The coming of the New Deal opened almost every partisan office in the state of Washington. Democratic women profited from their party’s deep schisms and the multitudes of candidates. In 1934 Mary U. Farquhar-son, then 32, entered the state senate from the 46th District. Formed in 1891, the 46th District then stretched from Seattle’s University District to the Snohomish County line and down the east side of lake Washington to the village of Bellevue. The new and proudly bourgeois northeastern part of the city and its sparse suburbs had elected two Democrats in 40 years.
The class war was real for Farquharson: "Every single inch of ‘progress’ in working conditions for children...has been bitterly contested by those who own as opposed to those who produce." "Ninety-five percent of the consuming public...are mislead into opposing their own interests." Capitalism, the socialist-humanist told Presbyterian pastor Dr. Wendell Fifield, was "the antithesis of Jesus’ religion...in crude language [the word] means fight and grab." This outlook coexisted in Mary Farquharson with an idealist’s belief in a "strong side" to human nature, "the desire for community, friendship, and cooperation." Mary and her husband Burt, a University of Washington engineering professor, were early principals in the Washington Commonwealth Federation (WFC), a coalition of leftist groups growing out of the Seattle Unemployed Citizens league in 1935. Overproduction had been solved by "an economy of scarcity." Distribution was to be by "production for use," turning idle businesses into state-run cooperatives. "We do not seek the collapse of the capitalist system; we are building a road from its present collapse to a ‘New Way of life,’ by melding individualism and collectivism," they claimed. The Farquharsons soon sensed that the WCF’s leadership was communist influenced. They did not disagree on ends but felt that the organization was acting deceitfully as a stalking horse of democracy. "Totalitarian" methods, they felt, inevitably meant breaching civil rights, and so they resigned.
A staunch defender of civil liberties and an AClU member, Mary Farquharson was put to the test in January 1941 when she and the senate voted not to seat linus Westman, who admitted being in the Communist Party for 18 months. "I am one of the reprobates who helped push Westman out of his senate seat," she wrote Roger Baldwin, founder of the American Civil liberties Union. "The sooner CP tactics are clarified the better off is the cause of civil liberties and all other liberal or radical issues." "If Westman had been elected on the Communist ticket or any other...I should have voted for him," she told another liberal questioner. "The organized policy of deceit...is the worst obstacle to advocating the public toward a more liberal viewpoint." Later the Cold War would push her further. The Communist Party was a "Soviet fifth column and should be outlawed." "I have never felt that ‘free speech’ included unlimited lying." Defending the West’s civil liberties even momentarily overrode her antimilitarism: "Peace and security depend not on a balance of power but on a certain imbalance of power favorable to the defenders of peace."
Mary applauded Governor Clarence Martin’s efforts to implement the New Deal in 1935, and yet she was "restlessly dissatisfied with the mediocrity of our achievement." "I have been fired with an overwhelming sense of my own guilt." The system was so "feeble." The "stalling, delaying, trading, bargaining-a road here for a vote there-all elements of machine politics...[found] perfect expression through our outdated two-house system," and meeting 60 days biennially, she felt, was not up to the "business of a modern state." A unicameral professional legislature was overdue. And if the body had more women there would likely be less drinking, and fewer "sell-outs" and special interests.
Martin Was reelected in the l936 primary by crossover Republicans. Farquharson’s liberal faction of the senate majority found themselves in an increasingly tentative position, as right-leaning eastern Washington Democrats joined Republicans on the governor’s behalf to foil many of their initiatives. In the shaken culture of the Depression she did not feel "discriminated against" in committee assignments and penetrated the casual corridors of power faster than Reba Hurn, the state’s first female senator in 1923. Farquharson was on Appropriations, Judiciary, and Constitutional Review committees by her third session in l937. The "business-like senator" tapped her foot impatiently and threatened a filibuster by moving to have the clerk read the 601-page budget if some of her bills did not emerge from the Rules Committee. She wanted a psychiatric institution on the west side, board certification of the heads of institutions, the "Community Property bill of 1937" (SB 8), and a "secured place" for a Division of Children in the Department of Institutions. Her teachers’ civil service bill (SB 41) passed unanimously. She and the senate’s other formidable female, Island County’s Pearl Wanamaker, staged "a sudden invasion of the Appropriations Committee considering the Supplemental Budget..." on behalf of education and took their "biggest defeat" in failing to improve on Governor Martin. They did prove that "women in politics can take it as well as dish it out."
More rationalist than ideologue, Farquharson had matured as a legislator. "As to my work with the ‘Martin Democrats,’ I have come to realize unless I am willing to work with people who disagree with me on many major issues, I might just as well get out of politics entirely." The left wing had little to show for its filibusters, refusals to answer roll calls, and outspoken criticism of Martin. Her crowning achievement was to repeal the World War I law on syndicalism used to prosecute the IWW, which had languished in the Senate Rules Committee until the last minute. By "skillful attention" she cajoled enough conservatives to join in ‘pulling’ it from Rules-and speaking to it on the floor. "More can be accomplished by negotiation and compromise than by attempted force and intimidation. The appeal to intelligence and to reason is stronger than to fancied fear," she learned. "It is a wonder...democracy works at all." "I am enjoying myself." "I disagree with the senators on most questions, but I think I am good friends with all of them personally." "I don’t go home weekends at all but work far into the night every day and Sundays," Farquharson told a friend. Her diligence was being rewarded.
