Julia Butler Hansen
They called her "Mrs. Highways." Congresswoman Julia Butler Hansen, a Home Economics major, became a secretary in the Engineer's Office in tiny Wahkiakum County during the 1930s. Fascinated by transportation issues, she was the first woman to head the Roads & Bridges Committee of the Washington State House of Representatives; the first female chairman of the Western Interstate Highway Policy Committee and the first woman to head a congressional appropriations subcommittee. In the twilight of her legendary career she became the first woman to head the Washington State Transportation Commission. She was largely responsible for creating its predecessor, the State Highway Commission.
Never the token woman, she retired from Congress in 1974, undefeated in 41 consecutive elections. "No one ever represented her people better than Julia Butler Hansen," said U.S. Senator Warren G. Magnuson, her friend since their days as Young Democrats in the 1930s.
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Julia and her district aide, state Senator Bob Bailey, at the dedication of the Astoria-Megler Bridge in 1966. David Hansen Collection
No one ever told Linea Laird girls couldn't be engineers or get their hands greasy. Laird worked as a laborer on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in the 1970s to pay for college at Montana State University. Hired by the Washington State Department of Transportation in 1980, her painstaking attention to detail and ability to inspire teamwork propelled promotions. Her 38-year career was punctuated by calm oversight of costly, complicated projects, including the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 2007 and, beginning in 2011, the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement and Highway 99 tunnel.
In 2013, Laird became WSDOT's first female chief engineer. She appreciates what determined women such as Julia Butler Hansen did to pave the way. "In my career, I never saw a barrier to a woman," Laird says. Male attitudes about women in the skilled trades are also changing.Read more about Linea Laird