Photo courtesy of
The Washington State Archives
First State Representative
"WILSON NOMINATES WOMAN FOR BOARD."
- The New York Times, January 6, 1917
At her large home in Bellingham, Washington, Frances Axtell ran a tight ship, and
unabashedly picked up a hammer and nails. She designed and helped build that home,
which she decorated impeccably each Christmas. Often, you’d hear her uttering her
grandson’s famous nickname: “Billy don’t!” As a boy, William Hussey had a penchant
Born in 1866 in Illinois, Axtell had a rollicking childhood. Her sturdy frame, auburn
hair, and blue eyes were accompanied by an abundance of courage and a sense of humor.
Educated in a one-room schoolhouse, Axtell later earned her doctorate degree from
DePauw University. After she moved to Bellingham, Axtell landed a job at a teachers' college.
She met her husband, Dr. Frank Axtell, and raised two children.
Frances Axtell was instrumental in women’s suffrage in Washington. She strongly
believed in women’s abilities to enhance every aspect of political life.
When she ran for office and served in the State House with Nena Croake and some
95 men in 1913, Axtell became a fierce proponent of Washington’s minimum wage.
It was just the beginning of a career in public service. In 1916, Axtell ran for
U.S. Congress as a Democrat and lost in the General Election. In 1917, she became
the first woman appointed to a federal commission. The next year she wielded even
more power when she was promoted to president of the U.S. Employee Compensation
Commission. The commission helped draft some of the nation’s first labor laws.
In 1922, the gutsy pioneer dared to make a run for the U.S. Senate as a Republican.
She lost the nomination in the Primary Election.
She was of “strong character — totally honest — fearless,” says Hussey of his grandmother’s
The sprawling Axtell home still stands in Bellingham at 413 East Maple. It is divided
into several apartments. Hussey hopes to one day have it declared a historic site.