March is Women’s History Month, so we’re celebrating with a few profiles of women members of Congress (and don’t forget about last month’s post on the inspirational Shirley Chisholm). Paging through the House’s thorough tome, Women in Congress, 1917-2006, reminds me how many women have served but are largely forgotten. For every Bella Abzug or Nancy Pelosi, there’s a Caroline O’Day or Reva Beck Bosone. Like their male counterparts, many female members of Congress won difficult elections or served their constituents well without making a lasting impression on the national psyche. In the interest of resurrecting some fascinating people, I give you Reva Beck Bosone.
Turns out, Bosone was the first woman elected to a Salt Lake City judgeship and to represent Utah in Congress, a Democrat who polled better than Harry Truman in 1948, and one of only four members of Congress who voted against the bill creating the CIA.
Born in Utah in 1895, Bosone completed college at UC Berkley and taught for several years in Utah after her first marriage dissolved. She met Joseph Beck while attending the University of Utah’s College of Law and married him in 1929 (they would divorce in 1939). They opened a law practice together before Reva won election to the Utah house of representatives; she eventually represented a Salt Lake City district. She focused on labor laws and unemployment insurance and became the floor leader for the Democrats, the majority party, and the chair of the committee that organized the flow of bills to the floor.
In 1936, she became the first woman elected as a judge in Salt Lake City, earned a reputation as a tough but scrupulous judge—and won two more elections. At the same time, she hosted a local radio program and served as an official observer at the founding conference of the United Nations. In 1948, Bosone defeated William Dawson to win a seat in the U.S. House, running a campaign that cost $1,250 and relied heavily on volunteers.
When she arrived in Washington, Bosone was offered a seat on the Judiciary Committee, an unusually strong assignment for a freshman member, but she refused it and convinced the Democratic leadership to give her a seat on the Public Lands Committee, a position that would allow her to better serve her Utah constituency. There, she focused on Indian affairs and land management and water control projects, taking sometimes controversial positions. She also supported social welfare programs such as an expanded Social Security program and the creation of a national health care system. In 1949 she voted against the Central Intelligence Agency Act, arguing that it gave too much power to an agency that provided Congress so little information about its spending. Most members were worried about being labeled as communist sympathizers if they voted against the bill, so only 3 other members joined her.
In 1950 Bosone noted that for a representative, “the job should be done, whether the required course of action is popular or not. The biggest need in politics and government today is for people of integrity and courage, who will do what they believe is right and not worry about the political consequences to themselves.” (Congressional Record as quoted in Women in Congress, 1917-2006, page 269)
Bosone lost her battle for a 3rd term (1952) to the man she once beat, William Dawson, despite polling better than Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson; the loss was due in part to dismissed charges of illegal campaign contributions of $630 and accusations that she sympathized with communists. Bosone opposed Dawson again 1954 but lost. However, she returned to Washington in 1957 to serve as legal counsel to a House Committee on Education and Labor subcommittee and then as the U.S. Post Office Department’s judicial officer and chair of its contract board of appeals. She held the post office positions until she retired in 1968; she died in Vienna, VA in 1983.
Reva Bosone appears to have been an engaged, proactive, conscientious, and driven citizen and politician who staked out positions according to the information she received and the prompting of her conscience, the kind of public servant who could inspire others to similar careers. I have to admit, she’s made a fan out of me.
Wasniewski, Matthew A., Editor in Chief. Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006. Pages 266-271.
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
Utah History Encyclopedia: Bosone entry