the women were very ardent supporters of mine in this district. So I
ran and served out that term and then kept running.
I like legislation .... I enjoyed the work but I had no ambition.
I have no more ambition than a pig.
Oh, it was fun. I always enjoyed, in the first place I love the legislature. I love legislation.
I like the scrambling, I like the rough and tumble, I like the association with my colleagues, I enjoy
working with the men. I enjoy the exchange of ideas, I enjoy accomplishing something, I enjoy all of those
things, and I always enjoyed campaigning. I always like to meet people, talk with them, work with them ...
... And I never will forget the first time I took my Appropriation Bill to the floor, I think the chairman,
who was from Texas, was scared to death that I'd make a mess of it because I was a woman. ... why he didn't
come out until the thing was almost adopted, overwhelmingly adopted ... in those days they didn't have the,
it was oral roll call that afternoon and I walked up to him to see how, you know, it was a long time, four
hundred and thirty-five members takes forever to count, to answer, so he said, "I'll never worry about you
again, Julia," he said, "You managed a bill on the floor better than any man that I have had yet in that
So we always did get our bills through and always with a heavy majority.
By doing, by doing a good job. This is the responsibility that women have, is to do a good job. You must do
a good job, to be well-equipped, to be intelligent and hard-working and do a good job, and do it on the
basis of fact that you're an elected member and you're assuming your responsibility and you do it.
No, your feelings are something, if you had any feelings, my God, you wouldn't be in politics, cause you're
going to get them walloped, by the time your opponent calls you everything under the sun.
Advice to women entering politics.
One, I would say, be knowledgeable in fields. and I was alert to everything that was going on. There was
nothing that didn't interest me. I was an avid reader, I always have been. The second thing is to be
complete, feel secure. Know what you can do and do it. Now there are some things I wouldn't do and I
wouldn't try to. I would loathe being governor of the state of Washington, because you can't serve,
solve any problems anyway, and anyway I just don't like ' this business of jumping in an Indian bonnet
or a locomotive or something, that's not my idea. I like legislation, I like building and so on ...
Advice to women and men entering politics.
Do the same thing. Have integrity, and one, great, big thing that is the most meaningful in the world in
politics is if you give your word, you keep your word. It doesn't matter, maybe you've made a mistake,
but you keep your word.
An example of what I say women have to develop, is one of competency, you can't work for pin money, you've
got to work because you believe in something. Government should never be run by women who are just trying
to earn enough to buy a boat for their husbands. Somebody asked me one time, they said, what's your
husband's opinion on some bill. I said, "I've never asked him." They said, "Don't you consult him
before you vote?" I said, "No, I don't go out and run his blacksmith shop, he doesn't consult with me on
how he's going to mend the fire hoses of locomotives." And I said, "Now why should I consult with
something that he knows nothing about?" So.
Henry is very supportive of women. In fact the other day when he was voting absentee he said, "I'm going to
vote for all women. There's very few men that will say that. He said, "I'm for the women." ... Henry's father
was certainly not supportive of women doing things. Henry has been since he's been married to me. Well, as I
told him one time, "You married me when I was in public office, so you just have to accept the consequences."
But he's never, never, never said a word against it. But in the first place you understand Henry hasn't had
to go without meals, he has had a comfortable home. It isn't that I rushed off to a meeting and left him to
clean the house or something, that makes a difference. Most men I think have a grievance against women if
they haven't kept things tidy.
It's interesting, my son is a great believer in women's rights. I told my daughter-in-law one day. I'm
sure that Nancy thinks that I was really kind of hard on David. He learned to make his own bed and cook
things and do things around the house because you have to have the family helping you. I'm sure that she
thought I was a little, little too bad, hard on him. And I said, "Listen Nancy, I raised David so that
he could accommodate himself to either the United States Marines or being responsible for a family,
now that's that." And I said, "You don't raise a son for the glory or something he's going to bring you,
you have the responsibility so he can take what happens in life. Sure he got mad at me many a time when
I made him hang up his clothes and clean his bathroom and so on." I used to have a girl live with us
when he was little and the day that he told me, when I asked him to do something, he said, "No, let
the girl do it." That was the last day the girl was ever here.
I think probably one of your worst problems in government today is the lack of participation by the
average person. Also, the management by television of the government, the affairs, the people, the
average person sees a news broadcast and television has the ability to make you either look good or
bad on television, and they dominate ...
I think that women trying to want to make a women's club out of things, and you can't do it, you cannot
do it. You've got to be part, the Democratic Party, for instance, determines the policies of the party.
For God's sake, go to the Democratic Party, get into it, get to be a precinct committeeman, get to be a
vice-chairman, get to be a state committeewoman, speak your peace, and make the men aware of what your
abilities and capabilities are, what your beliefs are, what your ideas are, what your ideals are.
There were some of the Pierce County legislators that voted against the Equal Rights Amendment (State) in the legislature up here, so the women were having a luncheon, or dinner in Pierce County honoring the Pierce County legislators and they wanted me to come out. Well I couldn't possibly come out. Although Pierce County, that part of Pierce County was in my district, but I couldn't come out because congress was in session. And you know when you're a chairman of an appropriations subcommittee you have to be there at the times that you have your appropriation work underway. So I sent them a telegram and I said, "Offer my congratulations to the Pierce County legislators who supported the Equal Rights, but please do not offer those congratulations to these and these and these, and I listed the ones that didn't vote for it. And Slim Rasmussen who had served in the legislature with me a long time, he said, "Well, that's just like Julia, that's just what popped into her mind. She thought that we needed telling off."
1. How many women currently serve in the State Legislature? List them.
2. What is the Equal Rights Amendment?
3. What did Julia mean by this statement: "This is the responsibility that women have, is to do a good job. You must do a good job, to be well-equipped, to be intelligent and hardworking and do a good job." Do you agree? Is this true for men?
Ambition, Antitoxin, Caucus, Competence, Conscience, Dietitian, Diptheria, Disparaging, Dominate, Grievance, Implicit, Indignant, Inferior, Inspiration, Integrity, Legitimate, Literate, Scourge, Trepidation.