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A secretary of state named Belle

Post by Cheryl Tucker on Sep. 11, 2012 at 5:42 am with No Comments »
September 10, 2012 5:55 pm
Belle Reeves, Washington secretary of state from 1938 to 1948. (Washington secretary of state's office)

While writing today’s editorial, in which we endorse Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman for secretary of state, I almost made a big mistake.

I was going to write that one way or another, Washington would be electing its first female secretary of state Nov. 6. Republican Wyman’s Democratic opponent is former state senator Kathleen Drew.

The only thing wrong with that statement is the fact that Washington already has had a woman secretary of state: Belle Reeves, from 1938 to 1948. Luckily a Google search turned up her name, and I was able to find this information on the secretary of state’s website, as well as a photo (I love her old-timey spit curls).

Belle Reeves, a Democrat, is the only female in history elected Washington Secretary of State. She was appointed Washington’s eighth Secretary of State in February, 1938 by Governor Clarence Martin and served two and-a-half terms. Secretary Reeves was born in 1871 in Quincy, Ohio, where she spent her childhood. Her family moved to Washington in 1889. She lived in Wenatchee where she and her husband ran the town’s first newspaper, The Wenatchee Advance. Her political career began in 1922 when she was elected to the House of Representatives. She represented the 56th Legislative District for eight terms from 1922-1938 before being appointed Secretary of State. Belle Reeves died in Olympia during her second full term on January 2, 1948.

A longer biographical article from HistoryLink.org is here, which notes that Reeves was also the first woman to serve in a statewide position in this state. Another first: She was acting governor when both the governor and lieutenant governor were out of state. This article has several interesting anecdotes about Reeves.

I knew Washington was a progressive state, but it just hadn’t occurred to me that it had already elected a woman to the position – and by healthy majorities. Reeves got 59.3 percent of the vote in 1940 and 60.9 percent in 1944 (a state record at that point).

Although neither Wyman nor Drew would be Washington’s first secretary of state, if elected Wyman would be the first Republican woman to serve as secretary of state.

 

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