Seeking reelection as an "independent liberal" in 1938, Senator Farquharson was shelled from both sides. Bertha landes endorsed her in a strenuous race against former Senator Frank "40 mill" Jackson, the father of the property tax limitation initiative of 1932. She attempted to amend the Unemployment Relief Bill to establish cooperatives, backed $30 pensions-a raise from $22 a month (never funded)-and the graduated net income tax (overturned by the state supreme court), lobbied for larger inheritance and gift taxes, and tried to amend the business and occupations tax to include real estate rentals over $200 a month. The chair of the Educational Institutions panel advised her higher education constituents that "for the first time in recent history the university received its requested budget in the 1937 session." Centering any election campaign on "the tax problem" was perilous, she realized. Her "whole record" would have to provide "sufficient evidence."
The Seattle Argus bombarded Senator Farquharson for the enlightened establishment: "The commonwealthers, the sharethe-wealthers, the Howard Costigans [Costigan was executive secretary of the Washington Commonwealth Federation and, later, an admitted communist], and Mary Farquharsons are due to take over the city of Seattle lock, stock, and barrel next year unless Seattle wakes up." Farquharson had to agree that "the Democratic Party in this state is still [the communists’ preferred] vehicle, to get into power as quickly as possible." Farquharson’s ongoing advocacy of production for use-now a dead issue-was useful defense against the unforgiving leftists of the district’s Progressive Democratic Club, which ran Dorothy Butterworth. Farquharson observers saw Democrats voting for Frank Jackson in the primary. "The Communist Party would rather crucify a liberal who does not join them than unseat a conservative," she fumed. "I still think I’ll have it a walk-away." She received 3,159 of the 7, 657 votes in the primary. "The only reason I made it [to the general election]" was that "a young lawyer over there [in eastern Washington] filed as a Cincinnatus," which split the Republican vote.
In 1939 Senator Farquharson was in a technical minority. Conservative Democrats from east of the Cascades and the resurgent Republicans dominated the senate for most of the next two decades. The new Women’s legislative Council was not "thinking in terms of women...[but of] the basic so-called liberal issues" and was stronger than she realized but hardly offsetting. "The big question," Farquharson mused "is why anybody in his right mind ever wanted the job anyhow!" With no income tax possible, the 40 cents per $1,000 assessed property value tax limitation, and "legitimate demands...greater than ever...it looks like a desperately bad situation to me." "If people were only educated as to...their own interests."
Pleased with new Republican governor Arthur langlie’s 1941 inaugural address, Farquharson remarked, "I think some of us Democrats liked it better than some of the Republicans." She was, of course, doubtful that enough tax revenue could be raised, a question the World War II boom would erase. She was now engrossed in the "under-yielding" leases of the university’s downtown Metropolitan Tract, arrangements beyond generations of part-time legislators. "As usual, I have so many irons in the fire that some of them are apt to get cold before we start ironing with them."
Farquharson refused to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1940, "feeling...nausea at the idea of helping to reelect Roosevelt." "No one could be quite as dangerous a menace as he is [in leading the country into war]." "If I had run [in 1942] I would have been completely trounced...the communists...would have... got me. I would have admitted...I was opposed to the war," referencing the vagaries of leftist politics after Hitler’s breach of the Nazi-Soviet pact. In 1945 she conceded that America could not have stood "aloof" but insisted, "We were largely the causeof and effect which we feared and abhorred." She perceived her role, in and out of office, "as helping to educate the public.... They’re informed about many things, but not what they ought to be informed about if we’re going to have a democracy that can really function." After a l947 trip to Europe, which was "depressing beyond words," she gave "dozens" of speeches opposing both Stalinism and the military government in Germany with equal vigor. In the next three decades over 2,000 articulate letters flowed to The Progressive, the New York Times, presidents, members of Congress and, as the Vietnam quagmire deepened in the late 1960s, to its leading hawk, Senator Henry Jackson. "The moral universe is as real as the law of gravity...which is genuine community," she wrote President Kennedy. The idealist with the faith of a believer persisted in her convictions, both because of and despite the lessons of two world wars.
Farquharson’s public life is the more commendable for her sustained interest after the ego promptings and gratifications of public office. She was, at various points, vice-president of the Washington Progressive league; an AClU board member; an organizer of the Northwest Chapter of the Committee on American Principles of "Fair Play"; director of the YW-YMCA’s Students-in-Industry Project, the Health and Welfare Executive Committee of the Council of Churches, the Wage Stabilization Board, the Statewide Committee for Ending the Death Penalty; and chair of the league of Women Voters’ Committee on Constitutional Revision, the Urban Nominations Committee, the (Baptist) Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Committee for an Effective Congress, the Seattle Draft Counseling Committee, and the United Farm Workers.
A person of contrasts seldom seen in a single personality, Farquharson was deeply committed to Quaker Christianity and socialism-liberalism. Her approach was systematic and, if need be, aggressive. Intellectual and diligent, she nonetheless entered the senate’s casual inner sanctums where women could be power brokers. She fought the ideological left, communists, and "Stalinoids" while agreeing with some of their goals, and fought just as relentlessly for civil liberties and against dictatorships and militarism. Her sense of responsibility was her undoing. Drained by a feeling of "egocentricity" and driven over never doing enough, she was increasingly depressed as the Cold War escalated. living out 55 years in her home next to the university’s "Fraternity Row," in the early 1970s she hosted the touring Jeannette Rankin-the first woman elected to Congress and the only member of Congress to vote against U.S. involvement in World War I (1917) as well as the only one to vote against going to war with Japan (1941). It was, fittingly, one of the last appearances for either. Mary Farquharson died in 1982.
George W. Scott served 14 years as a state representative and senator, and has worked as a manager in the public and private sector, in higher education, and as state archivist. He is author of A Majority of One: Legislative Life (Civitas Press, 2003).