Photo courtesy of
NWMAC/Eastern Washington State Historical Society, Spokane, Washington L2003-20.40
First State Senator
“I am qualified for this position, have a right
to run for it, and am in the race.”
- Reba Hurn
Dressed to the nines, a 20-something named Reba Hurn met President Theodore Roosevelt.
“Little, important me,” declared Hurn in her diaries of her rank when she crossed
paths with the Commander-in-Chief. But the President had actually spoken to her,
commenting on Hurn’s membership in the country’s longest running national honor
society, the Phi Beta Kappa Society, which was founded during the American Revolution.
He shook my hand and his eye caught my key, which caused him to say, “Phi Beta Kappa”
I said “Yes” and passed on, but I am the only person I saw whom he spoke to. I feel
Neither Roosevelt nor Hurn knew at the time that she was poised to make history
as the first woman elected to the Washington State Senate.
By all accounts, restless adventurer Reba Hurn was a woman well ahead of her time.
Born August 21, 1881, in Clear Lake, Iowa, Hurn’s interests and passions ran the
gamut and carried her across the country and overseas.
Prone to headaches and loneliness, Hurn had enough of teaching high school in Ritzville,
Washington when she set sail on a fateful trip to Germany where she hoped to learn
the language and earn a Master’s Degree. There, Hurn met prominent businessman Nathan
Straus. The department store owner and philanthropist distributed pasteurized milk
in an effort to prevent tuberculosis and decrease infant mortality. Hurn assisted.
Straus and his wife became Hurn’s surrogate family. Hurn continued to work for Straus,
which took her to various locations across the country.
Upon her return to Spokane, Washington, Hurn started a law practice with her father,
a fellow attorney. By 1922, the law professional prepared for a quantum leap into
the State Senate. As a woman, such an endeavor was unheard of.
“I am qualified for this position, have a right to run for it, and am in the race,”
she flatly stated of her candidacy.
The only female in the formal array of portraits for the 1925 State Senate, Hurn
worked diligently to be taken from novelty status to that of a contributing member. The
prohibitionist served four sessions on the Appropriations Committee as a respected
She retired from public life and returned to her Spokane law practice. Hurn’s desire
to travel and yearning for adventure never faded. At 65, she spent several years
in the Middle East when the State of Israel was created to “live how the Arabs do”
and returned a decade later.
"It was a world I was curious about, so I went there to learn and live. Now I want
to go back to see if I sized up the situation the right way. I am making the trip
to see if I am biased.”
Hurn never married and died at the age of 86 in California.