Catherine Dean May Bedell, the first woman elected to Congress from Washington state, died on May 28 of cardiorespiratory arrest. She was 90.
The Yakima, Wash., native earned a bachelor’s degree in education at the University of Washington, and taught high school English for three years. She took a break from teaching to study speech at the University of Southern California and launch her broadcasting career.
Beginning in 1940, Bedell worked at KMO Radio in Tacoma and KOMO and KJR in Seattle. Bedell then moved to New York, landed a job as a writer and assistant commentator at NBC and produced the first Betty Crocker radio show. She returned to Washington in 1948 and was working at KIT as a women’s editor when she decided to enter the political arena.
A Republican, Bedell served in the Washington State Legislature from 1952 to 1958. She won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and became one of only a few women elected to national office. At the time, most women were appointed to replace a deceased husband. During her six-term tenure, Bedell supported the Equal Rights Amendment and worked to include a prohibition against discrimination based on gender in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
After Democrat Mike McCormack defeated her in 1970, Bedell went to work for the United States International Trade Commission. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the 50 States Project. Her final years were spent running Bedell Associates, a trade consulting firm in Palm Desert, Calif.