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About this collection

The items in this collection are housed in Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections in the Terrell Library.

View the guide to Cage 304: Catherine May Congressional Papers, 1959-1970.


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The papers of Catherine May Bedell, Member of Congress, were acquired by the Washington State University Library in February 1971. A gift of Mrs. May, the collection was transferred to the Library from her office and the National Archives and Records Service facility at Washington, D.C. The collection consists of approximately 400,000 items in 558 containers and constitutes the Congressional office files of Mrs. May during her tenure as United States Representative from the Fourth Congressional District of Washington, between 1959 and 1970. (Cage 304,


In 2006-2007, 667 items from the collection were digitized and described for a project made possible through the Women's History Consortium grant (WHC). Documents were selected based on their historical significance, their relevance to the history of Washington, their relevance to the history of women, and their ability to provide a glimpse into previously inaccessible history. The WHC, created in 2005 by state statute (RCW 27.34.360) as a Washington State Historical Society-led initiative, is dedicated to preserving and making available resources regarding Washington women's history. More information about the WHC is available at



Catherine May was born Catherine Dean Barnes at Yakima, Washington, in 1914. Graduating from Yakima High School in 1932, she attended Yakima Valley Junior College through 1934, and then received the Bachelor of Science degree in 1936 and the Fifth Year Education Certificate from the University of Washington in 1937. From 1937 through 1940, she taught English in the Chehalis High School, interrupting this tenure for a brief period in 1939 to study speech at the University of Southern California.

At the close of the school year in 1940, Mrs. May entered into a career in radio journalism and advertising, first with station KMO in Tacoma, and later stations KOMO and KJR in Seattle. From 1942 to 1944, she worked in advertising for Strange and Prosser Advertising Agency and the Federal Insurance Company, both of Seattle. She was in New York City 1944-1946 in the employment of the National Broadcasting Company. Following this, Mrs. May returned to Washington State, continuing in radio journalism at station KIT in Yakima through 1957.


Catherine May entered politics actively when she was a candidate and elected to the Washington State House of Representatives in 1952, representing a Yakima district. Re-elected twice, she remained a member of the state legislature until 1958, when she secured the Republican nomination to succeed retiring Republican Congressman, Otis Halbert Holmes. She was elected to the United States Congress six times and served until 1970 when she was succeeded by Democrat, Mike McCormack. Upon leaving Congress, she was appointed one of the Federal government trustees of the quasi-public National Railroad Passenger Corporation (AMTRAK). In May of 1971, President Richard Nixon appointed her a member and Chairman of United States Tariff Commission.


When Catherine May entered the United States Congress in early 1959, she was the first woman Representative from the State of Washington. Also, she was the first Representative from the State of Washington in quite a few years to be appointed to the Committee on Agriculture, an assignment that is highly desired by Representatives from Washington State. Mrs. May held this Agriculture Committee assignment during her entire tenure in Congress. Work in this committee, and her efforts on behalf of her constituents, occupied the center of attention throughout her congressional career. Partially due to this concern with agricultural policy, May was selected as a Congressional member of the National Commission on Food Marketing, one of the numerous "study commissions" of the 1960s. During her last term in office, she received a second committee assignment, the Joint committee on Atomic Energy. She was, lastly, a member of the somewhat ephemeral but nevertheless interesting, House Beauty Parlor Committee.


Although Representative May's attention centered on her committee and constituent work, her career was not dominated by either of these. Like most members of Congress in the 1960s, she was involved in almost every major public issue of the time. Her papers reveal significant interests in consumer affairs, the "hunger" and poverty issues, transportation policy, drugs, minority relations, and, on occasion, foreign affairs. The return of a Republican administration to power in the 1968 election increased May's contact and concern with the whole range of governmental and public affairs. She was one of the congressional leaders that supported the administration. She was apparently considered for the post of Secretary of Agriculture at the time the Nixon Administration was organized. After leaving Congress, she continued to receive significant appointments. She was also active in the Federal government as United States Tariff Commissioner until 1981, a position of importance to the economic issues of the early 1970's. Catherine May died in 2004.


Mrs. May's career in the United States House of Representatives is the subject of scholarly inquiry by Elizabeth Anne Hagne in her A Congresswoman and Her Constituents: Catherine May and the Fourth Congressional District of Washington (unpublished M.A. Thesis: Washington State University, 1968).


The Collection:

The collection consists of those papers generated and received by the office of Representative May during her six terms in the United States Congress. While the Catherine May collection covers an extensive array of public issues, the digital selections were chosen based on the following criteria: historical significance, relevance to the history of Washington, relevance to the history of women, and ability to provide access to otherwise undocumented history. Some general subject areas include (but are not limited to): Washington state agriculture, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, sex discrimination against women, anti-communist movements, women's rights, education, labor, aid, atomic energy, taxation, and womens's societies and clubs. Digitized items include: correspondence, notes, memoranda, printed materials, inter-officer communications, transcripts and notes of telephone conversations, office interviews and meetings. Additionally, the entirety of Catherine May's 4th District Newsletters, and Special Reports were digitized covering an array of political issues important to May and constituents.

May with JFK

Representative Catherine May co-sponsored legislation to provide women with equal pay for equal work. At this White House ceremony (right), President Kennedy signed into law the "Equal Pay Act of 1963." Catherine May is shown directly behind the President. At May's right is Congresswoman Edna Kelly of New York and at the left, foreground, is Congresswoman Edith Green of Oregon. Vice President Johnson is at the right, background.


Creating the Database:


Headed by Laila Miletic-Vejzovic, this digital collection was created at the WSU Libraries' Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections. Under the supervision of Cheryl Gunselman, Kathleen Searles and Ryli Clark digitized political and constituent correspondence, speeches, radio and television transcripts, news clippings, photographs, press releases, inter and intra office memorandam, special reports, and newsletters by scanning them on an OpticBook 3600 Plus scanner and an Epson Expression 10000 XL scanner as 300dpi TIFF files. Items were modified for clarity using Adobe Photoshop CS2. All scans were added to CONTENTdm as 72dpi JPEG files. Research for the collection was completed by Kathleen Searles and Ryli Clark utilizing the vast collection of documentation scattered throughout MASC's archived papers and publications. With information found in these sources, Kathleen Searles and Ryli Clark authored descriptive metadata using the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set. The subject headings were derived from the Library of Congress' controlled vocabulary. Alex Merrill provided technical support for website design and the use of CONTENTdm. The project was made possible through the Women's History Consortium grant (WHC).


Viewing the Database:


The collection's viewing and search options are located above. Clicking on "Browse This Collection" will allow you to view the entire collection, arranged alphabetically by title. Entering search terms in the search box located near the top of the page will search across all of the database fields. Search results are displayed as a series of thumbnail images that may be browsed both forward and backward. To view the larger image and its corresponding description, click on the thumbnail or its title.


Once you have clicked a thumbnail, on the left-hand side you will see the title of the object and any additional pages. Click the page image at the right to view other pages of the item. If an item is a series contained within a compound document, meaning that it is more than one page and contains multiple components, (such as a series of correspondence between Catherine May and a constituent), it will be organized with the most recent file on page 1 (for example a response to a constituent). News clippings or any other additional portions of a series not contained within the letters themselves are usually found on the last pages of a compound document. If a compound item is not part of a series then the first page will be displayed on page 1, and so on.


An option to return to the collection front page is provided along the top banner.


This collection description was authored by Kathleen Searles.


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